Kyle Summers

THCAS Distinguished Professor

Life Sciences & Biotechnology Building 3414

Summers Lab

Research Interests

I have broad interests in evolution, particularly evolutionary ecology and evolutionary genetics. My students and I have carried out research on reproductive strategies and larval life history in frogs. We have also worked on the evolution of aposematism and mimicry. I am interested in molecular systematics and the use of phylogenetic trees to inform analyses of ecology and adaptation. Evolutionary ecology and phylogenetics are complimentary, because it is important to consider the effects of ecology on adaptation in a historical context. Similarly, phylogenetic information can be used to investigate the influence of ecological and social factors on adaptation in comparative analyses. Most of our field and laboratory research has focused on the poison frogs of the family Dendrobatidae, a group of toxic frogs in Central and South America. These frogs vary in diet, coloration and toxicity, making them excellent candidates for research on aposematism and mimicry. The reproductive ecology of these frogs is also interesting and complex, involving territoriality, intra-sexual competition for mates, prolonged courtship, mate choice, long term associations between males and females, extensive parental care by one or both sexes, trophic egg-feeding, and larval cannibalism. The wide spectrum of variation in life histories across the poison frog family make this group an excellent system for comparative studies.

I am also interested in evolutionary approaches to human health and behavior. Evolutionary biology is highly relevant to many issues crucial to human health and disease, yet few medical researchers take an evolutionary perspective. Vast amounts of data relevant to issues of central interest in evolutionary biology, such as the evolution of senescence and parasite-host coevolution, are being generated by biomedical researchers, but use of these data to test evolutionary hypotheses is uncommon. My collaborators and I have attempted to develop hypotheses relating specific conditions to environmental, social and genetic factors in an evolutionary framework. We are also attempting to test specific hypotheses using molecular evolutionary genetic analyses of genomic data available from public databases such as GenBank.