John Bates

John Bates's picture
John Bates
Associate Curator of Birds
Research Areas: 
Genetic structure, evolution, speciation, and conservation of tropical birds

The tropics harbor the highest species diversity on the planet.  My students and I study genetic structure in tropical birds and other organisms to address how this diversity evolved and how it continues to evolve as climates change and humans continue to alter landscapes. 


Ph.D., Louisiana State University, 1993.

M.S., University of Arizona, 1987.

B.S., University of Arizona, 1983.



Systematics, genetic structure, and geographic variation in the tropics.
My research focuses on genetic structure of tropical birds, primarily at the level of populations and species. At a continental scale, I use data from DNA sequences to uncover patterns of history among lineages of South American, African, and Malagasy birds. Multi-taxon studies, in which samples of different taxa are obtained at each geographic site provide insightful comparative data sets. Coupled with an understanding of distribution and ecology, we can search for correlations between molecular differentiation and other aspects of the biology of these birds such as morphological differentiation, ecology (e.g., habitat selection, foraging guild membership, breeding system, degree of seasonal movement) and phylogenetic relationships (phylogenetic constraints). With Shannon Hackett and TFM research scientist Jason Weckstein, I have been studying co-evolutionary patterns in birds, their parasites and pathogens. In addition to addressing evolutionary questions, I have focused research efforts on demonstating how patterns of genetic structure have relevance to conservation biology.

My former students have studied similar questions in birds and other organisms throughout the tropics (e.g., flycatchers and antbirds in the neotropical lowlands, Jose Tello; Albertine Rift warblers, Charles Kahindo; Ana Carnaval, frogs of northeastern Brazil; Philippine Fruit bats, Trina Roberts; East African frogs, Lucinda Lawson; Philippine insectivorous bats, Sara Weyandt.). Current students Ben Winger and Aaron Savit (University of Chicago) are studying evolution of South American birds, and Isabel Caballero (Univeristy of Illinois, Chicago) is studying population genetics of Peregrine Falcons.

At the local geographic scale, I have studied genetic structure in populations of five forest understory species from continuous forest and from forest fragments in northeastern Bolivia. The sites in continuous forest and the forest fragments are all within 200 km of one another, yet genetic differentiation appears to have developed in the forest fragments for three of the species studied. This work also has implications for the design of nature reserves and for conservation planning, because my data indicate that genetic structure in these forest species can be affected by forest fragmentation.

I also study geographic variation using traditional museum specimens and computerized databases. One such study of geographic variation in some South American finches (genus Tiaris) uncovered misconceptions about traditional species limits and diagnosable populations. Another led to the description of a new species of hanging parrot (Loriculus camiguinensis), which is endemic to the small island of Camiguin in the Philippines. This description was based on a series of specimens collected in the 1960s and deposited in the Field Museum's collections.  A colalborative project with Research Associate Guy Kirwan used Field Museum specimens to document a previously unrecognized pattern of migration in Eurpoean stonechats (Saxicola torquata). In 2010, a collaborative project led by Research Associate Gary Voelker described a new species of Bush-shrike, Laniarius willardi, based on a detailed anaylsis of both modern and historical Field Museum specimens. The new species, named in honor of our recently retired Collections Manager of Birds David Willard, is only known from mid-elevations of Albertine Rift forests in central Africa and appears highly endangered based on our ongoing assessments of the niche of this species.

Such studies demonstrate the vital importance of museum collections and, along with results of molecular studies, emphasize that additional inventory work on birds is sorely needed. Collaborative fieldwork by the division over the last 10 years has included Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Central African Republic, Gabon, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Madagascar and Bhutan. In all countries where we work, building capacity for collections-based ornithological science is a primary goal of our efforts because collections everywhere can be used for teaching and research, telling us now and in the future so much about the birds with which we share the planet.

Work Experience: 

Member, Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago.

Adjunct Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois, Chicago.

External Lecturer, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Project Leader, Programme Biodiversite des Ecosystemes Aquatiques et Terrestres dans le Rift Albertin (PBEATRA), Dem. Rep. of Congo.

Past Head, current member of TFM Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Evolution management committee


Scientific Publications

Mills, G. S., J. B. Dunning, Jr., and J. M. Bates.  1988.  Effects of urbanization on breeding bird community structure in southwestern desert habitats. Condor 91: 416-428.

Bennet, G. F., M. C. Garvin, and J. M. Bates.  1991.  Avian hematozoa from east-central Bolivia.  J. Parasitology 77: 207-211.

Mills, G. S., J. B. Dunning, and J. M. Bates.  1991.  The relationship between breeding bird density and vegetation volume.  Wilson Bull. 103: 468-479.

