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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Mammals

Tarsius bancanus
Kris Helgen
Photo by Ulla Lohmann.
    Kristofer M. Helgen
    Curator in Charge

  • Phone: (202)633-1270
  • Fax: (202)633-0182
  • E-mail: helgenk[at]
  • Follow me on Twitter: @khelgen

  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 108
    Washington, DC 20013-7012

  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th and Constitution Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0108


Most people don't realize this, but we are smack-dab in the middle of the age of discovery for mammals. Kristofer M. Helgen, The New York Times (2009)


Specimens squirreled away in museum cabinets have never been more valuable to biology at large. Kristofer M. Helgen, Science (2011)


The world is not yet explored and the age of discovery is far from over. Kristofer M. Helgen, BBC News (2013)


Curator-in-Charge, Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History
Research Associate, Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History
Research Associate, Mammalogy, Australian Museum
Explorer, National Geographic Society
Affiliate Professor, Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
Research Associate, Vertebrate Zoology, Bernice P. Bishop Museum
Research Associate, Natural Science Research Laboratory, Texas Tech University
Board of Directors, American Society of Mammalogists
Editorial Board, ZooKeys
Editor, Mammal Species of the World
Member, Genome 10K Community of Scientists
Expert, Smithsonian Journeys


Google Scholar Summary
BBC video profile
National Geographic Explorer Profile
Business Insider's (2013) Most Innovative under 40
Smithsonian Journeys Profile
Science Magazine Profile
New York Times Profile
Washington Biologists Field Club Profile
The Scientist Magazine Profile
Scholastic News Profile
Sunday Times Profile


BBC's Wild Burma: Nature's Lost Kingdom
BBC: Discovery of the Olinguito
PBS NewsHour: Olinguito Discovery
Live on MSNBC: Olinguito
BBC: Discovery of Bosavi Giant Woolly Rat
CBS 60 Minutes: Extinction of the Thylacine
Smithsonian Channel: The World's Largest Bat Collection
Smithsonian: Roosevelt Expedition Man-Eating Leopard
Smithsonian: Museums, Biodiversity, and the Anthropocene
National Geographic: Future of Exploration

Helgen Research Links

Mammals Research and Collections Team
Apply for a Smithsonian Fellowship
BBC: Olinguito Discovery
Enter, Olinguito
An Australian Long-beak
A New Seal Genus
Biodiversity and Disease in East Africa
Meet the Bosavi Giant Woolly Rat
Discovering Samoa's extinct bats
Decoding a Devilish Disease
Indonesia: Foja Mountains Expeditions
Papua New Guinea: Mount Bosavi Expedition
Papua New Guinea Institute for Biological Research
Kenya: Mpala Research Centre          Mpala! Live
Specimen 3D Digitization
Genome 10K
Tasmanian Devil Genomics
Thylacine Genomics
Global Mammal Assessment

Collaborating Laboratories

Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, National Zoo
William J. Murphy Lab, Texas A&M University
Hillary Young Lab, University of California at Santa Barbara
DeeAnn Reeder Lab, Bucknell University
Alex D. Greenwood Lab, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
Eduardo Eizirik Lab, Laboratório de Biologia Genômica e Molecular, PUCRS
Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding

Recent Field Courses

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Mammalogy Course
Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research Field Training Course


Ph.D. (Zoology): University of Adelaide, 2007
B.A. (Biology): Harvard University, 2001

Research Interests

In my fieldwork and museum travels around the world, I have discovered approximately 100 species of mammals previously unknown to science (about 2% of the global mammal fauna), 32 of which have so far been characterized in published or pending journal articles. Describing this wealth of overlooked biodiversity forms the core of my research program. My research links specimen-based investigations of biological inventory, taxonomy, and phylogenetics to questions in comparative ecomorphology and historical biogeography, with a special focus on the Australo-Papuan and Indo-Malayan regions. I work with similar fluency on the taxonomy of essentially all groups of terrestrial mammals, and my interests and expertise extend to applications in conservation biology, wildlife management, and host-parasite and disease interactions (a collection of impacts I categorize as "applied systematics"). In my systematic and biogeographic research I collaborate especially with scientists and students in biologically megadiverse countries and with many of the foremost mammalogical taxonomists in the global arena.

