John P. Dumbacher ("Jack")
Curator and Department Chair
Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy

Research Statement Overview:
Jack with Honeyeater

I have two major research programs. First, in the field of molecular ecology, I use DNA sequence variation to reconstruct phylogenies, character evolution, and to understand phylogeographic patterns. I have used phylogenetic techniques to study the evolution of toxicity and mimicry in toxic New Guinean birds, to understand the history and relationships of rare Pacific Owlet-nightjars, and I am working on an NSF-funded project to study the lowland phylogeography of New Guinean tropical forests. We are also just starting some work on Namibian elephant-shrews with Galen Rathbun.

Second, I study the ecology and evolution of chemical defense in birds.  Most of my research has focused on two avian genera, Pitohui and Ifrita, which comprise seven endemic New Guinean passerine species that carry potent steroidal alkaloid neurotoxins known as batrachotoxins.  I have used a variety of field and laboratory techniques, and my ongoing research involves 1) chemical isolation, characterization, and quantification of defensive chemicals from avian genera Pitohui and Ifrita, 2) ecological studies of Pitohui parasites and predators, 3) radio-telemetry studies of Pitohui diet and home range use, and as mentioned above, 4) studies of the evolution of toxicity and Müllerian mimicry in toxic New Guinean birds.

  • Ph.D. Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago
  • M.S. Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago
  • B.S. General Biology, Vanderbilt University

  • Original Papers:
    • 1. S. C. Renner, J. H. Rappole, P. C. Rasmussen, T. Aung, M. Aung, N. M. Shwe, J. P. Dumbacher, and R. C. Fleischer. 2008. A new subspecies of Tesia olivea (Sylviidae) from Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand. J. Ornithol. 149: 439-450. (PDF)
    • 2. H. D. Ishak, J. P. Dumbacher, N. L Anderson, J. J. Keane, G. Valkiu–nas, S. M. Haig , L. A. Tell, R. N. M. Sehgal. 2008. Blood Parasites in Owls with Conservation Implications for the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis). PLoS One 3(e2304): 1-9. (PDF)
    • 3. Dumbacher, J.P., A. Mack. Chapter 4.9: Birds of Papua. 2007. In Beehler, B.M. ed., The Ecology of Papua. Volume IX in the Ecology of Indonesia series. Oxford University Press, UK. (PDF)
    • 4. B. S. Arbogast, J. P. Dumbacher, S. J. Steppan, S. P. Courtney, and L. A. Sztukowski. 2006. Evaluation of scientific information regarding Preble's meadow jumping mouse. Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, Portland, Oregon. (PDF Report submitted to USFWS)
    • 5. R. C. Fleischer, J. J. Kirchman, J. P. Dumbacher, et al. 2006. Mid-Pleistocene divergence of Cuban and North American ivory-billed woodpeckers. Biology Letters 2(3) 466-469. (PDF)
    • 6. A. L. Topf, M. T. Gilbert, J. P. Dumbacher, and A. R. Hoelzel. 2006. Tracing the phylogeography of human populations in Britain based on 4th-11th century mtDNA genotypes. Mol. Biol. Evol. 23(1): 152-161.
    • 7. J.P. Dumbacher. 2005. "Batrachotoxin" in Encyclopedia of Toxicology (Wexler P), 2nd edition. Oxford. Elsevier. pp. 215-17.
    • 8. Beadell, J. S., E. Gering, J. Austin, J. P. Dumbacher, M. A. Peirce, T. K. Pratt, C. A. Atkinson, and R. C. Fleischer. 2004. Prevalence and differential host-specificity of two avian blood parasite genera in the Australo-Papuan region. Molecular Ecology 13: 3829-3844.
    • 9. J. P. Dumbacher, A. Wako, S. R. Derrickson, A. Samuelson, T. F. Spande, and J. W. Daly. 2004. Melyrid beetles ( Choresine): A putative source for the batrachotoxin alkaloids found in poison-dart frogs and toxic passerine birds. PNAS, 101(45): 15857-15860. (PDF)
    • 10. S. P. Courtney, J. A. Blakesley, R. E. Bigley, M. L. Cody, J. P. Dumbacher, R. C. Fleischer, A. B. Franklin, J. F. Franklin, R. J. Gutiérrez, J. M. Marzluff, L. Sztukowski. 2004. Scientific evaluation of the status of the Northern Spotted Owl. Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, Portland, Oregon. (PDFs available here)
    • 11. J. P. Dumbacher, T. K. Pratt and R. C. Fleischer. 2003. Phylogeny of the owlet-nightjars (Aves: Aegothelidae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequence, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 29: 540-549. (PDF) (Nexus data matrix)
    • 12. J. P. Dumbacher and R. C. Fleischer.  2001. Phylogenetic evidence for colour-pattern convergence in toxic pitohuis: Müllerian mimicry in birds?  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biology, 268: 1971-1976. (PDF) (Nexus data matrix)
    • 13. L. Shapiro and J. P. Dumbacher.  2001.  Adenylate kinase intron 5: A new nuclear locus for avian systematics. The Auk, 118(1): 248-255. (Full text from BioOne)
    • 14. J. P. Dumbacher, T. Spande, and J. W. Daly.  2000.  Batrachotoxin alkaloids from passerine birds: A second toxic bird genus ( Ifrita kowaldi ). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 97(24): 12970–12975. (PDF)
    • 15. J. P. Dumbacher.  1999.  The evolution of toxicity in Pitohuis : I. Effects of homobatrachotoxin on chewing lice (Order Phthiraptera). The Auk 116 (4): 957-963. (PDF - high resolution [4Mb])(PDF - low resolution [512 kb])
    • 16. R. Visnak and J. P. Dumbacher.  1999.  Comparison of four fumigants for removing avian lice.  Journal of Field Ornithology, 70 (1): 42-48.
    • 17. J. P. Dumbacher.  1997.  The ecology and evolution of chemical defense in the avian genus Pitohui .  Ph.D. Thesis.  University of Chicago.
    • 18. J. P. Dumbacher and S. Pruett-Jones.  1996.  Avian chemical defense.  Current Ornithology, 13 : 137-174. (PDF - high resolution [14 Mb]) (PDF - low resolution [1.5 Mb])
    • 19. B. M. Beehler and J. P. Dumbacher.  1996.  More examples of fruiting trees visited predominantly by birds of paradise.  Emu, 96 : 81-88.
    • 20. J. P. Dumbacher, B. M. Beehler, T. F. Spande, H. M. Garraffo, and J. W. Daly.  1993.  Pitohui: How toxic and to whom?  Science, 259 : 582-583. (PDF)
    • 21. J. P. Dumbacher, B. M. Beehler, T. F. Spande, H. M. Garraffo, and J. W. Daly.  1992.  Homobatrachotoxin in the genus Pitohui: Chemical defense in birds? Science, 258: 799-801. (PDF)
    • 22. J. P. Dumbacher.  1991.  Bird life of Kagi, Central Province.  Muruk (Journal of the Papua New Guinea Bird Society), 5(1): 19-21.
    • 23. B. M. Beehler and J. P. Dumbacher.  1990.  Interesting observations of birds at Varirata National Park, June - July 1990.  Muruk, 4(3): 111.


Other Links:


View my old website at the Smithsonian Molecular Genetics Labs

View recent online expedition blogs

Contact Information


Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118

Jack's eMail: jdumbacher (at:) calacademy (dot) org

For general inquiries about the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy please contact:

Department Administrator
or email: mammals (at:)

Page last updated 12 September 2008 (JPD)

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