The efficacy of communication relies on detection of species-specific signals against the background noise. Features affecting signal detection are thus expected to evolve under selective pressures represented by masking noise. Spectral partitioning between the auditory signals of co-occurring species has been interpreted as the outcome of the selective effects of masking interference. However, masking interference depends not only on signal's frequency but on receiver's range of frequency sensitivity; moreover, selection on signal frequency can be confounded by selection on body size, because these traits are often correlated. To know whether geographic variation in communication traits agrees with predictions about masking interference effects, we tested the hypothesis that variation in the male-male communication system of the Amazonian frog, Allobates femoralis, is correlated with the occurrence of a single species calling within an overlapping frequency range, Epipedobates trivittatus. We studied frogs at eight sites, four where both species co-occur and four where A. femoralis occurs but E. trivittatus does not. To study the sender component of the communication system of A. femoralis and to describe the use of the spectral range, we analyzed the signal's spectral features of all coactive species at each site. To study the receiver component, we derived frequency-response curves from playback experiments conducted on territorial males of A. femoralis under natural conditions. Most geographic variation in studied traits was correlated with either call frequency or with response frequency range. The occurrence of E. trivittatus significantly predicted narrower and asymmetric frequency-response curves in A. femoralis, without concomitant differences in the call or in body size. The number of acoustically coactive species did not significantly predict variation in any of the studied traits. Our results strongly support that the receiver but not the sender component of the communication system changed due to masking interference by a single species.
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