John McCormack

John McCormack photo
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 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.

Follow him on Twitter for posts about birds, museums, and genomes.

For PDFs of papers prior to 2019 click here.

Recent Publications (undergraduates underlined)

Maley JM, RJ Freeland, DA DeRaad, AJ Zellmer, ME Schedl, B Durham, WLE Tsai, RS Terrill, S Sannapareddy, KL Garrett & JE McCormack. 2021. Niche shifts and hybridization in two Amazona parrot sister-species introduced to Southern California. BioRxiv

Caplan A, JM Maley & JE McCormack. 2020. Bridging biology and ethnohistory: A case for collaboration. Ethnohistory 67: 355-382

Medina JJ, JM Maley, S Sannapareddy, NN Medina, CM Gilman & JE McCormack. 2020. A rapid and cost-effective pipeline for digitization of museum specimens with 3D photogrammetry. PLoS One 15(8): e0236417

Tsai WLE, 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 20: 1220-1227

DeRaad DA, 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.

Tsai WLE, 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.

Venkatraman MX, 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 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.

JE McCormack, F Rodriguez-Gomez, WLE Tsai & BC Faircloth. 2017. Transforming museum specimens into genomic resources. In: Emerging Frontiers in Collections-based Ornithological Research: The Extended Specimen. MS Webster, editor. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

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

JE McCormack, H Huang & LL Knowles. 2009. Sky islands. Pages 839-843 in Encyclopedia of Islands (Gillespie, RG and D Clague, eds.). University of California Press: Berkeley, CA

JE McCormack, BC Faircloth, NG Crawford, PA Gowaty, RT Brumfield & TC Glenn. 2012. Ultraconserved elements are novel phylogenomic markers that resolve placental mammal phylogeny when combined with species tree analysis. Genome Research 22: 746-754.

NSF Grants

Digitization PEN: oBird: 3D Photogrammetry of Museum Specimens for Phenomics across the Avian Tree of Life (DBI 2001652) | Abstract

MRI: Launching an undergraduate-driven Genomics Center through acquisition of an Illumina MiSeq (DBI 1828738) | Abstract

CAREER: Integrating undergraduate research, citizen science, and museum genomics to explore a century of change in North American birds (DEB 1652979) | Abstract

RUI: CSBR: Natural History: Securing and digitizing the world’s largest Mexican bird collection (DBI 1349179) | Abstract

RUI: Collaborative Proposal: Genomic approaches to comparative phylogeography in a biodiversity hotspot (DEB 1258205) | Abstract

EAGER: RUI: The genomic architecture of speciation in an avian hybrid zone (DEB 1244739) | Abstract