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Evolution of advertisement calls in African clawed frogs

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For most frogs, advertisement calls are essential for reproductive success, conveying information on species identity, male quality, sexual state and location. While the evolutionary divergence of call characters has been examined in a number of species, the relative impacts of genetic drift or natural and sexual selection remain unclear. Insights into the evolutionary trajectory of vocal signals can be gained by examining how advertisement calls vary in a phylogenetic context. Evolution by genetic drift would be supported if more closely related species express more similar songs. Conversely, a poor correlation between evolutionary history and song expression would suggest evolution shaped by natural or sexual selection. Here, we measure seven song characters in 20 described and two undescribed species of African clawed frogs (genera Xenopus and Silurana) and four populations of X. laevis. We identify three call types — click, burst and trill — that can be distinguished by click number, call rate and intensity modulation. A fourth type is biphasic, consisting of two of the above. Call types vary in complexity from the simplest, a click, to the most complex, a biphasic call. Maximum parsimony analysis of variation in call type suggests that the ancestral type was of intermediate complexity. Each call type evolved independently more than once and call type is typically not shared by closely related species. These results indicate that call type is homoplasious and has low phylogenetic signal. We conclude that the evolution of call type is not due to genetic drift, but is under selective pressure.


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