Biodiversity Expert Named New Director of Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Yale President Richard C. Levin has appointed biodiversity expert Michael J. Donoghue as the director of the University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Donoghue, the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and chair of the department, is currently the Peabody Museum’s curator of botany. Donoghue also has faculty appointments in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

“Michael Donoghue’s knowledge and understanding of the importance of collections, his passion for reaching the public through exhibitions, and his intellectual distinction will make him a superb director of the Peabody Museum,” Levin said. “He will also ensure that the museum plays an important role in the study and conservation of biodiversity.”

Donoghue said, “I am honored and delighted to lead the Peabody Museum, and I am thoroughly committed to maintaining and building these great collections as a record of life on Earth. The Peabody is a fabulous scientific institution and provides a great connection between Yale and the people of New Haven and beyond. I look forward to working with the entire Peabody community.”

Donoghue’s research combines particular groups of organisms, especially flowering plants and fungi, with theoretical work on the principles of systematics. He has played an important role in building Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, which was created in 1998.

The author of about 125 published papers, Donoghue was a professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Biology at Harvard and also served as director of the Harvard University Herbaria before joining the Yale faculty in 1999. He earned his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and received a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard in 1982. He has taught at San Diego University, the University of Arizona, and was a visiting professor at Stanford University.

A Senior Mellon Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution from 1992-94, Donoghue was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1997 and was the Glaser Distinguished Visiting Professor at Florida International University in 1998. He serves on the U.S. National Academy’s Committee for the International Union of Biological Sciences. He was also president of the Society of Systematic Biologists from 1994-95.

Donoghue has organized several student training grants related to biodiversity and is doing research on the plant and fungal diversity in the Eastern Himalayan region of China. He is also conducting molecular phylogenetic studies in both plants and fungi. Donoghue also coordinates a database of phylogenetic knowledge, called TreeBASE.

Yale Provost Alison F. Richard, a former director of the Peabody, said Donoghue’s appointment comes at a time of growing importance for great natural history collections, and when Yale has expanded its commitment to evolutionary biology and the environmental sciences.

“The creation of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, the construction of the Class of 1954 Environmental Science Center and the campaign for support of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies make this an exciting time at Yale for the faculty and students in these fields,” Richard said.

The Environmental Science Center, which is adjacent to the Peabody Museum, encourages collaboration among faculty and students pursuing environmental studies, while placing the comprehensive collections of the Peabody Museum at their fingertips. In addition to housing curators, staff and collections of the Peabody Museum, the Center provides laboratories, classrooms and office space. It is also the home of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies and accommodates faculty and students from the departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Geology and Geophysics, and Anthropology, and from F&ES. Hallways connect the center at each level with the Peabody Museum.

Donoghue, whose appointment is effective January 1, 2003, will succeed Richard Burger, who has served as director of the Peabody Museum for more than seven years. Burger will return to full-time research and teaching as a professor of anthropology, and as curator of anthropology at the Peabody Museum.

“Richard Burger has provided outstanding leadership for the Peabody during a critical moment in its history. We are deeply grateful for his energy and enthusiasm in building the Peabody’s flourishing programs, even as he played a key role in designing the new environmental science facility that will house many of the museum’s collections,” Levin said.

The Peabody Museum was founded in 1866 by a gift from George Peabody, uncle of O. C. Marsh, Yale’s premier paleontologist. The original building that housed the rapidly expanding collections was completed in 1876.

That first building was demolished in 1917. The present building was opened to the public in 1926, and additional collection facilities have been added over subsequent decades, the most recent of which is the Environmental Science Center. Today, the Peabody Museum’s collections total more than 11 million specimens, including its famous dinosaur fossils. About 180,000 people visit the Peabody Museum each year.

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326