Irby J Lovette

Fuller Professor of Ornithology Senior Director for Academic Affairs and Director of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Director, Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates


My research activities are based out of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Research in our lab group presently centers on using genomic approaches to explore processes of speciation, hybridization, functional genetics, and diversification. We work mostly on birds, but within birds we do research on a variety of species and avian groups to address different types of questions. Our group also has a long history of working on topics related to the disciplines of phylogenetics, phylogeography, comparative analysis, conservation genetics, and behavioral ecology, and this has continued even as we have transitioned into the era of big-data genomics. The nucleus of our lab group is a cadre of interactive and engaging graduate students and postdocs, and we regularly welcome visiting researchers into our group from elsewhere at Cornell and from outside institutions worldwide.

At the Lab I also serve as Associate Director for Academic Affairs, through which I oversee the Lab’s many programs and opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs, including our flagship Rose Postdoctoral Program.

I joined Cornell University in 2001 via a joint appointment in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. From 2000-2001, I was a postdoctoral associate with Tom Smith at the Center for Tropical Research in San Francisco. In 1999-2000, I was a Lecturer in Biology at the University of Pennsylvania. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, where I was co-advised by Bob Ricklefs (now at the University of Missouri), Biff Bermingham (then at the Tropical Research Institute in Panama), and John Smith of UPenn. I received my BA from Dartmouth College in 1992, where my honors thesis mentor was Dick Holmes.

My recent teaching includes our large, foundational Evolutionary Biology and Diversity course (BioEE 1780), an annual three-course Galápagos-themed curriculum (with a really neat field trip!) for freshmen in the Biology Scholars Program (BioEE 1780, WRIT 1430, & BioG 1250), an annual wildlife biology course series that includes a field trip to Patagonia (BioEE 2525/2526), our annual Fall semester Ornithology Seminar (BioEE/NTRES 7800) that serves also as a networking venue for the ornithological student community, and various one-time topical and graduate courses.

Research Focus

Members of our lab’s research community explore the biological diversity of birds and other organisms. We seek a better understanding of the processes that underlie the diversification and differentiation of populations and species, we generate improved reconstructions of their evolutionary histories, we conduct novel comparative and experimental tests of ecological and behavioral adaptations, and we inform scientific and public audiences about real-world issues relating to diversity and conservation genetics.

All of the members of our lab group engage in multidisciplinary studies of wild organisms. Birds are usually the primary focus of most of our studies, but some of our projects have also involved various groups of lizards, fishes, insects, and pathogens. At present, our primary research endeavors share a common theme of using novel and very powerful next-generation genomic tools to address long-standing questions about avian evolution, ecology, behavior, and/or conservation. Our lab group is fortunate to have close ties with Cornell’s world-class network of evolutionary biologists, computational genomics experts, and biostatisticians in areas ranging from comparative genomics to species distribution modeling.


  • Aguillon, S. M., L. Campagna, R. G. Harrison, and I. J. Lovette (2018). A flicker of hope: Genomic data distinguish Northern Flicker taxa despite low levels of divergence. The Auk 135:748–766. doi: 10.1642/AUK-18-7.1
  • Berv, J. S., and D. J. Field (2018). Genomic Signature of an Avian Lilliput Effect across the K-Pg Extinction. Systematic Biology 67:1–13. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syx064
  • Campagna, L., M. Repenning, L. F. Silveira, C. S. Fontana, P. L. Tubaro, and I. J. Lovette (2017). Repeated divergent selection on pigmentation genes in a rapid finch radiation. Science Advances 3:e1602404. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602404
  • Toews, D. P. L., N. R. Hofmeister, and S. A. Taylor (2017). The Evolution and Genetics of Carotenoid Processing in Animals. Trends in Genetics 33:171–182. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2017.01.002
  • Van Doren, B. M., L. Campagna, B. Helm, J. C. Illera, I. J. Lovette, and M. Liedvogel (2017). Correlated patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation across an avian family. Molecular Ecology 26:3982–3997. doi: 10.1111/mec.14083
  • Walsh, J., I. J. Lovette, V. Winder, C. S. Elphick, B. J. Olsen, G. Shriver, and A. I. Kovach (2017). Subspecies delineation amid phenotypic, geographic and genetic discordance in a songbird. Molecular Ecology 26:1242–1255. doi: 10.1111/mec.14010
  • Campagna, L. (2016). Supergenes: The Genomic Architecture of a Bird with Four Sexes. Current Biology 26:R105–R107. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.005
  • Taylor, S., and L. Campagna (2016). Avian supergenes. Science 351:446–447. doi: 10.1126/science.aae0389
  • Toews, D. P. L., L. Campagna, S. A. Taylor, C. N. Balakrishnan, D. T. Baldassarre, P. E. Deane-Coe, M. G. Harvey, D. M. Hooper, D. E. Irwin, C. D. Judy, N. A. Mason, et al. (2016). Genomic approaches to understanding population divergence and speciation in birds. The Auk 133:13–30. doi: 10.1642/AUK-15-51.1
  • Toews, D. P. L., S. A. Taylor, R. Vallender, A. Brelsford, B. G. Butcher, P. W. Messer, and I. J. Lovette (2016). Plumage Genes and Little Else Distinguish the Genomes of Hybridizing Warblers. Current Biology 26:2313–2318. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.06.034

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