June 11, 2015 — LA Audubon Monthly Program Presentation

Please note: The monthly program presentations for March - June 2015 will be held on the 2nd Thursday of the month. There are no presentations in the summer months of July and August.

2015June11 Program by-John-McCormack MooreLabZoology

John McCormack presents: "How to determine distinctness of biological units and the controversy over the coastal California Gnatcatcher"

If land developers and conservationists are to work together, they require objective scientific evidence upon which to base their actions. With situations involving threatened or endangered species, the question often revolves around whether or not a population is distinct in its appearance, genetics, or habitat. In these cases, all parties must determine how studies reporting negative results should be interpreted. What conclusions should be drawn when scientistsfail to find evidence for distinctness? Not finding something does not mean it is not there. And the likelihood of an absence being a true absence increases with search effort.

This dilemma is highlighted by the recent petition to remove the coastal California Gnatcatcher from the Endangered Species list based on a recent study that failed to find evidence for its genetic and ecological distinctness. John will discuss why the authors of the study’s choice of genetic markers was not well suited to the question of distinctness and how their negative results were over-interpreted in both the genetic and ecological analysis. Our reanalysis of their genetic data finds evidence that several DNA regions actually demonstrate distinctness of the federally listed gnatcatchers. Finally, John provides recommendations for best practices in determining distinctness in phenotype, genetics, and ecology for coastal California Gnatcatchers and other cases of conservation concern.

John McCormack is Director and Curator of the Bird and Mammal Collection at the Moore Laboratory of Zoology and an Assistant Professor of Biology at Occidental College. The Moore Lab holds the largest collection of Mexican birds in the world and over 65,000 specimens in total, which the McCormack Lab studies to understand the basic units of biodiversity and the processes that generate this biodiversity. The McCormack Lab has pioneered the use of new DNA sequencing technologies to better resolve the Tree of Life and is currently applying these advances to unlock the genomes of museum specimens dating back to the 1800s. Professor McCormack received his undergraduate degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and his Ph.D. in the lab of Thomas B. Smith at UCLA. After postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan and Louisiana State University, he arrived at Occidental College as Moore Lab Director in 2011.


Los Angeles Audubon's monthly evening program presentations are held at the Audubon Center at Debs Park. Meetings start at 7:30 p.m. and are over at 9:30 p.m. Come early enjoy the nature, share your birding interests with like minded birders. Stay and enjoy the slideshow presentations. All are welcome!

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Los Angeles, CA 90031
Phone: 323-221-2255
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