Staying tuned: grasshoppers from noisy roadside habitats produce courtship signals with elevated frequency components


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  1. Anthropogenic noise is known to affect acoustic signal production in birds, frogs and mammals. These animals use different mechanisms to adjust their signals to elevated background noise levels (increase in signal amplitude, shift to higher frequencies, etc.). Previous studies have concentrated on behaviourally plastic changes in signal production as a result of elevated background noise levels. To our knowledge, long-term effects of anthropogenic noise on signal production have not yet been investigated. Moreover, strategies of invertebrate species to ensure acoustic signal transmission under anthropogenic noise have not been examined, so far.

  2. We tested whether and how male Chorthippus biguttulus grasshoppers from noisy roadside habitats may adjust acoustic courtship signals to elevated background noise levels, compared with conspecifics from quiet control habitats. In this species, sexually selected male courtship signals serve to attract potential mating partners, which make the undisturbed transmission of signals in habitats with increased background noise levels crucial for male reproductive success.

  3. Compared to males from control populations, males from roadside habitats produced songs with a significantly higher local frequency maximum under standardized, quiet recording conditions. This local frequency maximum (in the range of c. 6–9 kHz) overlaps with low-frequent road noise that has the potential to degrade or mask this part of the signals' frequency spectrum.

  4. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that insects from noisy habitats produce different acoustic signals than conspecifics from quiet habitats, possibly using a more permanent mechanism for signal adjustment than behavioural plasticity, which was found in different bird species adjusting to high background noise levels. Such an effect of anthropogenic noise has not been shown for any invertebrate species before, and our results suggest that similar strategies to avoid degradation or masking by noise (i.e. increase in carrier frequency) are used over a wide range of taxa, including both, vertebrates and invertebrates.