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Sources of background noise and their influence on vertebrate acoustic communication

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Many animals rely on long-range communication for species recognition, mate selection and territorial defense, but background noise from the environment can constrain their communication. Background noise from both biotic and abiotic sources is ubiquitous. In general, acoustic noise from abiotic sources, including anthropogenic noise, has energy mostly below 1 kHz. Arthropods tend to produce sounds in the 4–10 kHz range, while birds, amphibians and mammals generally have vocalizations with frequencies between 1 and 5 kHz. There are several ways that signalers could improve the efficiency of their acoustic signals to counteract the constraints of background noise. Signalers could make long-term and short-term signal adjustments to increase the detectability and discriminability of their signals. As predicted by signal detection theory adjustments can include increases in contrast between signals and noise, such as the intensity of the signal, the structure of the signal and an increase in signal redundancy. Our study reviews the sources of acoustic background noise, adjustments made by signalers to increase signal efficacy, and the influence of acoustic background noise on the evolution of acoustic communication in terrestrial vertebrate species.

Affiliations: 1: Biology Department, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA


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