Ben J. Novak, Project Lead
Ben J. Novak is The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project leader responsible for project development and bringing together the right advisors and collaborators to reach the project’s goals. Ben, a North Dakota badlands native, attended Montana State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2008. Since then Ben has trained in ancient DNA laboratory techniques and has personally processed the projects’ many passenger pigeon and band-tailed pigeon specimens at the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab. Ben is a natural historian of species driven to extinction by humans specializing in the study of passenger pigeons. He is currently researching band-tailed pigeons to learn more about the ecology of passenger pigeons to earn a master’s degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Revive & Restore is partnering with University of California Santa Cruz’s state-of-the-art Paleogenomics Lab for Phase 1 In Silico work on the Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback. Dr. Beth Shapiro, co-directs the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab with Dr. Richard “Ed” Green. At the Lab, researchers are incorporating experimental and computational approaches to a wide range of evolutionary and ecological questions— mostly involving the application of genomic techniques— to better understand how species and populations such evolve through time. Many members of the lab have contributed to developing the DNA extractions, sequencing, and data processing for producing the passenger pigeon and band-tailed pigeon genomes.
Dr. Beth Shapiro, whose work focuses on how populations of organisms respond to climate and habitat change over time, has isolated ancient DNA from a variety of Pleistocene and Holocene species. Her lab published the first DNA sequences of the passenger pigeon in 2002, and has since become one of the premiere scientists contemplating the emerging field of de-extinction. Her recent book, “How to Clone a Mammoth,” offers a critical, pragmatic, perspective about de-extinction that is rooted in her ancient DNA expertise, Dr. Shapiro is a protagonist for the appropriate, ethical, and responsible application of de-extinction technologies for conservation of living species and their ecosystems.
Dr. Richard “Ed” Green co-directs the UCSC Paleogenomics Laboratory with Dr. Shapiro. Dr. Green’s specialty is in ancient human genomics, having been involved with the team that published the first and subsequent drafts of the Neanderthal Genome. Ed’s lab has recently pioneered a new approach to de novo genome assembly for the company Dovetail Genomics, making high quality genome assemblies faster to produce and affordable for non-model organisms.
Many members of the lab have contributed work on the DNA extractions, sequencing, and data processing for the passenger pigeon and band-tailed pigeon genomes. Within the UCSC paleogenomics lab the passenger pigeon genome research is lead by Dr. André Elias Rodrigues Soares, a computational and laboratory biologist with a history in molecular clock phylogenies. Dr. Soares earned his PhD at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and shortly after came to the UCSC Paleogenomics laboratory where he was tasked with many projects including deciphering the evolutionary and demographic history of the passenger pigeon using the species’ genome. Through André’s research the necessary genomic information for passenger pigeon de-extinction is being established.
Dr. Paul Marini
Paul Marini is a retired poultry industry quantitative geneticist. He completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees at Southern Illionois University, Carbondale, and his PhD at the University of Arkansas, Fayettville. His career work focused on improving growth rate, feed conversion, and meat yield in chickens and turkeys. He also served as the general manager of Palmetto Pigeon Plant, Sumter, South Carolina, for three years developing breeding stock for international markets. He was bestowed lifetime achievement awards by both the Poultry Science Association and the National Turkey Federation. Paul now keeps pigeons for his own delight while competing in Olympic style weightlifting. Paul conducted the foundation work with band-tailed pigeon breeding for the project and continues to advise designs for future breeding efforts with band-tailed pigeons and new passenger pigeons.
Sal Alvarez owns and manages Exotic Wings International Aviary, where he breeds and cares for dozens of species of birds including band-tailed pigeons. Sal is one of the only breeders in the world with extensive experience working with the species. Sal is the projects very first partner, joining the project in the summer of 2012. He has supplied our project with tissue samples as well as breeding pairs of birds for our preliminary breeding studies and ecological research. Sal’s aviary will aid in captive breeding efforts of new passenger pigeons.
Holland Shaw, Collaborator
Holland, a registered professional land surveyor, has been a lifelong resident of Massachusetts and passenger pigeon aficionado. His cover article in Birding Magazine, June 1995, titled “The Return of the Passenger Pigeon”, proposed that the genome of an extant pigeon species be genetically engineered to match that of the extinct passenger pigeon (17 years before Revive & Restore initiated The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback!). Holland is currently conducting experiments to identify the necessary population densities of passenger pigeons to produce forest disturbances and is also preparing to join “the Pigeoners” for the propagation of band-tailed pigeons and future passenger pigeons.
Steven I. Apfelbaum, Advisor
Steven Apfelbaum is a trained plant and animal ecologist. He has studied and published on how avian and vegetation systems re-assemble after disturbances such as wildfire, wind-throw and ice-storms, and after incidences of forest disease in Boreal ecosystems of North America. He has been a senior ecologist for Applied Ecological Services, Inc., since 1978 and currently serves as Chairman of the Board. With AES, Steven has lead successful large-scale ecological restoration projects throughout the Americas and Europe. Steven has written many books; his most recent being some of the first “How to” land restoration DIY books for landowners and managers. Steven joins The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback’s panel of advisors to lend his vast expertise to preparing for and undertaking Phase 3, Restoration.
A team of experienced pigeon breeders and racers have pledged to assist and advise our passenger pigeon restoration efforts when the time comes. This expertise of this team is essential to successfully conditioning passenger pigeons for their wild migrations.
“I have liked pigeons and doves since I was very young. They seem kind and gentle. My first was a pigeon with a broken wing I found on my way home from school.” Ken has been caring for pigeons for 45 years since that day and still enjoy them. He begins each day with inspection of his pigeons. Observing how quickly the youngsters grow is his favorite part of raising the birds. He has maintained a successful line of performance pigeons through careful selective breeding based on meticulous record keeping. Maintaining their health has become second nature. Ken has volunteered to coordinate and consult the “Pigeoners” when the time comes to begin flying new passenger pigeons between spring, summer, and winter aviaries.
John Bender has bred and flown pigeons for over 50 years in southern Ohio, once home to many breeding colonies of passenger pigeons. John is responsible for connecting Revive & Restore with the “Pigeoners team”. He keeps Racing Homers and Birmingham Rollers. In his own words “I was very excited to hear of the Passenger Pigeon Project. I have always known about this extinct bird. As a young man, I used to go to our public library to look at and wonder about this wild pigeon that is no longer here…I would love nothing more than to be a part of the propagation and training of these new birds.” He is the 1994 World Champion Roller Pigeon Flyer.
David Stephenson is a freelance photojournalist and a Lecturer at the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. When not on assignment, David races homing pigeons with the Lexington Racing Pigeon Club of which he is President. David and his family tend to a team of homing pigeons in their urban back yard in Lexington where their birds return from racing as far away as 500 miles. His two passions meet on a daily basis when he takes photos of his birds and posts them to website: The Pigeon Photographer. David states he is “thrilled to be part of the project” to help with any aspect of breeding, training or visual documentation of future passenger pigeon restoration efforts.
Tim Kirschnerr has bred and raced pigeons since 1993. He has won multiple races from Texas to New England, including taking the top 7 places at the Ohio Classic Race, a feat no other breeder has achieved since the race began in 1983. Tim currently lives in North Carolina, a place ideally suited for winter roosting of future passenger pigeons. Tim will be the first of “the Pigeoners” to begin breeding band-tailed pigeons in spring 2016 in order to produce epigenetically conditioned birds for engineering and future surrogate parents for the first generations of new passenger pigeons.