My research also addresses major conceptual issues in the evolution of modern mammal faunas, such as the interrelationships of the placental mammal orders, the phylogenetic position of Primates among mammals, the nature and determinants of late Quaternary and modern extinctions, and the evolution and ecology of body size in vertebrates. In these multidisciplinary efforts I profitably collaborate with paleontologists, ecologists, and molecular and genomic biologists.

Recent Publications

He, Kai, Shinohara, Akio, Helgen, Kristofer M., Springer, Mark S., Jiang, Xue-Long and Campbell, Kevin L. 2016. Talpid mole phylogeny unites shrew moles and illuminates overlooked cryptic species diversity. Molecular biology and evolution, doi:10.1093/molbev/msw221

Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Hofman, Courtney A., Callicrate, Taylor, McDonough, Molly M., Tsuchiya, Mirian T. N., Gutiérrez, Eliécer E., Helgen, Kristofer M. and Maldonado, Jesús E. 2016. In-Solution Hybridization for Mammalian Mitogenome enrichment: Pros, Cons, and Challenges Associated with Multiplexing Degraded DNA. Molecular Ecology Resources, 16(5): 1173-1188. doi:10.1111/1755-0998.12448

Neaves, Linda E., Frankham, Greta J., Dennison, Siobhan, FitzGibbon, Sean, Flannagan, Cheyne, Gillett, Amber, Hynes, Emily, Handasyde, Kathrine, Helgen, Kristofer M., Tsangaras, Kyriakos, Greenwood, Alex D., Eldridge, Mark D. B. and Johnson, Rebecca N. 2016. Phylogeography of the Koala, (Phascolarctos cinereus), and Harmonising Data to Inform Conservation. PLOS ONE, 11(9): 1-22. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0162207

Cui, Pin, Löber, Ulrike, Alquezar-Planas, David, Ishida, Yasuko, Courtiol, Alexandre, Timms, Peter, Johnson, Rebecca N., Lenz, Dorina, Helgen, Kristofer M., Roca, Alfred L., Hartman, Stefanie and Greenwood, Alex D. 2016. Comprehensive profiling of retroviral integration sites using target enrichment methods from historical koala samples without an assembled reference genome. PeerJ, 4 doi:10.7717/peerj.1847

Guerra, Ana Sofia, Eckerlin, Ralph P., Dowling, Ashley P. G., Durden, Lance A., Robbins, Richard G., Dittmar, Katharina, Helgen, Kristofer M., Agwanda, Bernard, Allan, Brian F., Hedlund, Tyler and Young, Hillary S. 2016. Host–Parasite Associations in Small Mammal Communities in Semiarid Savanna Ecosystems of East Africa. Journal of medical entomology, 53(4): 851-860. doi:10.1093/jme/tjw048

Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Leonard, Jennifer A., Helgen, Kristofer M., McDonough, Molly M., Rockwood, Larry L. and Maldonado, Jesus E. 2016. Evolutionary history of endemic Sulawesi squirrels constructed from UCEs and mitogenomes sequenced from museum specimens. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 16(1): 1-16. doi:10.1186/s12862-016-0650-z

Young, Hillary S., Dirzo, Rodolfo, Helgen, Kristofer M., McCauley, Douglas J., Nunn, Charles L., Snyder, Paul, Veblen, Kari E., Zhao, Serena and Ezenwa, Vanessa O. 2016. Large wildlife removal drives immune defence increases in rodents. Functional Ecology, 30(5): 799-807. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12542

Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Helgen, Kristofer M., Maldonado, Jesus E., Rockwood, Larry L., Tsuchiya, Mirian T. N. and Leonard, Jennifer A. 2016. Phylogeny, biogeography and systematic revision of plain long-nosed squirrels (genus Dremomys, Nannosciurinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 94(Part B): 752-764. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.10.023

Campana, Michael G., Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Henson, Lauren H., Stewardson, Kristin, Young, Hillary S., Card, Leah R., Lock, Justin, Agwanda, Bernard, Brinkerhoff, Jory, Gaff, Holly D., Helgen, Kristofer M., Maldonado, Jesús E., McShea, William J. and Fleischer, Robert C. 2016. Simultaneous identification of host, ectoparasite and pathogen DNA via in-solution capture. Molecular Ecology Resources, 16(5): 1224-1239. doi:10.1111/1755-0998.12524

Reynolds, R. P. and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2016. Foreword. In: Fisher, Robert D. and Ludwig, Craig A., Catalog of Type Specimens of Recent Mammals: Orders Carnivora, Perissodactyla, Artiodactyla, and Cetacea in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press,(Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 646) pp.1-2.

