Rhythmic properties of Sciaena umbra calls across space and time in the Mediterranean Sea

Picciulin, M., Bolgan, M., & Burchardt, L. (2024). Rhythmic properties of Sciaena umbra calls across space and time in the Mediterranean Sea. PLOS ONE, 19(2): e0295589. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0295589.
In animals, the rhythmical properties of calls are known to be shaped by physical constraints and the necessity of conveying information. As a consequence, investigating rhythmical properties in relation to different environmental conditions can help to shed light on the relationship between environment and species behavior from an evolutionary perspective. Sciaena umbra (fam. Sciaenidae) male fish emit reproductive calls characterized by a simple isochronous, i.e., metronome-like rhythm (the so-called R-pattern). Here, S. umbra R-pattern rhythm properties were assessed and compared between four different sites located along the Mediterranean basin (Mallorca, Venice, Trieste, Crete); furthermore, for one location, two datasets collected 10 years apart were available. Recording sites differed in habitat types, vessel density and acoustic richness; despite this, S. umbra R-calls were isochronous across all locations. A degree of variability was found only when considering the beat frequency, which was temporally stable, but spatially variable, with the beat frequency being faster in one of the sites (Venice). Statistically, the beat frequency was found to be dependent on the season (i.e. month of recording) and potentially influenced by the presence of soniferous competitors and human-generated underwater noise. Overall, the general consistency in the measured rhythmical properties (isochrony and beat frequency) suggests their nature as a fitness-related trait in the context of the S. umbra reproductive behavior and calls for further evaluation as a communicative cue.
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