Sampling a Pigeon
In the NYSM’s ancient DNA laboratory, I am sampling museum specimens of Passenger Pigeons and extirpated populations of Spruce Grouse in order to document the pattern of decline in genetic diversity as species approach extinction. I am also studying DNA from historic and prehistoric specimens of Carolina Parakeets, extinct hummingbirds, and extinct rails to reconstruct their evolutionary relationships with living species.
Some species of birds that breed in the Boreal forests of northern North America have populations isolated above 2000 feet of elevation in New York’s mountain ranges. I want to know if these populations are genetically isolated and evolving independently. As part of this project, SUNY Ph.D. student Joel Ralston is focusing on the population genetics of Blackpoll Warblers. Other species under investigation include Bicknell’s Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Boreal Chickadee.
Systematics and Biogeography of Rails (Aves: Rallidae)
About one third of the 150 species of rails worldwide are flightless species that evolved on islands that lack mammalian predators. Many of these have become extinct in the last few hundred years as humans (along with their dogs, pigs, and rats) colonized Earth’s oceanic islands. I am collaborating with ornithologists at the Smithsonian Institution on a comprehensive, DNA-based study of the phylogenetic relationships rails. We hope to understand the biogeographic history of rails, revise the taxonomy of the group, and shed some light on the process of evolution that leads to the flightless condition.