Dr. Jim McGuire

Dr. Jim McGuire

Dr. McGuire's research interests are in organismal diversification, with a special emphasis on the evolutionary biology of reptiles, amphibians, and hummingbirds. 

Evolution of Organismal Diversity

Dr. McGuire's research aims to connect several aspects of the evolution of organismal diversity, including lineage diversification, historical biogeography, and the influence of morphological, physiological, and molecular evolution on organismal performance. 

Though his research is rooted in phylogenetic systematics, Dr. McGuire uses several approaches to gain insight into evolutionary processes. His research combines phylogenetics, population genetics, comparative methods, and experimental approaches for field measurement of locomotor and physiological performance. 

The Historical Biogeography of Sulawesi

Much of Dr. McGuire's research is dependent on fieldwork undertaken in Southeast Asia (especially Indonesia), where the herpetofauna is among the least known and most endangered.

One such project is an investigation of the historical biogeography of the mega-diverse Indonesian island of Sulawesi. This study integrates phylogenetic and coalescent-based population genetic analyses of multilocus DNA sequence data for frogs, lizards, and monkeys to understand (1) how the complex tectonic history of Sulawesi (which is comprised of multiple paleo-islands) led to initial diversification of Sulawesi fauna, and (2) the factors that have prevented these species from merging once Sulawesi became a single contiguous land mass. 

The Diversification and Evolution of Hummingbirds

Another major project in Dr. McGuire’s laboratory investigates the diversification of hummingbirds, and the evolution of high-elevational occurrence in this remarkable group. Although hummingbirds utilize the most energetically costly form of vertebrate locomotion, they nevertheless are most diverse at high elevation in the Andes Mountains where flight should be most challenging.

Our team is combining analyses of hummingbird phylogeny, molecular evolution of hemoglobin genes (which code for the oxygen-transport proteins), and respiratory physiological performance (i.e., hypoxia resistance, hovering metabolic rate, etc.) across altitudinal gradients in the Andes to understand how hummingbirds have succeeded in colonizing high-altitude habitats. 

Dr. McGuire: Q​&A

Why did you decide to become a scientist?

At some level, I really had no choice in the matter. From my earliest recollections, I was fascinated by reptiles and amphibians. Even in grade school my dream was to become a herpetologist. Nevertheless, I almost missed my opportunity because I allowed a misguided sense of pragmatism to lead me down a different path when I attended university (my bachelor’s degree was in finance rather than biology). A chance encounter with a herpetologist who took me under his wing provided my introduction to herpetological research. I ultimately committed to a career in science while visiting the amazing Isla Santa Catalina in the Sea of Cortez – an island on which virtually every species is endemic. I realized at that moment that - no matter the cost - I needed to commit my life to studying biological diversity. 

What led you to the questions you are now investigating in your research?

I have to admit that I essentially stumbled into my comparative Sulawesi biogeography research program. I was working on the role that body size evolution and scaling relationships played in the evolution of gliding performance in flying lizards. Because this project required a phylogenetic framework, I conducted fieldwork throughout SE Asia sampling flying lizards. When that work took me to Sulawesi, I realized based on my collections that flying lizards would be an appropriate model system to test hypotheses related to Sulawesi biogeography. 

My work with hummingbirds had a similar origin, but our latest work on hemoglobin molecular evolution and comparative physiological performance across elevational gradients was a natural extension of our previous work investigating morphological evolution and flight kinematics across these same elevational transects.     

What do you enjoy most about your research?

One particularly enjoyable aspect of my work occurs when I have the opportunity analyze a data set for the first time. With the sort of work that I do, it often takes years to complete a project because I generally need to perform extensive fieldwork to obtain genetic samples or performance data. Thus, when I finally have that opportunity to interpret analytical results that provide a crucial test of a particular hypothesis, it is very exciting and fulfilling. 

I also thoroughly enjoy fieldwork, which takes me to amazing places few people have the opportunity to experience, while allowing me to study my focal species in their own element.

For more information, see:

McGuire Lab Website

January / February 2008