Dr. Molly E. Cummings
My research focuses on the external and internal mechanisms that drive biodiversity in animal communication traits. I combine environmental
measures, behavioral experiments in the lab, and molecular approaches to achieve an integrative understanding of the sources and targets of selection for communication trait evolution. My lab conducts research in 3 major areas:
Evolution of Conspicuous Signals. Using visual modeling and behavioral experiments, we examine the evolutionary forces shaping signals used for sexual selection (intraspecific traits) as well as those designed by natural selection (aposematic traits) across a broad taxonomic rangeinclucing poison frogs, fishes (marine and freshwater), damselflies, and scarab beetles.
Mechanisms of Crypsis. We have initiated studies examining how animals achieve crypsis in dynamically changing aquatic environments at a molecular level, and with particular emphasis on the polarized light field. We are developing experimental techniques to characterize real-time dynamic camouflage in the lab and field as well as identify the internal coordination of the cells involved in orchestrating camouflage
(melanophores, chromatophores and iridophores) along with the neural control of their movements.
Neural Mechanisms of Mate Choice. We study the neural mechanisms underlying female mate choice response in swordtails and related fishes. Using a variety of molecular approaches, we identify candidate genes involved in orchestrating the mate choice response, localize candidate gene expression in specific brain regions, and are developing pharmacological techniques to manipulate preference behavior by modifying gene expression pathways. This mechanistic analysis will set the foundation for comparative studies that explore the genomic and neural basis for species-level differences in mate choice behavior.