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Evolution of acoustic signals associated with cooperative parental behavior in a poison frog


The emergence of complex social interactions is predicted to be an important selective force in the diversification of communication systems. Parental care presents a key social context in which to study the evolution of novel signals, as care often requires communication and behavioral coordination between parents and is an evolutionary stepping-stone toward increasingly complex social systems. Anuran amphibians (frogs and toads) are a classic model of acoustic communication and the vocal repertoires of many species have been characterized in the contexts of advertisement, courtship, and aggression, yet quantitative descriptions of calls elicited in the context of parental care are lacking. The biparental poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator, exhibits a remarkable parenting behavior in which females, cued by the calls of their male partners, feed tadpoles unfertilized eggs. Here, we characterized and compared calls across three social contexts, for the first time including a parental care context. We found that egg-feeding calls share some properties with both advertisement and courtship calls but also had unique properties. Multivariate analysis revealed high classification success for advertisement and courtship calls but misclassified nearly half of egg feeding calls as either advertisement or courtship calls. Egg feeding and courtship calls both contained less identity information than advertisement calls, as expected for signals used in close-range communication where uncertainty about identity is low and additional signal modalities may be used. Taken together, egg-feeding calls likely borrowed and recombined elements of both ancestral call types to solicit a novel, context-dependent parenting response.