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Wilson Geisler, Director SEA 4.328A, Mailcode A8000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5380

Molly Cummings

Assistant Professor

Associate Professor
Molly Cummings



We are interested in understanding what drives the divergence in animal vision and visual signaling systems. A central goal of our research is to understand the interplay of environmental variation on sensory systems and how this leads to diversification of com-munication signals and signaling behavior through the processes of both natural and sexual selection. To this end, we focus on visual ecology of lower vertebrates that are often under strong environmental constraints for target detection and becoming detectable. General vision research questions include: (a) under-standing the functionality of peripheral tuning divergence (e.g. photoreceptors), (b) understanding the trade-offs (if any) between luminance and chromatic visual encoding, (c) under-standing the physiological and evolutionary mechanisms involved in sensory biases, and (d) determining the predictability of visual signal evolution (e.g. color pattern biodiversity) from environ-mental and physiological constraints. The specific research techniques involve: (1) field measurements of spectral irradiance, (2) signal characterization (spectral reflectance measurements
of body coloration and behavioral observations of display), (3) electrophysiological (ERG) and psychophysical (optomotor) measurements of visual sensitivity, (4) ideal observer (and 'target') performance modeling for target detection in species-specific environments, and (5) neuro-ethology experiments (e.g. sensory manipulative mate choice experiments). Future research goals include understanding species-level divergence at higher orders of visual processing (beyond the photoreceptor); and understanding the pathway between sensory bias at the periphery and Central Nervous System regions for decision making (e.g. mate choice).


Grether, G.G., Cummings, M.E. & J. Hudon (in press) Countergradient variation in the sexual coloration of guppies (Poecilia reticulata): drosopterin synthesis balances carotenoid availability. Evolution.

Cummings, M.E. (2004) Modelling divergence in luminance and chromatic detection performance across measured divergence in surfperch (Embiotocidae) habitats. Vision Research, 44: 1127-1145.

Cummings, M. E., Rosenthal, G.G. & Ryan, M.J. (2003) A private ultraviolet channel in visual communication. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London Series B, 270: 897-904.

Cummings, M.E., & Partridge, J.C. (2001) Visual pigments and optical habitats of surfperch (Embiotocidae) in the California kelp forest. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 187: 875-889.

Partridge, J.C. & Cummings, M.E. (1999) Adaptations of visual pigments to the aquatic environment. In: Archer S.N., Djamgoz M.B.A., Loew, E.R., Partridge J.C., & Valerga, S. (eds) Adaptive mechanisms in the ecology of vision. Kluwer, UK, pp: 251-284.

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Semester      Course      Unique No.       Title

Fall 2014      BIO 383K        51120     SMNR in Physiol & Behavior
Fall 2014      BIO 384C        51125     Intro to Ecol/Evol/Behavior I

Spr 2014      BIO 359K       50750      Princ of Animal Behavior
Spr 2014      BIO 359K       50755      Princ of Animal Behavior
Spr 2014      BIO 359K       50760      Princ of Animal Behavior
Spr 2014      BIO 359K       50765      Princ of Animal Behavior

2013 Fall      BIO 383K       51460       7-SMNR In Physiol and Behavior

2013 Fall      BIO 384C      51465        Intro to Ecol/Evol/Behavior



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