The role of acoustic signals in fish courtship and challenges in bioacoustic fish research
Mosharo, Kathryn Kovitvongsa
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Sound production is a widespread phenomenon in fishes; however, the importance of acoustic signals and their potential to influence reproduction has not been determined. This dissertation examines fish acoustic courtship signals to investigate whether sound has a role in reproductive success. The pre-spawning sounds of several fishes were recorded and analyzed. The male advertisement call of two species of Belizean toadfish, Sanopus astrifer and Batrachoides gilberti, were found to significantly differ. These data, coupled with data in the literature suggest an influence of habitat characteristics on the calling behavior of toadfishes. Additionally, acoustic playback experiments were employed to investigate the role of male courtship sounds in the Malawi cichlid species, Tramitichromis intermedius. Playback results indicated that male sounds may initiate egg-laying behavior in females, but may not be behaviorally relevant to conspecific males. A discussion of confounding factors in aquarium playback experiments is presented. Technical aspects of fish sound recording, playback, and analysis were also examined to provide information for future fish bioacoustics studies. It was determined that digital cameras are a useful method of recording fish sounds to describe metric characteristics; however, temporal parameters are more accurately captured by hydrophones, which are optimal for use in scientific description of fish sounds. Underwater speakers commonly used in fish playback experiments were tested for fidelity when producing a low-frequency pulsed fish sound. The Electro-Voice UW30 speaker was found to perform the best playback at low sound pressure levels (<120 dB re 1 μPa) and at short distances (< 15 cm). The Clark Synthesis AQ339 speaker performed the best playback at higher sound pressure levels (>120 dB re 1 μPa) and at greater distances than the UW30. Many fish sounds have been described in the literature; however, there is no standardization of sample size used in species descriptions. A method is presented that can be used to estimate the level of inclusiveness of sound variability in sound descriptions, and to approximate sufficient sample sizes of recordings. The courtship calls of Dascyllus albisella and Batrachoides gilberti were examined to illustrate this method and to provide a benchmark for future sound descriptions.