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Ross D. E. MacPhee

Ross D. E. MacPhee


Ph.D., University of Alberta, 1977 "Primate and Insectivore Developmental Morphology"


Ross MacPhee is former chairman of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has been a Curator since 1988. Known for his paleomammalogical research on island extinctions, he has focused his most recent work on how extinctions occur, particularly those in which humans are thought to have been implicated during the past 100,000 years.

In 1998, in collaboration with colleagues from the Russian Academy of Scientists, Dr. MacPhee collected the remains of woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea to determine how this last-surviving mammoth population was wiped out. Since then, he has returned to arctic Siberia annually, investigating a wide range of topics concerned with the world of the late Pleistocene.

Recently, Dr. MacPhee worked with geneticists and molecular biologists to develop the new tool of "ancient DNA" as a means for studying the population structure and ultimate collapse of Pleistocene mammals. Dr MacPhee has also collected fossils of horses in arctic Siberia and established that horses persisted there, as far north as 75 degrees in an area that is now exclusively tundra, until about 2,000 years ago.

He was a member of the scientific team that published a major new study of the genome of the woolly mammoth in Science in early 2006. He has been involved in several television documentaries on mammoths and their world, including "Raising the Mammoth" and "The Baby Mammoth" for Discovery Channel and "What Killed the Megabeasts?" for Channel 4 (UK).

Dr. MacPhee received his PhD in physical anthropology from the University of Alberta in 1977 and was previously associate professor of anatomy at Duke University Medical Center. In addition to having published more than 100 papers in scientific journals, he has edited two major collections, Primates and their Relatives in Phylogenetic Perspective (1993), and Extinctions in Near Time: Causes, Contexts, and Consequences (1999).

Recent Significant Publications

MacPhee, R.D.E. In press. [Review of K. Thomson, The Legacy of the Mastodon: The Golden Age of Fossils in America (2008)]. Nature

Debruyne R., G. Chu, C. King, K. Bos, M. Kuch, C. Schwarz, P. Szpak, D.R. Gröcke, P. Matheus, G. Zazula, D. Guthrie, D. Froese, B. Buigues, C. de Marliave, C. Flemming, D. Poinar, D. Fisher, J. Southon, A.N. Tikhonov, R.D.E. MacPhee, H.N. Poinar. 2008. Out of America: Ancient DNA evidence for a New World origin of Late Quaternary woolly mammoths. Current Biology 18, 1-7. (doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.061)

Arnold, L.J., R.G. Roberts, R.D.E. MacPhee, E.Willerslev, A.N.Tikhonov, and F. Brock. 2008. Optical dating of perennially-frozen deposits associated with preserved ancient plant and animal DNA in north-central Siberia. Quaternary Geochronology 3, 114-136

MacPhee, R.D.E., and A.D. Greenwood 2007. Continuity and change in the extinction dynamics of late Quaternary muskox (Ovibos): genetic and radiometric evidence. Bulletin of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History 39, 203-212.

Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., M. Cardillo, K.E. Jones, R.D.E. MacPhee, R.M.D. Beck, R. Grenyer, S.A., Price, R.A. Vos, J.L. Gittleman, and A. Purvis. 2007. The delayed rise of present-day mammals. Nature 446, 507-511.

Kolokotranis, S.-O., R.D.E. MacPhee, and A. Greenwood. 2007. Detection of mitochondrial insertions in the nucleus (NuMts) of Pleistocene and modern muskoxen. BMC Evolutionary Biology 7, 67-98. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/7/67

MacPhee, R.D.E. 2007. Mammoths in the insular Nearctic? Some constraints on the existence of a Pleistocene megafaunal refugium in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Quaternary International 169-170, 29-38.

Capelli,C., R.D.E. MacPhee, A. Roca, F. Brisighelli, N. Giorgiadis, S.J. O'Brien, and A.D. Greenwood. 2006. A nuclear DNA phylogeny of the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40, 620-627.

MacPhee, R.D.E., and J. Meldrum. 2006. Postcranial remains of extinct monkeys of the Greater Antilles, with evidence for semiterrestriality in Paralouatta. American Museum Novitates 3516, 1-65.

Poinar, H.N., C. Schwarz, J. Qi, B. Shapiro, R.D.E. MacPhee, B. Buigues, A. Tikhonov, D.H. Huson, L.P. Tomsho, A. Auch, M. Rampp, W. Miller, and S.C. Schuster. 2006. Metagenomics to paleogenomics: large-scale sequencing of mammoth DNA. Science 322, 392-394.

MacPhee, R.D.E. 2005. "First" appearances in the Cenozoic land-mammal record of the Greater Antilles: significance and comparison with South American and Antarctic records. Journal of Biogeography 32: 551-564.

MacPhee R.D.E, A.N. Tikhonov, D. Mol, and A.D. Greenwood. 2005. Late Quaternary loss of genetic diversity in muskox (Ovibos). BMC Evolutionary Biology 5, 49.

Steadman, D., P. Martin, R.D.E. MacPhee, A.T. Jull, G. McDonald, C.A. Woods, M.A. Iturrale-Vinent, and G. Hodgkins. 2005. Asynchronous extinction of late Quaternary sloths on continents and islands. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 102, 11763-11768.

Professional Affiliations
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow)
  • Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
  • Society for the History of Discoveries
  • Committee on Recently Extinct Species (CREO)
Editorial and Adjunct Appointments
  • Series Editor, Advances in Vertebrate Paleobiology
  • Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology, SUNY, Stony Brook
  • Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University
  • Research Associate, Section of Vertebrate Paleontology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Other Professional Honors
  • Laureate (with Manuel A. Iturralde-Vinent), 1997 Annual Prize for Scientific Research, Academia de Ciencias de Cuba

Also at the Museum Beyond Planet Earth


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