Bates, J. M., M. C. Garvin, D. C. Schmitt, and C. G Schmitt.  1991.  Notes on bird distribution in northeastern Dpto. Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with 15 new species to Bolivia.  Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 109: 236-244.

Bates, J. M., T. A. Parker, III, A. P. Capparella and T. J. Davis.  1992.  Observations on the campo, cerrado, and forest avifaunas of eastern Dpto. Santa Cruz, Bolivia, including 21 species new to the country.  Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 112:86-98.

Parker, T. A., III, J. M. Bates, and G. Cox.  1992.  Rediscovery of the Bolivian Recurvebill (Simoxenopsstriatus; Furnariidae) with notes on other little-known species of the Bolivian Andes.  Wilson Bull. 104: 173-178.

Bates, J. M.  1992.  Winter territorial behavior of Gray Vireos.  Wilson Bull. 104: 425-433.

Bates, J. M.  1992.  Frugivory on Burseramicrophylla(Burseracae) by wintering Gray Vireos (Vireovicinior, Vireonidae) in the coastal deserts of Sonora, Mexico.  Southwestern Nat. 37: 252-257.

Bates, J. M. and R. M. Zink.  1992.   Seasonal variation in gene frequencies in the House Sparrow (Passerdomesticus).  The Auk 109: 658-662.

Bates, J. M.  1993.  Review of "Birds of Southwestern Brazil: Catalogue and Guide to the Birds of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso and its Border Areas" by Balthasar Dubs.  The Auk 110: 661.

Bates, J. M.  1993.  Studying ways to teach evolution: the importance of practicing what we preach.  Proceedings of the LSU/NSF Evolution Research Conference (R. A. Good, J. E. Trowbridge, S. S. Demastes, J. H. Wundersee, M. S. Hafner, and C. L. Cummins, Eds.) Baton Rouge, LA.

Bates, J. M., S. J. Hackett, and R. M. Zink.  1993.  Tecnicas y materiales para la preservación de tejidos congelados.  Pp. 75-78 in Curación moderna de colecciones ornitolólogicas (P. Escalante-Pliego, Ed.)  American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Bates, J. M.  1994.  Review of "On the biology of five species of swifts (Apodidae, Cypselinoidinae) in Costa Rica" by Manuel Marin A. and F. Gary Stiles.  The Auk 111: 717.

Bates, J. M. and R. M. Zink.  1994.  Evolution into the Andes: species relationships in the flycatcher genus Leptopogon.  The Auk 111: 507-515.

Hackett, S. J., C. S. Griffiths, J. M. Bates, and N. K. Klein.  1995.  A commentary on the use of sequence data for phylogeny reconstruction.  Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 4:350-353.

Bates, J. M.  1996.  Review of "Status, Distribution and Biogeography of the Birds of Paraguay " by Floyd E. Hayes.  The Auk 113:727-728.

Bates, J. M. and T. S. Schulenberg.  1996.  In Memorium: Theodore A. Parker, III.  The Auk 114:110. 

Bates, J. M.  1997.  Distribution and geographic variation in three South American grassquits (Emberizinae, Tiaris).  Ornithological Monographs 48:91-110.

Garvin, M. C., J. M. Bates, and J. M. Kinsella.  1997.  Nematode parasites in birds from east-central Bolivia. Ornithological Monographs 48:261-266.

Hackett, S. J. and J. M. Bates.  1997.  Review of “Molecular Systematics” edited by D. M. Hillis, C. Moritz, and B. K. Mable.  The Auk 114:802-803.

Bates, J. M. 1998.  Review of “Handbook of Birds of the World, Volume 4 (Sandgrouse to Cuckoos)”, J. Del Hoyo, A Elliot and J. Sargatal (eds.).  Condor 100:769-775.

Bates, J. M., J. Cracraft and S. J. Hackett.  1998.  Area-relationships in the Neotropical lowlands: An hypothesis based on raw distributions of Passerine birds.  Jrnl. of Biogeography 25:783-793.

Bates, J. M., D. F. Stotz, and T. S. Schulenberg.  1998.  Avifauna of Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado. Pp. 120-128.  In: A Biological Assessment of Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado, Bolivia.  RAP Working papers 10.  Conservation International, Washington, D. C.

Bates, J. M. and T. A. Parker, III.  1998.  The avifauna of Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado and surrounding areas.  Pp. 317-340.  In: A Biological Assessment of Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado, Bolivia.  RAP Working papers 10.  Conservation International, Washington, D. C.

Bates, J. M., S. J. Hackett and J. Goerck.  1999.  High levels of mitochondrial DNA differentiation in two lineages of antbirds (Drymophilaand Hypocnemis).  The Auk 116:1093-1106.

Bates, J. M.  2000.  Allozyme genetic structure and natural habitat fragmentation: Data for five species of Amazonian forest birds.  Condor 102:770-783.

