Dr. Kyle Summers has a broad interest in evolution, particularly evolutionary ecology and evolutionary genetics. Summers and his studentshave carried out research on reproductive strategies and larval life history in frogs. They have also worked on the evolution of aposematism and mimicry.
Summers is also 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 the 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.
Dr. Summers researches evolutionary approaches to human health and behavior as well. 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. Along with his collaborators, they have attempted to develop hypotheses relating specific conditions to environmental, social and genetic factors in an evolutionary framework. They are also attempting to test specific hypotheses using molecular evolutionary genetic analyses of genomic data available from public databases such as GenBank.
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