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Vocal Behavior During Territorial Intrusions in the Lusitanian Toadfish: Boatwhistles Also Function as Territorial ‘Keep-Out’ Signals


Raquel O. Vasconcelos, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa. Bloco C2 Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisbon, Portugal.


Male signals are frequently studied in a single behavioral context, but in some cases they may assist multiple functions, namely for both male–male competition and female mate choice. Boatwhistles are known as the mate attraction calls of toadfishes typically produced during the breeding season. However, recent observations with the Lusitanian toadfish Halobatrachus didactylus (Batrachoididae) indicate that the emission of boatwhistles is not restricted to this period, which suggests a function in other behavioral contexts such as agonistic territorial interactions. We experimentally manipulated the social context of toadfish males to investigate whether boatwhistles are produced during territorial defense, by introducing ‘intruders’ in an experimental tank containing nesting ‘resident’ males. Furthermore, we examined whether parental care (eggs in the nest) affected the behavioral responses of resident males during territorial defense. Resident males defended their shelters producing sounds, mostly boatwhistles, towards intruders. Parental males revealed higher aggression levels, exhibiting additional threatening and attack behaviors. Boatwhistles registered during agonistic events were compared with the mate advertising boatwhistles recorded from small aggregations of nesting males in a natural breeding intertidal area. Agonistic boatwhistles were produced in lower and variable calling rates comparing with the advertising ones that were typically emitted in long series of calls. Agonistic boatwhistles were similar in duration and frequency harmonic structure (with a middle tonal phase) to the advertising calls, but presented less amplitude modulation, and lower dominant and fundamental frequencies. These acoustic differences were probably related to differences in calling rates and broadcast demands associated to the distance to the intended receiver. We provide first evidence that, apart from attracting mates, the toadfish boatwhistles also function as active ‘keep-out’ signals during territorial defense.