SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

Animals often vocalize during territorial challenges as acoustic signals may indicate motivation and fighting ability and contribute to reduce aggressive escalation. Here, we tested the function of agonistic sounds in territorial defence in the painted goby. Pomatoschistus pictus, a small vocal marine fish that defends nests during the breeding season. We first measured the number of times a male approached, avoided, explored, entered and exited two unattended nests associated with either conspecific agonistic sounds or a control: silence or white noise. Acoustic stimuli were played back when the male approached a nest. In a second experimental set, we added visual stimuli, consisting of a conspecific male in a small confinement aquarium near each nest. Even though we found no effect of the visual stimuli, the sound playbacks induced similar effects in both experimental conditions. In the sound vs. silence treatment, we found that when males approached a nest, the playback of conspecific sounds usually triggered avoidance. However, this behaviour did not last as in longer periods males visited nests associated with agonistic sounds more often than silent ones. When the control was white noise, we found no significant effect of the playback treatment in male behaviour. Although we cannot exclude the possibility that other sounds may dissuade nest occupation, our results suggest that agonistic sounds act as territorial intrusion deterrents but are insufficient to prevent nest intrusion on their own. Further studies are needed to test the significance of sound production rate, spectral content and temporal patterns to deter territorial intrusion in fish.