Dr Jack Dumbacher is Curator of Ornithology and Mammalogy at the California Academy of Sciences where he is responsible for the care of the department’s research collections, which include a world-renowned trove of Darwin’s famous finches along with over 100,000 other bird specimens and nearly 30,000 mammal specimens. Dumbacher joined the Academy in 2003 and specializes in ecology and evolution across birds and mammals.
Early in his career, he discovered the first known example of chemical defence among birds—a common New Guinean songbird that carried a potent neurotoxin in its skin and feathers. Fascinated with poisonous birds, Dumbacher uses DNA sequencing to study the evolution of toxicity and mimicry in avian species. Through these advanced sequencing techniques, Dumbacher seeks to better understand evolutionary relationships among species. His research spans the evolution of elephant-shrews in Namibia, the genetics of invasive barred owls in California, and the sequencing of new avian viruses in wild bird populations. This research helps inform decisions about biodiversity conservation around the globe. Prior to joining the Academy, Dumbacher spent six years at the Smithsonian Institution. He received his bachelor’s degree in general biology from Vanderbilt University. Subsequently, he studied ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, where he earned his master’s degree and Ph.D.