Evolutionary Genomics of Birds

Elucidating the evolutionary history of birds using clues hidden in their DNA

Birds are our muse, but evolutionary genomics is our passion. Every living thing on the planet possesses a history book within itself. This book is its genome. The alphabet is simple—only four letters; however, there are many authors. The authors are evolutionary processes, like natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, and mutation. The productivity of the authors across evolutionary time waxes and wanes, and by reading their words through DNA sequencing, we can tease apart how each author has contributed to the writing of the book.

Evolutionary genomics is a powerful method to answer a diverse array of scientific questions. Such questions include the following. Which author (evolutionary process) contributed to the evolution of feather color or beak shape in a particular species? How has a species or population responded to past or current climate and landscape changes? How did a certain species form, or what keeps species separate?

These sorts of questions drive the current evolutionary genomic projects in our lab.

Individual Projects

  • Evolutionary genomics of the brown creeper
  • Evolutionary genomics of the white-breasted nuthatch
  • Rise and fall of the San Benedicto Island rock wren
  • Evolutionary genomics of rosy finches


John Klicka, Burke Museum, University of Washington

Joseph Manthey, Texas Tech University

Lauryn Benedict and Nadje Najar, University of Northern Colorado

Scott Taylor and Erik Funk, University of Colorado – Boulder

Kristen Ruegg, Colorado State University

Darren Irwin and Kenny Askelson, University of British Columbia


Garth M. Spellman, PhD

Associate Curator of Ornithology

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