Kirchman, J. J., S. J. Hackett, S. M. Goodman, and J. M. Bates.  2001.  Phylogeny and systematics of the ground rollers (Brachypteraciidae) of Madagascar.  The Auk 118:849-863.

Bates, J. M.  2001.  Avian diversification in Amazonia: evidence for historical complexity and a vicariance model for a basic pattern of diversification. Pp. 119-138 in: Diversidade Biológica e Cultural da Amazônia (I. Viera, M. A. D'Incao, J. M. Cardoso da Silva and D. Oren, editors).  Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, Belém, Pará, Brazil.

Bates, J. M. and T. C. Demos.  2001.  Do we need to devalue Amazonia and other large tropical forests? Diversity and Distribution 7:249-255.

Bober, S. O., M. Herremans, M. Louette, J. C. Kerbis Peterhans and J. M. Bates.  2001.  Geographical and altitudinal distribution of endemic birds in the Albertine Rift.  Ostrich Supplement 15 (July 2001):189-196.

Graves, G. R., A. W. Kratter, and J. M. Bates.  2001.  The first nesting record of Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erthythropthalmus) in the lower Mississippi Valley. Journal of Louisiana Ornithology 5:46-48.

Silva, J. M. C. and J. M. Bates.  2002.  Biogeographic patterns in the South American Cerrado: a tropical savanna hotspot.  BioScience: 52:225-233.

Bates, J. M.  2002.  The genetic effects of forest fragmentation on five species of Amazonian birds. Journal of Avian Biology 33:276-294.

Griffiths, C. S. and J. M. Bates.  2002.  Morphology, genetics and the value of voucher specimens: an example with Cathartesvultures. Journal of Raptor Biology 36:183-187.

Joseph, L. and J. M. Bates. 2002. Pyrrhura snethalgeaesp. nov. Pp. 354-355 inJoseph, L.  Geographical variation, taxonomy, and distribution of some Amazonian Pyrrhuraparakeets.   Ornithólogia Neotropical  13:337-363.

Bates, J. M. 2003.  Review of People and Forests: Communities, Institutions, and Governance(C. C. Gibson, M. A. McKean, and E. Ostrom; Editors).  The Quarterly Review of Biology 78:113-114.

Bates, J. M., J. G. Tello, and J. M. Cardoso da Silva.  2003.  An initial assessment of genetic diversity in ten bird species of South American Cerrado.  Studies on Neotropical Fauna and the Environment 38:87-94. 

Bates, J. M., J. Haffer and E. Grismer.  2004. Avian Mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence across as headwater stream of the Rio Tapajos, a major Amazonian river.  Journal of Ornithology 145:199-205.

Bates, J. M., R. C. K. Bowie, D. E. Willard, G. Voelker, andMacDonald and G C. Kahindo.  2004.  A need for continued collecting of avian voucher specimens in Africa, or: Why blood is not enough.  Ostrich 75:187-191.

Tello, J. G., J. M. Bates, and I. Caballero.  2004.  Species accounts for the flycatcher genera Rhynchocyclus, Tolmomyias, and Platyrinchus.  Pp. 337-343 in Handbook of Birds of the World, Vol. 9 (Eds, J. de Hoyo, A. Elliot, and D. Christie).   Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Fraga, R. M. and J. M. Bates.  2005.  Two unreported specimens of Ochre-breasted Pipit, Anthusnattereri,from a new Brazilian locality. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 125:66-68.

Braun, M. J., M. L. Isler, P. Isler, J. M. Bates, and M. B. Robbins.  2005.  Avian speciation in thePantepui: the case of Percnostola [Schistocichla] "leucostigma" saturata.  Condor 107:329-343.

Bates, J. M. 2005.  Conservationists: Don’t forget academics.  Letter to editor. Worldwatch 2005(Nov./Dec.):4.

Bowie, C. K. R., J Fjeldså, S. J. Hackett, J. M. Bates, and T. M. Crowe.  2006.  Coalescent models reveal the relative roles of ancestral polymorphism, vicariance, and dispersal in shaping phylogeographical structure of an African montane forest robin.  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 38:171-188.

Tello, J. G., J. F. Degner, J. M. Bates, and D. E. Willard.  2006.  A new species of Hanging-Parrot (Loriculus) from Camiguin Island, Philippines, pp. 58-72.  In Heaney, L. R., ed., The Mammals and Birds of Camiguin Island, Philippines, a Distinctive Center of Biodiversity.  Fieldiana Zoology, n.s., 106:1-72.

Bates, J. M. 2006.  The seasonal movements of southern populations of Dull-colored Grassquit (Tiaris obscura obscura).  Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 126:50-53.

