Faculty Profiles

Michael D. Sorenson

Michael D. Sorenson

Professor and Chair of Biology

Ph.D., Univ. of Minnesota ,1990
Areas of interest: avian behavioral ecology, speciation, population genomics, and molecular systematics
(617) 353-6983

Current Research

My research emphasizes molecular genetic approaches to problems in avian systematics, population biology, and behavioral ecology. Avian brood parasitism spurred my interest in evolutionary biology as a student, and parasitic birds have continued to be the focus of much of my work. Current research includes: 1) Analyses of the population structure and evolutionary history of indigobird populations and species. Indigobirds are species-specific brood parasites of a number of estrildid finch hosts and have evolved nestling mouth markings that mimic those of the host. Parasitic nestlings also learn host songs and adult male parasites incorporate these songs into their courtship displays, resulting in assortative mating among parasites reared by the same host species. We are exploring the evolutionary history and population genetic consequences of this unique social system using large multilocus data sets and analyses based on coalescent theory. The work has included recent field work in Cameroon and Tanzania. 2) Molecular systematic analyses of the various groups of avian brood parasites. How many times has obligate brood parasitism evolved in birds, what are the relative ages of the various parasitic lineages, and how is each group of parasitic birds related to their hosts? 3) Molecular systematics and population genetics of the waterfowl (Family Anatidae: the ducks, geese, and swans). Students in my lab have worked on fish, bats, ants, and a variety of other birds, addressing various questions in evolutionary ecology and systematics.

Courses Taught

  • BI 107 Introductory Biology I
  • BI 508 Behavioral Ecology
  • BI 515 Population Genetics
  • BI 549 Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
  • BI 581/582 Seminar in Biology

Selected Publications

  • DaCosta JM, Sorenson MD (2014) Amplification biases and consistent recovery of loci in a double-digest RAD-seq protocol. PLoS One 9: e106713.
  • Spottiswoode CN, Stryjewski KF, Quader S, Colebrook-Robjent JFR, Sorenson MD. (2011). Ancient host specificity within a single species of brood parasitic bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 43: 17738-17742.
  • Turmelle AS, Kunz TH, Sorenson MD (2011) A tale of two genomes: contrasting patterns of phylogeographic structure in a widely distributed bat. Molecular Ecology 20: 357-75.
  • Sorenson MD, Hauber ME, Derrickson SR. (2010). Sexual imprinting misguides species recognition in a facultative interspecific brood parasite. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 277: 3079-3085.
  • McCracken KG, Barger CP, Bulgarella M, Johnson KP, Sonsthagen SA, Trucco J, Valqui TH, Wilson RE, Winker K, Sorenson MD. (2009.) Parallel evolution in the major hemoglobin genes of eight species of Andean waterfowl. Molecular Ecology 18: 3992–4005.
  • Balakrishnan CN, Sefc KM, Sorenson MD. (2009.) Incomplete reproductive isolation following host shift in brood parasitic indigobirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 276: 219-228.
  • Sorenson MD, Sefc KM, Payne RB (2003). Speciation by host switch in brood parasitic indigobirds. Nature 424, 928-931.
  • Sorenson MD, Oneal E, Garcia-Moreno J, Mindell DP (2003). More taxa, more characters: The hoatzin problem is still unresolved. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20, 1484-1498.

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