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Heather Lerner
Director of the Joseph Moore Museum; Associate Professor of Biology

Heather Lerner works with students both as director of the Joseph Moore Museum, Earlham’s natural history museum, and in the biology classroom. She has also led a May Term off-campus program in Hawaii.

As for her research interests, she is currently working on establishing the evolutionary history of Hawaiian Honeycreepers, including ancient extinct birds from fossil specimens, and addressing the evolution of the raptorial lifestyle using comparative genomics.

Contact Info

Campus Mail
Drawer 143



Joseph Moore Museum

Office Hours
by appointment

Website Link


  • Biology
  • Joseph Moore Museum
  • Museum Studies
  • Environmental Science
  • Anthrozoology Applied Minor
  • Art, Nature and Conservation Applied Minor


  • Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • M.S., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • B.S., Bryn Mawr College

Selected Courses:

I co-teach Ecological Biology, a course that uses outdoor labs at some of Earlham's beautiful properties to introduce students to the natural history and ecology of this region and includes a field research project complete with statistical analysis.   

I teach two Museum Studies courses: Natural History Museum Curation and Science in Informal Settings.  

Natural History Museum Curation: Through weekly labs in the natural history collections of the Joseph Moore Museum, students gain hands-on experience with collections care and use including integrated pest management, preparing animal specimens, doing research with specimens, and accessioning, organizing and cataloging specimens into the collection using the Specify museum database software.   

Science in Informal Settings: Public interest in science is growing, yet traditional academic training does not prepare scientists to communicate their findings to a broad audience. Students in this course become familiar with theories about and methods of communicating science successfully to audiences in an informal setting (e.g. museum exhibit, poster, tour, website). Students evaluate existing museum exhibits at the Joseph Moore Museum, observe tours, and develop a final project that presents a scientific topic of interest to the public.

I am interested in how genotype, phenotype and the environment interact to affect the persistence and evolution of species through time. I draw samples for study from museum collections and animals in the wild to address questions about speciation, rates of evolution, and adaptation. I am currently working on establishing the evolutionary history of Hawaiian Honeycreepers, including ancient extinct birds from fossil specimens, and addressing the evolution of the raptorial lifestyle using comparative genomics.

Students in my lab work on a variety of projects and study systems. We generally use molecular sequencing (DNA and RNA) to investigate the relationships among species or within populations, to study disease prevalence, or to evaluate parenting systems. We primarily use museum collections and may be found in the modern lab working with our fresh tissue collection or in the ancient DNA lab in the museum working with our historical or subfossil specimens. Currently, we are working on a supermatrix analysis for booted eagles in the Accippitridae family. We are also delving into comparative genomics of the raptorial lifestyle. Budding projects include sequencing our giant beaver specimens, exploring parentage in sharp-shin hawks and continuing our analysis of West Nile Virus in salvaged bird specimens. 

Students are encouraged to join my group and work on one of these projects or propose a new related project.

Lerner, H. R. L. (2011) Phylogeny and Taxonomy of BonelliÕs Eagle. In: BonelliÕs Eagle (ed. Hernandez VJ). SEO/BirdLife, Madrid  Lerner, H. R. L., Meyer, M., Hofreiter, M., James, H. F., Fleischer, R. C. (2011) Multilocus resolution of phylogeny and timescale in the extant adaptive radiation of Hawaiian honeycreepers.  Current Biology (cover, F1000 recommended) 

Lerner, H. R. L. (2011) Eagle watchers: observing and conserving raptors around the world (Invited Book Review). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 123:2 

Lerner, H. R. L. and Fleischer, R. C. (2010) Prospects for next-generation sequencing in avian studies (invited reviewed commentary).  Auk 127(1):4-15 

Gjershaug, J. O., Lerner, H. R. L., and Diserud, O. H. (2009) Taxonomy and distribution of the pygmy eagle Aquila (Hieraaetus) weiskeii.  Zootaxa 2326: 24-38 

Lerner, H. R. L., Johnson, J. A., Lindsay, A. R., Kiff, L. and Mindell, D. P. (2009) Mitochondrial genetic diversity and differentiation among Harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja). PLoS ONE  4(10): e7336. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007336 

Lerner, H. R. L. (2009) Raptor research and management techniques. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121 (1): 216-225. 

Lerner, H. R. L., Klaver, M. and Mindell, D. P. (2008) Molecular phylogenetics of the buteonine birds of prey (Aves: Accipitridae). Auk 125: 304-315 

Johnson JA, Lerner H. R. L., Rasmussen PC, Mindell, DP (2006) Systematics within Gyps vultures: a clade at risk. BMC Evolutionary Biology 6:65 

Lerner, H. R. L. and Mindell, D. P. (2005) Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37 (2):  327-346 

Bunce, M., Szulkin, M., Lerner, H. R. L., Barnes, I., Shapiro, B., Cooper, A. and Holdaway, R.N. (2005) The evolutionary history of New Zealand's extinct giant eagle revealed by ancient DNA.  PLoS Biol 3(1):e9

American Ornithologists Union (2005 to present)
Society for Systematic Biologists (2004 to present)
Raptor Research Foundation (since 2002 to present)

I lead a May Term trip to the Hawaiian Islands. In this exciting experience, we explore the Hawaiian islands including snorkeling on coral reefs, hiking across lava flows, seeing birds of species that are extinct in the wild, participating in a paleontological dig, and contributing to resource sustainability by removing invasive algae from a 400 year old community fish pond. During the May term and the pre-trip semester-long seminar, students learn hands-on about (1) patterns of biogeography and extinction, (2) coral reef ecology, (3) conservation and management of native biodiversity, and (4) community-based sustainability practices. The program offers enrichment to studies in biology, environmental science and environmental studies.

I enjoy raising ... or wrangling ... my two-year-old twins and my five-year-old daughter. We garden, play in our stream and woods, and do science projects. I like to power lift to increase my bone density and stay strong.



Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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