Campana, Michael G., Parker, Lillian D., Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Young, Hillary S., Helgen, Kristofer M., Szykman Gunther, Micaela, Woodroffe, Rosie, Maldonado, Jesús E. and Fleischer, Robert C. 2016. Genome sequence, population history, and pelage genetics of the endangered African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). BMC genomics, 17(1): 1013 doi:10.1186/s12864-016-3368-9

Mason, Victor C., Li, Gang, Minx, Patrick, Schmitz, Jü, Churakov, Gennady, Doronina, Liliya, Melin, Amanda D., Dominy, Nathaniel J., Lim, Norman T. -L, Springer, Mark S., Wilson, Richard K., Warren, Wesley C., Helgen, Kristofer M. and Murphy, William J. 2016. Genomic analysis reveals hidden biodiversity within colugos, the sister group to primates. Science Advances, 2(8) doi:10.1126/sciadv.1600633

Alfano, Niccolò, Michaux, Johan, Morand, Serge, Aplin, Kenneth P., Tsangaras, Kyriakos, Löber, Ulrike, Fabre, Pierre-Henri, Fitriana, Yuli, Semiadi, Gono, Ishida, Yasuko, Helgen, Kristofer M., Roca, Alfred L., Eiden, Maribeth V. and Greenwood, Alex D. 2016. Endogenous Gibbon Ape Leukemia Virus Identified in a Rodent (Melomys burtoni subsp.) from Wallacea (Indonesia). Journal of Virology, 90(18): 8169-8180. doi:10.1128/JVI.00723-16

Helgen, Kristofer M. and Veatch, E. G. 2015. Recently extinct Australian marsupials and monotremes. In: Wilson, Donald E. and Mittermeier, Russell A., Monotremes and Marsupials. Barcelona: Lynx Editions,(Handbook of Mammals of the World; 5) pp.17-31.

Helgen, Kristofer M. and Jackson, S. M. 2015. Family Phalangeridae (Cuscuses, Brush-tailed possums, and Scaly-tailed possum). In: Wilson, Donald E. and Mittermeier, Russell A., Monotremes and Marsupials. Barcelona: Lynx Editions,(Handbook of Mammals of the World; 5) pp.456-497.

Koepfli, Klaus-Peter, Pollinger, John, Godinho, Raquel, Robinson, Jacqueline, Lea, Amanda, Hendricks, Sarah, Schweizer, Rena M, Thalmann, Olaf, Silva, Pedro, Fan, Zhenxin, Yurchenko, Andrey A, Dobrynin, Pavel, Makunin, Alexey, Cahill, James A, Shapiro, Beth, Álvares, Francisco, Brito, José C, Geffen, Eli, Leonard, Jennifer A, Helgen, Kristofer M., Johnson, Warren E, O’Brien, Stephen J, Van Valkenburgh, Blaire and Wayne, Robert K 2015. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species. Current Biology, 25(16): 2158-2165. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060

Young, Hillary S., McCauley, Douglas J., Dirzo, Rodolfo, Goheen, Jacob R., Agwanda, Bernard, Brook, Cara, Otarola-Castillo, Erik, Ferguson, Adam W., Kinyua, Stephen N., McDonough, Molly M., Palmer, Todd M., Pringle, Robert M., Young, Truman P. and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2015. Context-dependent effects of large-wildlife declines on small-mammal communities in central Kenya. Ecological Applications, 25(2): 348-360. doi:10.1890/14-0995.1

Ishida, Yasuko, McCallister, Chelsea, Nikolaidis, Nikolas, Tsangaras, Kyriakos, Helgen, Kristofer M., Greenwood, Alex D. and Roca, Alfred L. 2015. Sequence variation of koala retrovirus transmembrane protein p15E among koalas from different geographic regions. Virology, 475: 28-36. doi:10.1016/j.virol.2014.10.036

