John E McCormack

Occidental College, Los Ángeles, California, United States

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Publications (41)263.38 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The widespread application of high-throughput sequencing in studying evolutionary processes and patterns of diversification has led to many important discoveries. However, the barriers to utilizing these technologies and interpreting the resulting data can be daunting for first-time users. We provide an overview and a brief primer of relevant methods (e.g., whole-genome sequencing, reduced-representation sequencing, sequence-capture methods, and RNA sequencing), as well as important steps in the analysis pipelines (e.g., loci clustering, variant calling, whole-genome and transcriptome assembly). We also review a number of applications in which researchers have used these technologies to address questions related to avian systems. We highlight how genomic tools are advancing research by discussing their contributions to 3 important facets of avian evolutionary history. We focus on (1) general inferences about biogeography and biogeographic history, (2) patterns of gene flow and isolation upon secondary contact and hybridization, and (3) quantifying levels of genomic divergence between closely related taxa. We find that in many cases, high-throughput sequencing data confirms previous work from traditional molecular markers, although there are examples in which genome-wide genetic markers provide a different biological interpretation. We also discuss how these new data allow researchers to address entirely novel questions, and conclude by outlining a number of intellectual and methodological challenges as the genomics era moves forward.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · The Auk
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    Full-text · Dataset · Nov 2015
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    ABSTRACT: In recent articles published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Mark Springer and John Gatesy (S&G) present numerous criticisms of recent implementations and testing of the multispecies coalescent model in phylogenomics, popularly known as “species tree” methods. After pointing out errors in alignments and gene tree rooting in recent phylogenomic data sets, in particular in Song et al. (2012) on mammals and Xi et al. (2014) on plants, they suggest that these errors seriously compromise the conclusions of these studies. Additionally, S&G enumerate numerous violated assumptions and deficiencies in the application of the multispecies coalescent model (MSC) in phylogenomics, such as its assumption of neutrality and in particular the use of transcriptomes, which are deemed inappropriate for the MSC because the constituent exons often subtend large regions of chromosomes within which recombination is substantial. We acknowledge these previously reported errors in recent phylogenomic data sets, but disapprove of S&G’s excessively combative and taunting tone. We show that these errors, as well as two nucleotide-sorting methods used in the analysis of Amborella, have little impact on the conclusions of those papers. Moreover, several concepts introduced by S&G and an appeal to “first principles” of phylogenetics in an attempt to discredit MSC models are invalid and reveal numerous misunderstandings of the MSC. Contrary to the claims of S&G we show that recent computer simulations used to test the robustness of MSC models are not circular and do not unfairly favor MSC models over concatenation. In fact, although both concatenation and MSC models clearly perform well in regions of tree space with long branches and little incomplete lineage sorting (ILS), simulations reveal the erratic behavior of concatenation when subjected to data subsampling and its tendency to produce spuriously confident yet conflicting results in regions of parameter space where MSC models still perform well. S&G’s claims that MSC models explain little or none (0%-15%) of the observed gene tree heterogeneity observed in a mammal data set and that MSC models assume ILS as the only source of gene tree variation are flawed. Overall many of their criticisms of MSC models are invalidated when concatenation is appropriately viewed as a special case of the MSC, which in turn is a special case of emerging network models in phylogenomics. We reiterate that there is enormous promise and value in recent implementations and tests of the MSC and look forward to its increased use and refinement in phylogenomics.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
  • John E McCormack · Whitney L.E. Tsai · Brant C Faircloth
