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Open Access Research article

Phylogenetic signal in the acoustic parameters of the advertisement calls of four clades of anurans

Bruno Gingras1*, Elmira Mohandesan2, Drasko Boko1 and W Tecumseh Fitch1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Cognitive Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, Vienna A-1090, Austria

2 Institute of Population Genetics, University of Veterinary Medicine of Vienna, Veterinärplatz 1, Vienna A-1210, Austria

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:134  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-134

Published: 1 July 2013



Anuran vocalizations, especially their advertisement calls, are largely species-specific and can be used to identify taxonomic affiliations. Because anurans are not vocal learners, their vocalizations are generally assumed to have a strong genetic component. This suggests that the degree of similarity between advertisement calls may be related to large-scale phylogenetic relationships. To test this hypothesis, advertisement calls from 90 species belonging to four large clades (Bufo, Hylinae, Leptodactylus, and Rana) were analyzed. Phylogenetic distances were estimated based on the DNA sequences of the 12S mitochondrial ribosomal RNA gene, and, for a subset of 49 species, on the rhodopsin gene. Mean values for five acoustic parameters (coefficient of variation of root-mean-square amplitude, dominant frequency, spectral flux, spectral irregularity, and spectral flatness) were computed for each species. We then tested for phylogenetic signal on the body-size-corrected residuals of these five parameters, using three statistical tests (Moran’s I, Mantel, and Blomberg’s K) and three models of genetic distance (pairwise distances, Abouheif’s proximities, and the variance-covariance matrix derived from the phylogenetic tree).


A significant phylogenetic signal was detected for most acoustic parameters on the 12S dataset, across statistical tests and genetic distance models, both for the entire sample of 90 species and within clades in several cases. A further analysis on a subset of 49 species using genetic distances derived from rhodopsin and from 12S broadly confirmed the results obtained on the larger sample, indicating that the phylogenetic signals observed in these acoustic parameters can be detected using a variety of genetic distance models derived either from a variable mitochondrial sequence or from a conserved nuclear gene.


We found a robust relationship, in a large number of species, between anuran phylogenetic relatedness and acoustic similarity in the advertisement calls in a taxon with no evidence for vocal learning, even after correcting for the effect of body size. This finding, covering a broad sample of species whose vocalizations are fairly diverse, indicates that the intense selection on certain call characteristics observed in many anurans does not eliminate all acoustic indicators of relatedness. Our approach could potentially be applied to other vocal taxa.

Anurans; Molecular phylogeny; Phylogenetic signal; Acoustics; Advertisement calls; Mitochondrial DNA; 12 S; Rhodopsin; Bufo; Hylinae; Leptodactylus; Rana