Young, Hillary S., Dirzo, Rodolfo, McCauley, Douglas J., Agwanda, Bernard, Cattaneo, Lia, Dittmar, Katharina, Eckerlin, Ralph P., Fleischer, Robert C., Helgen, Lauren E., Hintz, Ashley, Montenieri, John, Zhao, Serena and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2015. Drivers of intensity and prevalence of flea parasitism on small mammals in East African savanna ecosystems. Journal of Parasitology, 101(3): 327-335. doi:10.1645/14-684.1

McCauley, Douglas J., Salkeld, Daniel J., Young, Hillary S., Makundi, Rhodes, Dirzo, Rodolfo, Eckerlin, Ralph P., Lambin, Eric F., Gaffikin, Lynne, Barry, Michele and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2015. Effects of Land Use on Plague (Yersinia pestis) Activity in Rodents in Tanzania. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 92(4): 776-783. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.14-0504

Gutiérrez, Eliécer E., Maldonado, Jesús E., Radosavljevic, Aleksandar, Molinari, Jesús, Patterson, Bruce D., Martínez-C, Juan M., Rutter, Amy R., Hawkins, Melissa T. R., Garcia, Franger J. and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2015. The Taxonomic Status of Mazama bricenii and the Significance of the Táchira Depression for Mammalian Endemism in the Cordillera de Mérida, Venezuela. PloS One, 10(6): 1-24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129113

Young, Hillary S., Dirzo, Rodolfo, Helgen, Kristofer M., McCauley, Douglas J., Billeter, Sarah A., Kosoy, Michael Y., Osikowicz, Lynn M., Salkeld, Daniel J., Young, Truman P. and Dittmar, Katharina 2014. Declines in large wildlife increase landscape-level prevalence of rodent-borne disease in Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(19): 7036-7041. doi:10.1073/pnas.1404958111

Heyes, Scott A. and Helgen, Kristofer M. (eds.) 2014. Mammals of Ungava and Labrador: the 1882-1884 fieldnotes of Lucien M. Turner together with Inuit and Innu knowledge Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 384 pages.

Almeida, Francisca C., Giannini, Norberto P., Simmons, Nancy B. and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2014. Each flying fox on its own branch: a phylogenetic tree for Pteropus and related genera (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae). Molecular phylogenetics and evolution, 77: 83-95. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.03.009

Rocha, L. A., Aleixo, A., Allen, G., Almeda, F., Baldwin, Carole C., Barclay, M. V. L., Bates, J. M., Bauer, A. M., Benzoni, F., Berns, C. M., Berumen, M. L., Blackburn, D. C., Blum, S., Bolanos, F., Bowie, R. C. K., Britz, R., Brown, R. M., Cadena, C. D., Carpenter, K., Ceriaco, L. M., Chakrabarty, P., Chaves, G., Choat, J. H., Clements, K. D., Collette, Bruce B., et al 2014. Specimen collection: An essential tool. Science, 344(6186): 814-815. doi:10.1126/science.344.6186.814

Voss, Robert S., Helgen, Kristofer M. and Jansa, Sharon A. 2014. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence: a comment on Cozzuol et al. (2013). Journal of mammalogy, 95(4): 893-898. doi:10.1644/14-MAMM-A-054

Scheel, Dirk-Martin, Slater, Graham J., Kolokotronis, Sergios-Orestis, Potter, Charles W., Rotstein, David, Tsangaras, Kyriakos, Greenwood, Alex and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2014. Biogeography and taxonomy of extinct and endangered monk seals illuminated by ancient DNA and skull morphology. ZooKeys, 409: 1-33. doi:10.3897/zookeys.409.6244

Tsangaras, Kyriakos, Siracusa, Matthew C., Nikolaidis, Nikolas, Ishida, Yasuko, Cui, Pin, Vielgrader, Hanna, Helgen, Kristofer M., Roca, Alfred L. and Greenwood, Alex D. 2014. Hybridization Capture Reveals Evolution and Conservation across the Entire Koala Retrovirus Genome. PLoS ONE, 9(4): 1-14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095633

Pinto, C. Miguel, Helgen, Kristofer M., Fleischer, Robert C. and Perkins, Susan L 2013. Hepatozoon Parasites (Apicomplexa: Adeleorina) in Bats. Journal of Parasitology, 99(4): 722-724. doi:10.1645/12-18.1