Kahindo, C., J. M. Bates, and R. C. K. Bowie.  2007.  The relevance of data on genetic diversity for the conservation of Afro-montane regions.  Biological Conservation 134:262-270.

Tello, J. G. and J. M. Bates.  2007.  Molecular phylogenetics of the Flatbill and Tody-tyrant assemblage of Tyrant flycatchers (Aves: Tyrannidae).  The Auk 124:1-21.

Aleixo, A., Rodrigues, E. B., Faccio, M. S., Weckstein, J. D. & Bates, J. M.  2007.  Aves do Cacuajó, FLONA de Caxiuanã, p. 70-72. Em Resumos Expandidos do I Seminário Científico do PPBIO. Belém: Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. (consultado em 30/08/2007).

Kizungu, R. B., J. M. Bates, and B. Murhabale.  2007.  A nest of Collared Apalis (Apalis ruwenzori) in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.  Journal of the African Bird Club 14: 69-71.

Cadena, C. D., B. López-Lanús, J. M. Bates, N. Krabbe, N. H. Rice, F. G. Stiles, J. D. Palacio, and P. Salaman.  2007.  Second Record of Hybridization in the Tracheophone Suboscines: Grallaria nuchalisx G. ruficapillain a Fragmented Andean Landscape.  Ibis 149:814-825.

Maillard, O., J. M. Bates, J. G. Tello, and M. A. Aponte.  2007.  Avifauna del Rio Manupare y Cráter Iturralde, un bosque Amazonico en el Departamento de La Paz, Bolivia.  Ornitología Neotropical 18:519-534.

Carnaval, A. C. O. Q., and J. M. Bates.  2007.  Amphibian DNA shows marked genetic structure and tracks Pleistocene climate change in northeastern Brazil.  Evolution 61:2942-2957.

Bates, J. M.  2007.  Natural History Museums: World Centers of biodiversity knowledge, now and in the future.  The Systematist 29:3-6.

Tobias, J. A., J. M. Bates, S. J. Hackett, and N. Seddon.  2008.  Comment on “The Latitudinal Gradient in Recent Speciation and Extinction Rates of Birds and Mammals.  Science 319:901c.

Bates, J. M., C. D. Cadena, J. G. Tello, and R. T. Brumfield.  2008.  Diversification in the Neotropics: phylogenetic patterns and historical processes. Proceedings of the VIIIth Neotropical Ornithological Congress. Ornitología Neotropical 19 (suppl.): 427-432.

Macnamara, P., J. M. Bates, and J. H. Boone. 2008. Architecture by birds and insects: a natural art. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Bates, J. M. Review of The Clements Checklist of Birds of the Worldby J. F. Clements.  2008.  The Quarterly Review of Biology 83(2):227. 

Kirwan, G. M. and J. M. Bates.  2008.  The status of European Stonechat Saxicola rubicolain the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Sandgrouse 30:113-116.

Bueter, C. J., J. Weckstein, J. M. Bates, K. P. Johnson, and C. E. Gordon.  2009.  Comparative phylogenetic histories of two louse genera found on Catharusthrushes and other birds.  Journal of Parasitology 95:295-307.

Hackett, S. J. and J. M Bates.  2009. Darwin and Evolution, Inextricably Linked with Natural History Collections.  On-line essay for the OneBookOne Program, Northwestern University.

Pantané, J. S. L., J. D. Weckstein, A. Aleixo, and J. M. Bates.  2009.  Evolutionary history of Ramphastostoucans: Molecular phylogenetics, temporal diversification and biogeography. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution53:923-934.

Antonelli, A., A. Quijada-Mascareñas, A. J. Crawford, J. M. Bates, P. M. Velazco and W. Wüster. 2009.  Molecular studies and phylogeography of Amazonian tetrapods and their relation to geological and climatic models.  Pp 388-404 in: Neogene history of Western Amazonia and its significance for modern biodiversity.  C. Hoorn, H. Vonhof, and F. Wesselingh (Eds.).

Bates, J. M.  2010.  Studying birds in the Sonoran Desert.  Pp. 49-57.  In: Moments of Discovery: Natural History Narratives from Mexico and Central America.  K. Winker (Ed.).  Univ. Florida Press.

Voelker, G., Robert K. Outlaw, Sushma Reddy, Michael Tobler, John M. Bates, Shannon J. Hackett, Charles Kahindo, Ben D. Marks, Julian Kerbis Peterhans, and Thomas P. Gnoske.  A new species of black boubou from the Albertine Rift (Passeriformes: Laniidae: Laniarius).  The Auk 127:678-689.

Winker, K., J. M. Reed, P. Escalante, R. A. Askins, C. Cicero, G. E. Hough, and J. Bates.  2010.  The importance, effects and ethics of bird collecting.  The Auk 127:690-695.


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