Kyle Summers

Kyle Summers

Title: Professor
Area of Study: Evolution
Phone: 252-328-6304
Fax: 252-328-4178

Office: Howell N314
Address: Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858


Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Advancement Council Distinguished Professor in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics (2011-2016)

Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor (2011-2012)

ECU Five-Year Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (2010-2011)

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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.


Summers, K. and Crespi, B.J. Cornerstone to capstone: Richard Alexander on social selection and the arts. In press in Human Social Evolution: the Foundational Works of Richard D. Alexander (K. Summers and B.J. Crespi, Eds). Forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Sun, G., Yang, Z., Kosch, T.A., Summers, K., Huang, J. 2011.Evidence for acquisition of virulence effectors in pathogenic chytrids. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11:195 (

Summers, K. and Crespi, B. 2010. Xmrks the spot: life history tradeoffs, sexual selection and the evolutionary ecology of oncogenesis. Molecular Ecology 19:3022-3024. (Invited overview)

Brown, J.L., Maan, M., Cummings, M., & Summers, K. 2010. Evidence for selection on coloration in Panamanian poison frogs: a coalescent-based approach. Journal of Biogeography 37:891-901.

Brown, J.L., Morales, V., Summers, K. 2010. A key ecological factor drove the evolution of biparental care and monogamy in an amphibian. American Naturalist 175:436-446. (Highlighted in Nature, Current Biology and Science Now)

Wang, I. & Summers, K. 2010. Genetic structure is driven by phenotypic divergence rather than geographic isolation in the highly polymorphic strawberry poison-dart frog. Molecular Ecology 19:447-458 (Highlighted in a companion overview article).

von May, R., Reider, K.E., Summers, K. 2009. Trophic interaction between tadpoles of a bamboo–breeding poison frog (Ranitomeya biolat) and a predaceous mosquito larvae (Toxorhynchites sp.). Journal of Freshwater Ecology 24:431-435.

Gray, H.M., Summers, K. & Ibanez, R.D. 2009. Kin discrimination in cannibalistic tadpoles of the green poison frog, Dendrobates auratus. Phyllomedusa 8:41-50.

von May, R., Donnelly, M.A., Medina-Muller, M. & Summers, K. 2009. Breeding-site selection by poison frogs (Ranitomeya biolat) in Amazonian bamboo forests: an experimental approach. Canadian Journal of Zoology 87:1-11.

Brown, J.L., Morales, V. & Summers, K. 2009. Tactical reproductive parasitism via larval cannibalism in Peruvian poison frogs. Biology Letters 5:148-151. Covered on Canadian National Radio (Quirks and Quarks)

Santos, J.C., Coloma, L.A., Summers, K., Caldwell, J.P., Ree, R. & Cannatella, D.C. 2009. Amazonian amphibian diversity is primarily derived from late Miocene Andean lineages. PLoS Biology 7: e1000056. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000056.

Crespi, B., Summers, K. and Dorus, S. 2009. Genomic sister-disorders of neurodevelopment: an evolutionary approach. Evolutionary Applications 2:81-100 (invited article).

Summers, K ., Roney, K., da Silva, J., Capraro, G., Cuthbertson, B., Rosenthal, G., Ryan,M., Kazianis, S. & McConnell, T. M. 2009. Evolutionary dynamics of the DAB and DXB MHC II loci in Xiphophorus fishes. Genetica 135:379-390.

Brown, J.L., Morales, V. & Summers, K. 2008. Home range size and location in relation to reproductive resources: a Monte Carlo approach using GIS data. Animal Behavior 77:547-554.

Courses Taught:

Tropical Ecology (Biol 4400/4504 for undergrads and BIOL 6850/6504 for grad students) – Please see below for further information on our tropical ecology course.

Environmental Biology (BIOL 1060).

Biological Evolution Lecture/Laboratory (BIOL 3620/3621).

Behavioral Ecology Lecture/Discussion (BIOL 5740/5741).

Advances in Ecology (BIOL 6850): Graduate seminar covering various topics, including evolutionary medicine, infectious disease, tropical ecology and evolution, aposematism and mimicry.

Laboratory Personnel



Evan Twomey (PhD):

Phenotypic and genetic divergence in a mimetic radiation of poison frogs in Peru



Adam Stuckert (MS):

Testing the hypothesis of Mullerian mimicry in the mimic poison frog, Ranitomeya imitator, in Peru.



Ian Davidson

Tropical Ecology in Panama

Please join us for a course on tropical biology at the world's premier location for tropical research: Gamboa, on the Panama Canal, and nearby sites. Gamboa is at the heart of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's research and educational mission. Courses involve lectures, field trips and individual research projects. We take advantage of ready access to premier rain forest reserves with abundant tropical wildlife and stunning biodiversity. We provide up close and personal experiences with cutting-edge research done by leading tropical biologists from STRI and from around the world. Several courses are available, including: Terrestrial Tropical Ecology (2 wks) and Tropical Marine Ecology (2 wks), for a total of up to 10 credit hours (undergrad or grad credit). Courses are run through the Summer Study Abroad Program at East Carolina University, but biology students from any university are eligible. The 2012 courses will run from June 25th to July 27th. Please contact Kyle Summers (, Susan McRae ( or Joe Luczkovich ( for further info.