Vilstrup, Julia T., Seguin-Orlando, Andaine, Stiller, Mathias, Ginolhac, Aurelien, Raghavan, Maanasa, Nielsen, Sandra C. A., Weinstock, Jacobo, Froese, Duane, Vasiliev, Sergei K., Ovodov, Nikolai D., Clary, Joel, Helgen, Kristofer M., Fleischer, Robert C., Cooper, Alan, Shapiro, Beth and Orlando, Ludovic 2013. Mitochondrial Phylogenomics of Modern and Ancient Equids. PLoS ONE, 8(2): e55950 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055950

Smith, Vincent, Georgiev, Teodor, Stoev, Pavel, Biserkov, Jordan, Miller, Jeremy, Livermore, Laurence, Baker, Edward, Mietchen, Daniel, Couvreur, Thomas L. P., Mueller, Gregory, Dikow, Torsten, Helgen, Kristofer M., Frank, Jiri, Agosti, Donat, Roberts, David and Penev, Lyubomir 2013. Beyond dead trees: integrating the scientific process in the Biodiversity Data Journal. Biodiversity Data Journal, 1: e995 doi:10.3897/BDJ.1.e995

Gutiérrez, Eliécer E. and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2013. Outdated taxonomy blocks conservation. Nature, 495(7441): 314 doi:10.1038/495314e

Reeder, DeeAnn, Helgen, Kristofer M., Vodzak, Megan E., Lunde, Darrin and Ejotre, Imran 2013. A new genus for a rare African vespertilionid bat: insights from South Sudan. ZooKeys, 285: 89-115. doi:10.3897/zookeys.285.4892

Goheen, Jacob R., Palmer, Todd M., Charles, Grace K., Helgen, Kristofer M., Kinyua, Stephen N., Maclean, Janet E., Turner, Benjamin L., Young, Hillary S. and Pringle, Robert M. 2013. Piecewise Disassembly of a Large-Herbivore community across a rainfall gradient: The UHURU experiment. PLoS ONE, 8(2): e55192 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055192

Bornholdt, Renata, Helgen, Kristofer M., Koepfli, Klaus-Peter, Oliveira, Larissa, Lucherini, Mauro and Eizirik, Eduardo 2013. Taxonomic revision of the genus Galictis (Carnivora: Mustelidae): species delimitation, morphological diagnosis, and refined mapping of geographical distribution. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 167(3): 449-472. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2012.00859.x

Fabre, Pierre-Henri, Pagès, Marie, Musser, Guy G., Fitriana, Yuli S., Fjeldså, Jon, Jennings, Andy, Jønsson, Knud A., Kennedy, Jonathan, Michaux, Johan, Semiadi, Gono, Supriatna, Nanang and Helgen, Kristofer M. 2013. A new genus of rodent from Wallacea (Rodentia: Muridae: Murinae: Rattini), and its implication for biogeography and Indo-Pacific Rattini systematics. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 169(2): 408-447. doi:10.1111/zoj.12061

Buden, Don, Helgen, Kristofer M. and Wiles, Gary 2013. Taxonomy, distribution, and natural history of flying foxes (Chiroptera, Pteropodidae) in the Mortlock Islands and Chuuk State, Caroline Islands. ZooKeys, 345: 97-135. doi:10.3897/zookeys.345.5840

Helgen, Kristofer M., Pinto, C. Miguel, Kays, Roland, Helgen, Lauren, Tsuchiya, Mirian, Quinn, Aleta J., Wilson, Don E. and Maldonado, Jesús E. 2013. Taxonomic revision of the olingos (Bassaricyon), with description of a new species, the Olinguito. ZooKeys, 324: 1-83. doi:10.3897/zookeys.324.5827

Young, Hillary S., McCauley, Douglas J., Helgen, Kristofer M., Goheen, Jacob R., Otárola-Castillo, Erik, Palmer, Todd M., Pringle, Robert M., Young, Truman P. and Dirzo, Rodolfo 2013. Effects of mammalian herbivore declines on plant communities: observations and experiments in an African savanna. Journal of Ecology, 101(4): 1030-1041. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12096

Complete List of Helgen's Publications and Downloadable PDFs

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