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Baugh AT, KL Akre, MJ Ryan
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 105, Pages 8985–8988 (doi:10.1073/pnas.0802201105)
Publication year: 2008

Abstract  Categorical perception is common in humans, but it is not known whether animals perceive continuous variation in their own multidimensional social signals categorically. There are two components to categorical perception: labeling and discrimination. In the first, continuously variable stimuli on each side of a category boundary are labeled. In the second, there is strong discrimination between stimuli from opposite sides of the boundary, whereas stimuli on the same side of the boundary are not discriminated. Here, we show that female tu´ ngara frogs respond categorically to complex mating calls that vary simultaneously along multiple dimensions and are within the natural range of signal variation. In response to a transect of synthetic stimuli that varied continuously and systematically in seven dimensions, female tu´ ngara frogs label mating calls as either conspecific or not conspecific. For pairs of stimuli that differed by the same magnitude, females discriminate those in different categories but not those in the same category. In addition, latency to respond was significantly shorter when stimuli were in the same versus different categories. Because responses to mating calls are critical in generating species recognition and sexual selection, this finding has implications for both animal perception and the influences of mate choice on the tempo and mode of evolution.