Ross MacPhee

Curator Emeritus, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology



  • University of Alberta, , Ph.D., 1977
  • University of British Columbia, B.A., 1969

Research Interests

MacPhee’s leading interests are paleoproteomics, extinction, and cranial developmental morphology. Paleoproteomics involves the utilization of protein sequence data to resolve relationships. Ancient DNA is used for the same purpose, but the fragile DNA molecule degrades much faster than enamel proteins or structural proteins like bone collagen. Analysis of proteins allows the recovery of molecular information from species that lived millions of years ago. MacPhee also studies recent mammalian extinctions, concentrating on the loss of megafaunal species during the end-Pleistocene in North America and northern Asia. His research and that of his colleagues seeks to clarify the causal patterns behind these losses, most recently by studying population dynamics of fossil species using ancient DNA methods. The purpose of cranial developmental morphology is to explore the ontogenetic background of various character states expressed in adult forms. Most of his work involves interpretation of late fetal and adult stages of placentals, with increasing emphasis on micro-CT scanning as an aid to visualization.


Murchie T et al. Optimizing extraction and targeted capture of ancient DNA using the PalaeoChip Arctic-1.0 bait-set for reconstructing past environments. Quaternary Research

Karpinski E et al. Ancient mitochondrial genomes suggest multiple dispersal events in American mastodons in response to late Pleistocene climate changes. Nature Communications

MacPhee RDE (2019) End of the Megafauna: The Fate of the World’s Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals (W. W. Norton, New York) xiii + 225 pp.

Presslee S et al. (2019) Palaeoproteomics resolves sloth relationships. Nature Ecology and Evolution 3: 1121-1130 doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0909-z

Forasiepi AM, MacPhee RDE, Del Pino S (2019) Caudal cranium of Thylacosmilus atrox (Mammalia, Metatheria, Sparassodonta), the South American predacious “sabertooth”: reinterpretations, comparisons, and paleobiological implications. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 433: 1-64.

Morgan G, MacPhee RDE, Woods R, Turvey S (2019) Late Quaternary fossil mammals from the Cayman Islands, West Indies. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 428: 1-79

O’Connor P, Krause DF, Stevens N, Groenke J, MacPhee RDE, Kalthoff D, Roberts EM (2019) The first mammal from the Late Cretaceous of mainland Africa. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 64: 65-84 doi: 0.4202/app.00568.2018

Palkopoulu E et al. (2018) A comprehensive genomic history of extinct and living elephants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 115(11): E2566-E2574 doi:10.1073/pnas.1720554115

van der Geer AAE, Lyras GA, Mitteröcker P, MacPhee RDE (2018) From Jumbo to Dumbo: cranial shape changes in elephants and hippos during phyletic dwarfing. Evolutionary Biology 45 doi:10.1007/311692-018-9451-1

Woods R, Turvey ST, Brace S, MacPhee RDE, Barnes I (2018) Ancient DNA of the extinct Jamaican monkey Xenothrix reveals extreme insular change within a morphologically conservative radiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA)

Froese DG, Stiller M, Heintzman PD, Zazula GD, Reyes A, Soares AER, Meyer M, Hall E, Jensen BLJ, Arnold LJ, MacPhee RDE, Shapiro B (2017) New fossil and genomic evidence constrains the timing of bison arrival in North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 114: 3457–3462

Zazula G, MacPhee RDE, Southon J, Chavan S-N, Hall E (2017) A case of early Wisconsinan “over-chill”: new radiocarbon evidence for early extirpation of western camel (Camelops hesternus) in eastern Beringia. Quaternary Science Reviews 171: 48-57.

Westbury M et al. (2017) A mitogenomic timetree for Darwin’s enigmatic “transitional” South American mammal, Macrauchenia patachonica. Nature Communications 8: 15951. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15951. Available at  

Gosse JC, Ballantyne A, Barker J, Csank A, Fletcher T, Zazula G, Greenwood D, MacPhee RDE, Rybczynski N (2017) POLAR-FIT: Pliocene landscapes and Arctic remains, frozen in time. Geosciences Canada 44: 47-54.

Heintzman PD, Zazula GD, MacPhee RDE, Scott E, Cahill J, McHorse BK, Stiller M, Wooller MJ, Orlando L, Southon JR, Froese, Shapiro B (2017) A new genus of horse from Pleistocene North America. eLife 6: e29944. doi: 10.7554/eLife.29944

Cooke S, Mychajliw A, Southon J, MacPhee RDE (2017) The extinction of Xenothrix mcgregori, Jamaica’s last monkey. Journal of Mammalogy 94: 937-949

Slater G, Cui P, Forasiepi AM, Lenz D, Tsangaras K, Voirin B, de Moraes N, MacPhee RDE, Greenwood AD (2016) Evolutionary relationships among extinct and extant sloths: the evidence of mitogenomes and retroviruses. Genome Biology and Evolution 8: 607-621

Enk J, Devault A, Widga C, Saunders J, Szpak P, Froese D, Southon J, Rouillard J-M, Zazula G, Froese D, Fisher D, MacPhee RDE, Poinar H (2016) Population dynamics of Mammuthus in North America: Mitogenomic phylogeography and evidence of introgession. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Delsuc F, Gibb GC, Kuch M, Billet G, Hautier L, Fernicola JC, Vizcaíno SF, MacPhee RDE, Poinar HN (2016) Ancient mitogenomics uncovers the phylogenetic affinities of enigmatic glyptodonts. Current Biology 26 (4): R155–R156.

Forasiepi AM, MacPhee RDE, Schmidt GI, Hernández Del Pino S (2016) An exceptional skull of Huayqueriana (Mammalia, Litopterna, Macraucheniidae) from the Late Miocene of Argentina: anatomy, systematics and paleobiological implications. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 404: 1-76

Brace S, Thomas JA, Dalen L, Burger J, MacPhee RDE, Barnes I, Turvey ST (2016) Evolutionary history of the Nesophontidae, the last unplaced Recent mammal family. Molecular Biology and Evolution doi: 10.1093/molbev/msw186

Welker F et al. (2015) Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of Darwin’s South-American ungulates. Nature 522: 81-84

MacPhee RDE (2014) The serrialis bone, interparietal complex, “x” elements, entotympanics, and the composition of the notoungulate caudal cranium. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 384: 1-69

Willerslev et al. (2014) Fifty thousand years of arctic vegetation change and megafaunal diet. Nature 506: 47–51 

Teaching Experience

Faculty Appointments

  • Senior Curator Department of Mammalogy AMNH 2020
  • Visiting Professor of Cell Biology, NYU Medical Center, 2005-present
  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, 2004

Adjunct Professor, Doctoral Program in Anthropology, Graduate Center, CUNY, 1991-present

Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology and Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, SUNY Stony Brook, 1989-present

Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy, Duke University, 1985-1988

Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy, Duke University, 1979-1985

Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, 1978-1979

Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Winnipeg, 1977-1978

Courses Taught

  • Extinction Science, Fall 2018 RGGS

Graduate Advisees & Committees

  • Julia Tejada-Lara (Columbia University)
  • Richard Benjamin Sulser (RGGS)