Senior Curator of Ornithology and Head of the Department of Natural History
Area: Natural History, Biodiversity
Exhibitions & Galleries: Life in Crisis: Schad Gallery of Biodiversity, Gallery of Birds
1943 - 2014
B.Sc., University of Canterbury, 1966
M.Sc. (Honours), University of Canterbury, 1969
Ph.D., University of Canterbury, 1972
Allan Baker passed away in November, 2014.
Allan Baker was the Senior Curator of Ornithology and Head of the Department of Natural History at the ROM. He was also a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union, an Affiliate Member of the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution in Massey University in New Zealand, and an Associate Editor of Systematic Biology and a member of the Editorial Board of BMC Evolutionary Biology.
Allan was born in Westport, New Zealand. His Ph.D. reconstructed the evolutionary history and historical biogeography of the world’s oystercatchers. He ran a DNA laboratory at the ROM and taught molecular evolution at the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Toronto. His research group in molecular evolution and systematics was funded by grants from NSERC, NSF, Genome Canada, World Wildlife Fund and the ROM Governors. Allan was co-chair of the All Birds Barcoding Initiative (ABBI) steering committee, which aims to identify all the >10,000 species of birds in the world with unique DNA sequences from the COI gene. He was invited to lecture in 16 countries around the world, and was a member of the Committee of 1000 in the International Ornithological Congress (IOC). He organized and spoken at symposia at the IOC since 1986, published over 180 papers in scientific journals, and edited one book on molecular ecology.
Allan’s research focused on reconstructing the avian tree of life with molecular markers, and then mapping other biological characters such as life history, behaviour, geographic distributions and ecology on the tree to understand their evolution. Apart from studying how biodiversity has evolved, he also was heavily involved in conservation of migratory shorebirds, which are declining around the world. Along with Professor Theunis Piersma of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, he was co-founder of the Global Flyway Network of collaborative researchers to provide an early warning service for identifying migratory shorebirds at risk.
In 2007, the American Ornithologists' Union presented Allan with the William Brewster Memorial Award for his outstanding and influential work in avian molecular evolution. This prestigious award is given annually to the author or co-authors (not previously so honored) of the most meritorious body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere published during the 10 calendar years preceding a given AOU meeting.
Migratory shorebirds are true wonders of the natural world.