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    ABSTRACT: New DNA sequencing technologies are allowing researchers to explore the genomes of the millions of natural history specimens collected prior to the molecular era. Yet, we know little about how well specific next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques work with the degraded DNA typically extracted from museum specimens. Here, we use one type of NGS approach, sequence capture of ultraconserved elements (UCEs), to collect data from bird museum specimens as old as 120 years. We targeted 5,060 UCE loci in 27 Western Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica) representing three evolutionary lineages that could be species, and we collected an average of 3,749 UCE loci containing 4,460 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Despite older specimens producing fewer and shorter loci in general, we collected thousands of markers from even the oldest specimens. More sequencing reads per individual helped to boost the number of UCE loci we recovered from older specimens, but more sequencing was not as successful at increasing the length of loci. We detected contamination in some samples and determined that contamination was more prevalent in older samples that were subject to less sequencing. For the phylogeny generated from concatenated UCE loci, contamination led to incorrect placement of some individuals. In contrast, a species tree constructed from SNPs called within UCE loci correctly placed individuals into three monophyletic groups, perhaps because of the stricter analytical procedures we used for SNP calling. This study and other recent studies on the genomics of museums specimens have profound implications for natural history collections, where millions of older specimens should now be considered genomic resources. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Molecular Ecology Resources
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    Moises Kaplan · Peter Heimes · John McCormack
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    ABSTRACT: We describe the tadpole, juveniles, and two adult specimens of Plectrohyla mykter. The tadpole of this species is unique among Plectrohyla by having labial tooth row formula 4(4)/6. We found that tarsal fold, thoracic fold, and rostral keel are present in P. mykter but not evident in adults, and that the skin thickness is intermediate in comparison to other species of Plectrohyla. We conclude that these characters are not useful for the diagnosis of P. mykter and propose a new diagnosis for this species.
    Preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Caldasia
  • John E. McCormack · James M. Maley
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    ABSTRACT: A recent study by Zink et al. (2013) raises questions about how to interpret negative results in studies when the distinctness of a species of conservation concern is in question. Zink et al. found no evidence for genetic or ecological distinctness of the coastal California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica). We discuss why the genetic markers they chose were not well suited to the question of distinctness and how they overinterpreted negative results in their genetic and ecological analyses. We reanalyze their genetic data and find evidence that several genetic loci show significant differentiation in the coastal California Gnatcatchers. We provide recommendations for best practices in determining distinctness in phenotype, genetics, and ecology for California Gnatcatchers and other populations of conservation concern.
    No preview · Article · Apr 2015 · The Auk
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    ABSTRACT: Manakins (Pipridae) are well know for elaborate male sexual displays and ornate plumage coloration, both of which are thought to have evolved as a consequence of lekking breeding, the prevalent mating system in the family. Less attention has been paid to a handful of ‘drab’ manakin species, in which sexual dimorphism appears to be reduced or absent. Using character reconstruction, we show that these ‘exceptions to the rule’ represent phylogenetically independent cases of losses in sexual dimorphism, and as such could provide a focal group to investigate the link between changes in morphology and in life history (e.g. mating system). We take a first step in this direction by focusing on two subspecies of the putatively monomorphic green manakin Xenopipo holochlora to formally confirm that the species is sexually monomorphic in size and plumage color and test the prediction that sexual monomorphism is associated with the loss of lekking behavior in this species. Our results show that size dimorphism is present but limited in the green manakin, with substantial overlap in male and female morphometric measures, and that sexes are largely monochromatic (including from an avian perspective), despite marked coloration differences between subspecies. Behavioral observations indicate that males do not form leks and do not engage in elaborate sexual displays, that there is no stable pair bond formation, and that females provide parental care alone. These findings are consistent with the idea that changes in mating behavior may have driven changes in morphology in Pipridae, and we encourage similar studies on other drab manakins to better understand this relationship.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2015 · Journal of Avian Biology
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    ABSTRACT: To provide context for the diversification of archosaurs--the group that includes crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds--we generated draft genomes of three crocodilians: Alligator mississippiensis (the American alligator), Crocodylus porosus (the saltwater crocodile), and Gavialis gangeticus (the Indian gharial). We observed an exceptionally slow rate of genome evolution within crocodilians at all levels, including nucleotide substitutions, indels, transposable element content and movement, gene family evolution, and chromosomal synteny. When placed within the context of related taxa including birds and turtles, this suggests that the common ancestor of all of these taxa also exhibited slow genome evolution and that the comparatively rapid evolution is derived in birds. The data also provided the opportunity to analyze heterozygosity in crocodilians, which indicates a likely reduction in population size for all three taxa through the Pleistocene. Finally, these data combined with newly published bird genomes allowed us to reconstruct the partial genome of the common ancestor of archosaurs, thereby providing a tool to investigate the genetic starting material of crocodilians, birds, and dinosaurs. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014 · Science
