I didn’t post a Soundbites this week because I was very busy on Wednesday doing something very important, so I thought I’d talk about that instead.

I had the great pleasure this past Wednesday of attending a satellite symposium of the International Society of Behavioral Ecology entitled Contemporary Research on Anuran Communication. Translated, that means that I got to go to a day of honoring some of the great minds in the field of frog communication.

The symposium was in New York City, at Hunter College, so I flew in on Tuesday to stay with a medical student friend who lives in the area. You might say that it seems a little excessive to fly across the country for one day, but 1) it’s not often that everyone in such a small field gets together, and 2) I have enough friends on the East Coast that I can justify a trip to see both the conference and them.

It’s taken me until today to let my brain digest all of the information it received on Wednesday, but I’m now in a position to tell you all about the highlights of the day, and all the amazing stuff that’s being done in frog communication these days!

Highlight the first: ROBOTIC TUNGARA FROGS (go watch this video, it is the best, I promise). Ryan Taylor at Salisbury University has done an amazing project with tungara frogs to see what kind of impact the visual signal of the vocal sac inflating has on female choice. See, sometimes male tungara frogs will involuntarily add a “chuck” sound to the end of their “whine” call, and this “chuck” is irresistible to the ladies. But if that “chuck” sound comes too long after the whine, it’s not appealing anymore. Additionally, inflation of the vocal sac isn’t attractive to females without any sound associated with it. But when you link the distant “chuck” to the “whine” by the inflation of the vocal sac between the two sounds (with the help of the amazing ROBOFROG!), suddenly it’s appealing again! The inflation of the vocal sac is acting as a kind of link to keep the female’s interest! So acoustic communication can be augmented by visual communication.

They didn’t make the robofrogs attack anyone or anything, though, to my great disappointment.

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Image courtesy of Lindsey Thurman.

Highlight the second: Susan Herrick‘s awesome talk on acoustic niche partitioning with green frogs and bullfrogs. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we hate bullfrogs for being ridiculously invasive, but where Susan does her research, they’re native. The two species call in the same frequency range, so there isn’t any partitioning there, and their breeding seasons fall during the same period of time. Bullfrogs are acoustically and physically dominant, so it falls to the green frogs to find ways to not overlap with bullfrog calls. It turns out that they’ll call in between bullfrog bouts and calls with surprising accuracy: they (statistically significantly) avoid overlapping with bullfrogs so they can be heard. It was a really awesome example of temporal acoustic niche partitioning.

Highlight the third: I MET MARK BEE. And shook his hand. And he said my study species (Pacific chorus frogs, Pseudacris regilla) are really interesting and he’s been meaning to do work on them!  His 2007 paper has been incredibly influential on my own research, and it was such a cool moment to actually say hello to him.

The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.
The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.

Highlight the fourth: all the little things. I got to learn a lot about frog perception and frog brains (did you know they don’t have cortices? I didn’t!), and how to test what frequency range frogs hear in. It was also amazing to be in the room with some of the greatest minds in frog communication, the researchers who started it all. The honorees were all very friendly (I got to chat with their wives a bunch) and it was both humbling and inspiring to be in the room with so many amazing people who love frog vocalizations just as much as I do.

All in all, it was a really valuable professional experience, and I made some good connections to move forward with. I look forward to presenting my own research to the people I’ve met someday!

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