Influences of predation risk on mate evaluation and choice in female túngara frogs, Physalaemus pustulosus
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Female choice is an important selective force shaping the evolution of communication and speciation in animals. However, predation risk can impose severe costs on longer searches and choosiness, thereby limiting the expression of female preferences for specific male traits. The work detailed in this dissertation explores how mate choice and sexual selection can be influenced by predation risk in túngara frogs. I begin by examining the effects of multiple simulated cues of predation risk on female search behavior and mate choice, taking a departure from the standard presence/absence paradigm used in similar studies to explore responses to quantitative variation in perceived predation risk. I demonstrate that light, longer travel times, and acoustic cues of predators are all sufficient to sway females away from otherwise more attractive conspecific males. Next, I explore the role of predation risk in altering female permissiveness, or the range of signals females will respond to. Using an artificial series of calls intermediate between heterospecific and conspecific, I demonstrate that predation risk dramatically increases the range of signals females will respond to, including a small number of females choosing pure heterospecific calls. Next I attempt to bridge a logical gap with our understanding of search costs, testing questions about how female search paths change with increasing distance. I demonstrate that females use more direct paths and move faster under higher light conditions, potentially reducing sampling but also reducing encounter rates with predators. Lastly, I examine factors that influence how individual females vary in their response to perceived risk, particularly hormonal state and experience. I demonstrate that naïve, captive-bred females respond to acoustic cues produced by natural predators in a manner similar to wild females and that, while hormonal state is obviously important in determining female receptivity, it has little effect directly on how females respond to predators. Together, these studies demonstrate that predation risk not only changes how females respond to conspecific males, but also increases female permissiveness and constrains search behavior. Predation risk can strongly influence and potentially even negate the expression of female preferences, having profound consequences for communication and the evolution of reproductive isolation between populations.