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    ABSTRACT: To better determine the history of modern birds, we performed a genome-scale phylogenetic analysis of 48 species representing all orders of Neoaves using phylogenomic methods created to handle genome-scale data. We recovered a highly resolved tree that confirms previously controversial sister or close relationships. We identified the first divergence in Neoaves, two groups we named Passerea and Columbea, representing independent lineages of diverse and convergently evolved land and water bird species. Among Passerea, we infer the common ancestor of core landbirds to have been an apex predator and confirm independent gains of vocal learning. Among Columbea, we identify pigeons and flamingoes as belonging to sister clades. Even with whole genomes, some of the earliest branches in Neoaves proved challenging to resolve, which was best explained by massive protein-coding sequence convergence and high levels of incomplete lineage sorting that occurred during a rapid radiation after the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event about 66 million years ago. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014 · Science
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    ABSTRACT: To provide context for the diversification of archosaurs—the group that includes crocodilians, dinosaurs, and birds—we generated draft genomes of three crocodilians: Alligator mississippiensis (the American alligator), Crocodylus porosus (the saltwater crocodile), and Gavialis gangeticus (the Indian gharial). We observed an exceptionally slow rate of genome evolution within crocodilians at all levels, including nucleotide substitutions, indels, transposable element content and movement, gene family evolution, and chromosomal synteny. When placed within the context of related taxa including birds and turtles, this suggests that the common ancestor of all of these taxa also exhibited slow genome evolution and that the comparatively rapid evolution is derived in birds. The data also provided the opportunity to analyze heterozygosity in crocodilians, which indicates a likely reduction in population size for all three taxa through the Pleistocene. Finally, these data combined with newly published bird genomes allowed us to reconstruct the partial genome of the common ancestor of archosaurs, thereby providing a tool to investigate the genetic starting material of crocodilians, birds, and dinosaurs.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Additional methods, results and references
    Full-text · Dataset · Sep 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Since the recognition that allopatric speciation can be induced by large-scale reconfigurations of the landscape that isolate formerly continuous populations, such as the separation of continents by plate tectonics, the uplift of mountains or the formation of large rivers, landscape change has been viewed as a primary driver of biological diversification. This process is referred to in biogeography as vicariance1. In the most species-rich region of the world, the Neotropics, the sundering of populations associated with the Andean uplift is ascribed this principal role in speciation. An alternative model posits that rather than being directly linked to landscape change, allopatric speciation is initiated to a greater extent by dispersal events, with the principal drivers of speciation being organism-specific abilities to persist and disperse in the landscape. Landscape change is not a necessity for speciation in this model8. Here we show that spatial and temporal patterns of genetic differentiation in Neotropical birds are highly discordant across lineages and are not reconcilable with a model linking speciation solely to landscape change. Instead, the strongest predictors of speciation are the amount of time a lineage has persisted in the landscape and the ability of birds to move through the landscape matrix. These results, augmented by the observation that most species-level diversity originated after episodes of major Andean uplift in the Neogene period, suggest that dispersal and differentiation on a matrix previously shaped by large-scale landscape events was a major driver of avian speciation in lowland Neotropical rainforests.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Nature
