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Profile: Joel Cracraft

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Joel studies bird specimens in his office at the American Museum of Natural History. ©AMNH

Joel Cracraft is Lamont Curator of Birds and Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History. He received his B.S. (Zoology) from the University of Oklahoma, M.S. (zoology) from Louisiana State University, and his Ph.D. (biology) from Columbia University in 1969. He was on the staff of the University of Illinois, Chicago (Anatomy and Cell Biology) before coming to New York in 1992 as Curator of Ornithology. He also has adjunct professorial appointments in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University and in the Graduate Program in Biology at the City University of New York.

Dr. Cracraft's research interests are in systematic biology, biological diversification, and biogeography. Much of his current research focuses on the higher level systematics of birds and the radiation of the large Australian endemic avifauna, including birds-of-paradise, using both molecular sequence and morphological data. He has written or edited books on phylogenetic systematics (1979, 1980), phylogenetic analysis of molecular data (1991), the biodiversity crisis (2000), the Tree of Life (2004), and the teaching of evolution (2005), in addition to over 150 scientific papers. He is a recipient of the Elliott Coues Award from the American Ornithologists' Union, and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He is a member of 14 professional societies and has held office or served on the board of many of them, including President of the Society of Systematic Biologists and President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (2004). Over the past decade he has been active in "biopolitical" efforts to promote systematics and biodiversity science, including serving as co-chair of the Systematics Agenda 2000/US on the Steering Committee of the Systematics Agenda 2000 International, and on the Scientific Steering Committee of the international biodiversity science program Diversitas (). He was a member of a Biodiversity Panel for President Clinton's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology as well as a member of committees of the National Research Council. He also served as an advisor to the American Civil Liberties Union at the Arkansas creation trial in 1981.


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