Variation in Plant Substrates and its Consequences for Insect Vibrational Communication


R. B. Cocroft, Division of Biological Sciences, 105 Tucker Hall, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Many insects and other arthropods communicate using plant-borne vibrational signals. Vibration transmission along plant stems imposes a frequency filter on signals, and may cause signal degradation from reflected waves. Furthermore, different plant species and plant parts can differ in their transmission properties. This variability in the communication channel may constrain the reliability of signals, with important consequences for the evolution of vibrational communication systems, as well as for researchers studying signal variation at an individual, population, or species level. In this study we estimate the magnitude of substrate-related variation in the mate advertisement signals of a treehopper (Hemiptera: Membracidae: Umbonia crassicornis). We used laser vibrometry to record the signals produced by 25 adult males on two different plant species, one host and one non-host. We recorded male signals on two plants per species; within each plant, signals were recorded simultaneously at two distances. We measured three spectral characteristics (dominant frequency, relative amplitude of the signals’ high and low frequency components, frequency at the end of the signal) and two temporal characteristics (signal duration and click repetition rate). Spectral characteristics were influenced by the distance at which the signal was recorded, and this influence varied among plant species and individuals. Temporal characteristics were less influenced, although signal length was influenced by distance, an effect that varied among individual plants. Overall, the magnitude of the effects was small. Furthermore, there was significant within-individual repeatability of almost all signal traits across different plant substrates. Signal characteristics were thus reliably associated with individuals, even when they signaled on different plants.