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    ABSTRACT: Background Haldane’s Rule, the tendency for the heterogametic sex to show reduced fertility in hybrid crosses, can obscure the signal of gene flow in mtDNA between species where females are heterogametic. Therefore, it is important when studying speciation and species limits in female-heterogametic species like birds to assess the signature of gene flow in the nuclear genome as well. We studied introgression of microsatellites and mtDNA across a secondary contact zone between coastal and interior lineages of Western Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica) to test for a signature of Haldane’s Rule: a narrower cline of introgression in mtDNA compared to nuclear markers. Results Our initial phylogeographic analysis revealed that there is only one major area of contact between coastal and interior lineages and identified five genetic clusters with strong spatial structuring: Pacific Slope, Interior US, Edwards Plateau (Texas), Northern Mexico, and Southern Mexico. Consistent with predictions from Haldane’s Rule, mtDNA showed a narrower cline than nuclear markers across a transect through the hybrid zone. This result is not being driven by female-biased dispersal because neutral diffusion analysis, which included estimates of sex-specific dispersal rates, also showed less diffusion of mtDNA. Lineage-specific plumage traits were associated with nuclear genetic profiles for individuals in the hybrid zone, indicating that these differences are under genetic control. Conclusions This study adds to a growing list of studies that support predictions of Haldane’s Rule using cline analysis of multiple loci of differing inheritance modes, although alternate hypotheses like selection on different mtDNA types cannot be ruled out. That Haldane’s Rule appears to be operating in this system suggests a measure of reproductive isolation between the Pacific Slope and interior lineages. Based on a variety of evidence from the phenotype, ecology, and genetics, we recommend elevating three lineages to species level: A. californica (Pacific Slope); A. woodhouseii (Interior US plus Edwards Plateau plus Northern Mexico); A. sumichrasti (Southern Mexico). The distinctive Edwards Plateau population in Texas, which was monophyletic in mtDNA except for one individual, should be studied in greater detail given habitat threat.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2014 · BMC Evolutionary Biology
  • John E. McCormack · Madhvi X. Venkatraman
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    ABSTRACT: Ancient hybridization is difficult to detect and is often surmised from conflicting patterns between phenotypic and genetic data sets that are difficult to explain with alternative hypotheses. Here, a fortuitous macromutation in a microsatellite locus allows an unusually distinctive footprint of ancient introgression to be inferred between two highly divergent bird species that began to speciate in the Late Miocene. A cline of distinctive high-repeat-number (large) alleles at a locus in the Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi), which predominantly has low-repeat-number (small) alleles, reaches its highest frequency near the range border with Transvolcanic Jays (A. ultramarina), which are fixed for large alleles, indicating gene flow. The gene flow is not recent, however, because very few of the allelic states are shared between Mexican Jays and Transvolcanic Jays. Ancient gene flow is also more plausible than current gene flow because prior mitochondrial DNA results show no evidence of current dispersal between the ranges of the species, and Mexican Jays with introgressed large alleles are not phenotypically more similar to Transvolcanic Jays, as would be expected with recent hybridization. Although bifurcations in the tree of life are often assumed to belie complex histories of introgression, our results provide some of the clearest evidence that speciation can survive one or multiple bouts of gene flow with no detectable trace in the phenotypes and mtDNA of the constituent species. Received 31 October 2012, accepted 16 March 2013.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2013 · The Auk
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    John E McCormack · Brant C Faircloth
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    ABSTRACT: It has been a tumultuous 5 years in phylogeography and phylogenetics during which both fields have struggled to harness the power of next‐generation sequencing (NGS) (Ekblom & Galindo ; McCormack et al. ). Fortunately, several methodological approaches appear to be taking root. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, O'Neill et al. ) employ one such method – parallel tagged sequencing (PTS) – to elucidate the phylogeography of a tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) species complex. This study demonstrates a practical application of NGS on a scale appropriate (and not overkill) for most biologists interested in phylogeography (~100 loci for ~100 individuals), and their results highlight several analytical challenges that lie ahead for researchers employing NGS techniques.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2013 · Molecular Ecology
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    Full-text · Article · Jan 2013 · Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
