Research topics

Evolution of parental care

Sexual selection

Reproductive ecology

Kin recognition and inclusive fitness

Mate choice

Aposematism and mimicry



Chytridiomycosis in Peru






Reproductive ecology

Some species of poison frogs share some similarities to birds (in that they cooperate to care for small clutches of offspring in small "nest-like" leaf axil pools), and to hymenopteran parasitoids (in that eggs in these small pools can be considered as resources similar to larval hosts which can be opportunistically parasitized by frogs transporting tadpoles, which are highly cannibalistic).  The egg and tadpole deposition strategies of these frogs (particularly members of a large clade of Amazonian species) are influenced by a complex mixture of factors, including the demands of parental care, the risks of uncertain parentage, the availability and quality of pools in the environment, and the risks of "brood parasitism", in which one frog places a tadpole in a pool with eggs deposited by another pair, which are then at risk from cannibalism by the tadpole.

I have spent several  field seasons carrying out field observations and experiments designed to elucidate the deposition strategies in a population of the Amazonian Poison Frog (Dendrobates ventrimaculatus) from Amazonian Ecuador (Summers and Amos, 1997; Summers, 1999).  I have also developed hypervariable molecular markers (microsatellites) in order to investigate the genetic relatedness of individual eggs and tadpoles that are deposited in the same pool (Summers and Amos, 1997).  Ultimately, my goal in investigating the reproductive ecology of this species is to study how similarities in ecology (e.g. use of small, limited nest sites containing resources as deposition sites for offspring) may create parallels in the behavior of taxonomically distinct groups (e.g. analogs to brood parasitism in birds and superparasitism in parasitoids in the reproductive strategies of the Amazonian Poison Frog).


Recent publications:

Summers, K. & McKeon, C.S. 2004. The evolutionary ecology of phytotelmata use in poison frogs. Miscellaneous Publications of the Museum of Zoology of the University of Michigan 193:55-73.

Summers, K. 1999. The effects of cannibalism on Amazonian poison frog egg and tadpole deposition and survivorship in Heliconia axil pools. Oecologia 119:557-564. | PDF