PLoS ONE (2013)

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063763


Odontocetes produce a range of different echolocation clicks but four groups in different families have converged on producing the same stereotyped narrow band high frequency (NBHF) click. In microchiropteran bats, sympatric species have evolved the use of different acoustic niches and subtly different echolocation signals to avoid competition among species. In this study, we examined whether similar adaptations are at play among sympatric porpoise species that use NBHF echolocation clicks. We used a six-element hydrophone array to record harbour and Dall’s porpoises in British Columbia (BC), Canada, and harbour porpoises in Denmark. The click source properties of all porpoise groups were remarkably similar and had an average directivity index of 25 dB. Yet there was a small, but consistent and significant 4 kHz difference in centroid frequency between sympatric Dall’s (137±3 kHz) and Canadian harbour porpoises (141±2 kHz). Danish harbour porpoise clicks (136±3 kHz) were more similar to Dall’s porpoise than to their conspecifics in Canada. We suggest that the spectral differences in echolocation clicks between the sympatric porpoises are consistent with evolution of a prezygotic isolating barrier (i.e., character displacement) to avoid hybridization of sympatric species. In practical terms, these spectral differences have immediate application to passive acoustic monitoring.