Recognition of variable courtship song in the field cricket Gryllus assimilis
V.Yu. Vedenina (1), G.S. Pollack (2)

1)Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. E-mail:
2) Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal.

We analyzed the courtship song of the field cricket Gryllus assimilis. The song comprises of two elements: groups of ca. 10 pulses (chirps) with low fundamental frequency (3.5-3.7 kHz) that alternate with high-frequency (15-17 kHz) pulses (ticks) that usually occur as doublets. Some elements of courtship song are quite variable (high coefficient of variation) both within and between males, whereas others are more stereotyped. In experiments with playback of synthesized courtship songs, we studied the importance of several song parameters for mating success, which we evaluated as the probability with which females mounted muted, courting males. Altering some features that show little variability, such as chirp-pulse rate, or carrier frequency of ticks, resulted in significant decreases in mounting frequency, consistent with the notion that consistent trait values are constrained by stabilizing selection exerted by females. However alteration one consistent trait, the occurrence of both song components, by omitting either component from test songs only slightly affected female responsiveness. Alteration of a variable song trait, the number of ticks per song phrase, had no effect on female response rate, thus failing to provide support for the idea that variable traits provide a substrate for sexual selection. An unusual characteristic feature of the song of G. assimilis is that chirp pulses often contain substantial high-frequency power, and indeed may entirely lack power at the fundamental frequency. Playback experiments showed that such songs are, nevertheless, behaviorally effective. To understand the neural basis for this, we recorded the responses of the two principal ascending auditory interneurons of crickets, AN1 and AN2. Our results suggest that the frequency selectivity of the neurons is sufficiently broad to tolerate the spectral variability of courtship chirps.