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Department of Biology


Kyle Summers



Area of Study: 








Howell N314


Department of Biology


East Carolina University


Greenville, NC 27858

Kyle Summers

Please see below for information on our Tropical Ecology Course in Panama!

Recent Honors:

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 Achievment Award for Excellence in Research and Creative
Activity (2010-2011)

Research Program

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.

Research Webpage:

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.

Selected Recent Publications

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

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

Laboratory Personnel

 Evan Twomey

Evan Twomey (PhD):

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

 Adam Stuckert

Adam Stuckert (MS):

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

 Ian Davison

Ian Davidson

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Tropical Ecology in Panama

frog 1monkey 1butterfly 1sloth 1bird 1

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.


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