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    ABSTRACT: Evolutionary relationships among birds in Neoaves, the clade comprising the vast majority of avian diversity, have vexed systematists due to the ancient, rapid radiation of numerous lineages. We applied a new phylogenomic approach to resolve relationships in Neoaves using target enrichment (sequence capture) and high-throughput sequencing of ultraconserved elements (UCEs) in avian genomes. We collected sequence data from UCE loci for 32 members of Neoaves and one outgroup (chicken) and analyzed data sets that differed in their amount of missing data. An alignment of 1,541 loci that allowed missing data was 87% complete and resulted in a highly resolved phylogeny with broad agreement between the Bayesian and maximum-likelihood (ML) trees. Although results from the 100% complete matrix of 416 UCE loci were similar, the Bayesian and ML trees differed to a greater extent in this analysis, suggesting that increasing from 416 to 1,541 loci led to increased stability and resolution of the tree. Novel results of our study include surprisingly close relationships between phenotypically divergent bird families, such as tropicbirds (Phaethontidae) and the sunbittern (Eurypygidae) as well as between bustards (Otididae) and turacos (Musophagidae). This phylogeny bolsters support for monophyletic waterbird and landbird clades and also strongly supports controversial results from previous studies, including the sister relationship between passerines and parrots and the non-monophyly of raptorial birds in the hawk and falcon families. Although significant challenges remain to fully resolving some of the deep relationships in Neoaves, especially among lineages outside the waterbirds and landbirds, this study suggests that increased data will yield an increasingly resolved avian phylogeny.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2013 · PLoS ONE
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    ABSTRACT: We present the first genomic-scale analysis addressing the phylogenetic position of turtles, using over 1000 loci from representatives of all major reptile lineages including tuatara. Previously, studies of morphological traits positioned turtles either at the base of the reptile tree or with lizards, snakes and tuatara (lepidosaurs), whereas molecular analyses typically allied turtles with crocodiles and birds (archosaurs). A recent analysis of shared microRNA families found that turtles are more closely related to lepidosaurs. To test this hypothesis with data from many single-copy nuclear loci dispersed throughout the genome, we used sequence capture, high-throughput sequencing and published genomes to obtain sequences from 1145 ultraconserved elements (UCEs) and their variable flanking DNA. The resulting phylogeny provides overwhelming support for the hypothesis that turtles evolved from a common ancestor of birds and crocodilians, rejecting the hypothesized relationship between turtles and lepidosaurs.
    Full-text · Article · May 2012 · Biology letters
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    ABSTRACT: The International Crocodilian Genomes Working Group (ICGWG) will sequence and assemble the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and Indian gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) genomes. The status of these projects and our planned analyses are described.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2012 · Genome biology
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    ABSTRACT: Although massively parallel sequencing has facilitated large-scale DNA sequencing, comparisons among distantly related species rely upon small portions of the genome that are easily aligned. Methods are needed to efficiently obtain comparable DNA fragments prior to massively parallel sequencing, particularly for biologists working with non-model organisms. We introduce a new class of molecular marker, anchored by ultraconserved genomic elements (UCEs), that universally enable target enrichment and sequencing of thousands of orthologous loci across species separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Our analyses here focus on use of UCE markers in Amniota because UCEs and phylogenetic relationships are well-known in some amniotes. We perform an in silico experiment to demonstrate that sequence flanking 2030 UCEs contains information sufficient to enable unambiguous recovery of the established primate phylogeny. We extend this experiment by performing an in vitro enrichment of 2386 UCE-anchored loci from nine, non-model avian species. We then use alignments of 854 of these loci to unambiguously recover the established evolutionary relationships within and among three ancient bird lineages. Because many organismal lineages have UCEs, this type of genetic marker and the analytical framework we outline can be applied across the tree of life, potentially reshaping our understanding of phylogeny at many taxonomic levels.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2012 · Systematic Biology

Publication Stats

2k Citations
263.38 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2011-2015
    • Occidental College
      Los Ángeles, California, United States
  • 2011-2013
    • Louisiana State University
      • Museum of Natural Science
      Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States
  • 2009-2011
    • University of Michigan
      • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
      Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States
  • 2007-2010
    • University of California, Los Angeles
      • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
      Los Ángeles, California, United States
    • The University of Arizona
      • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
      Tucson, AZ, United States