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Poison frogs subject of ECU biologist's NSF grant

GREENVILLE, NC   (Apr. 13, 2006)   —   A $227,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will enable an East Carolina University biologist to study the mating and parenting habits in species of Peruvian poison frogs.

Kyle Summers plans to study sexual conflict and parental care in three species of frogs, building on his 20-year career in evolutionary biology.

“I study these frogs because they allow me to answer questions that are of general interest in evolutionary biology,” Summers said. “I am interested in how ecological factors affect the strategies organisms use to survive and reproduce.”

The three-year NSF grant was bolstered by funding from ECU’s Research Development Grant Program, which enabled Summers to conduct preliminary research for this project last year. The seed grants are offered each year to ECU faculty who request funding to conduct research that would qualify them for larger grants.

“The seed grant allowed us to purchase molecular markers (DNA) that can be used to investigate the genetic relationships of individuals in the field,” Summers said. “We take small tissue samples from each individual adult, tadpole and clutch of eggs and these are brought to the lab.”

Summers plans to conduct field research on Dendrobates variabilis and its imitator with ECU students in the Cainarachi Valley in northern Peru this summer to survey the behavior and activities of the frogs, as well as conduct genetic analyses. He will also consider how ecological factors play a role in tadpole care and their growth and survival rates. These species of frog are poisonous, but can be handled without harm to humans.

“Our current research is focused on investigating how ecological factors, such as the kind of pool typically used, affect behavioral strategies associated with reproduction, such as parental care, courtship, territoriality, home range size and aggression,” Summers said.

The results will enable Summers to compare how the environment affects mating, parenting and sexual habits, he said. Summers will also collaborate with a biologist in southern Peru to conduct the same studies for geographic variation.


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