John McCormack

Director and Curator of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology; Associate Professor, Biology
B.S., University of Arizona; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles
Appointed In: 
Moore Laboratory of Zoology 250A

Dr. McCormack uses museum specimens and genomes to study the evolutionary history of birds, focusing especially on how both ancient landscape changes and more recent human-caused environmental changes affect birds’ distributions, appearance, and DNA.

Dr. McCormack publishes in peer-reviewed journals like Evolution, Systematic Biology, The Auk, and Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. As Director of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology and Curator of its bird collection, he is a champion of museum collections and their scientific potential for understanding and ameliorating the biodiversity crisis. He penned an op-ed in the L.A. Times on threats to public museums and serves on the board of the National Science Collections Alliance.

His prior work co-developing new genomic markers for phylogenetics, called ultraconserved elements or UCEs, helped pave the way for using new DNA sequencing technologies in the field of systematics.

Dr. McCormack currently holds a National Science Foundation CAREER grant focusing on using museum specimens in the Moore Laboratory to understand 100 years of human-caused environmental change to Mexico's landscape and bird communities.

He posts on Twitter about museums, birds, and genomes.

Recent Publications (undergraduates underlined)

WLE Tsai, ME Schedl, JM Maley & JE McCormack. 2019. More than skin and bones: Comparing extraction methods and alternative sources of DNA from avian museum specimens. Molecular Ecology Resources. In press.

DA DeRaad, JM Maley, WLE Tsai & JE McCormack. 2019. Phenotypic clines across an unstudied hybrid zone in Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii). The Auk: Ornithological Advances 136: 1-11.

WLE Tsai, C Mota-Vargas, O Rojas-Soto, R Bhowmik, EY Liang, JM Maley, E Zarza & JE McCormack. 2019. Museum genomics reveals the speciation history of Dendrortyx wood-partridges in the Mesoamerican highlands. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 136: 29-34.

MX Venkatraman, DA DeRaad, WLE Tsai, E Zarza, AJ Zellmer, JM Maley & JE McCormack. 2019. Cloudy with a chance of speciation: integrative taxonomy reveals extraordinary divergence within a Mesoamerican cloud forest bird. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: 126: 1-15.


Dr. McCormack teaches Evolutionary Biology (Bio 280) every Fall, and in Spring alternates every other year between Avian Biology (Bio 360) and Molecular Phylogenetics (Bio 326). He occasionally teaches Museum Science (Bio 310) and Senior Seminar (i.e., Comps, Bio 490). Students interested in conducting mentored research in the Moore Lab should get in touch by e-mail.

Key Publications

BC Faircloth, JE McCormack, NG Crawford, MG Harvey, RT Brumfield & TC Glenn. 2012. Ultraconserved elements anchor thousands of genetic markers spanning multiple evolutionary timescales. Systematic Biology 61: 717-726.

JE McCormack, SM Hird, AJ Zellmer, BC Carstens & RT Brumfield. 2013. Applications of next-generation sequencing to phylogeography and phylogenetics. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66: 526-538.

JE McCormack, WLE Tsai & BC Faircloth. 2016. Sequence capture of ultraconserved elements from bird museum specimens. Molecular Ecology Resources 16: 1189-1203.

BT Smith, JE McCormack, et al. 2014. The drivers of tropical speciation. Nature 515: 406-409.