Jack W. Sites, Jr.
Maeser Professor of Biology, Curator of Herpetology Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602 (email: Jack_Sites@byu.edu)
Research Interests: Broadly speaking, the primary research interests of my lab focus on two general themes, one of which is phylogenetic systematics – particularly the use of well-supported phylogenies to address macroevolutionary questions. Some of our work in this area is supported by a NSF “Tree of Life” award for the “Deep Scaly” project (which my lab shares with collaborators at several other institutions). This work seeks to develop novel single-copy, protein-coding nuclear genes to test the deeper relationships among squamate reptiles (which are the most controversial), and we (collectively the Sites, T. Reeder, & J. Wiens labs) have collected sequence data for relevant taxa for 51 loci. These data will eventually be merged with very large morphological/paleontological data sets to test alternative hypotheses of squamate relationships, but we have deployed some of the more rapidly evolving loci to biogeographic and comparative evolutionary studies in other groups. The second theme of my lab’s research centers on lower hierarchical levels of divergence, with emphasis on species delimitation, phylogeography and speciation patterns, hybrid zone dynamics, origins of parthenogenesis, and conservation genetics. These questions require integration of various classes of molecular, morphological, and environmental data, and while our approaches are hypothesis-driven and conceptually-oriented, our organisms of choice are amphibians and reptiles. For many reasons we focus mostly on lizards, but some of my students have worked on various groups of snakes and frogs, and we have completed conservation-oriented biodiversity summaries of regional squamate faunas, and conservation genetics projects on Amazon river turtles, Appalachian salamanders, and frogs of the Great Basin region. Our group is now or has recently conducted field work in several parts of the western US and the Appalachian Mountains, and in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, French Guiana, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, and southern Africa. Major ongoing multi-disciplinary/multi-institutional studies beyond the “Deep Scaly - Tree-of-Life” project, include a “Partnership for International Research and Education” award for co-phylogeographic studies of multiple plant & animal groups in Patagonia, and several other projects under development for further comparative studies of species delimitation methods, and comparative phylogeography of lizards and frogs in the Brazilian Cerrado region, among others.