Rob Fleischer is senior scientist and head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation Genomics. His primary fields of interest are evolutionary and conservation biology. He conducts individual and collaborative research in population and evolutionary genetics, systematics, and molecular and behavioral ecology, mostly on free-ranging bird and mammal species, and their pathogens. Many of his recent projects use genomic, transcriptomic and microbiome methods.

Fleischer has particular interest in:

  • the use of ancient DNA methods to document changes in genetic variation through time and phylogenetic relationships of extinct or endangered organisms (especially of the recently extinct Hawaiian avifauna);
  • the use of highly variable genetic markers to measure genetic structure and relatedness, and to ascertain mating systems, in natural populations;
  • and the use of genetics to study the evolutionary interactions between hosts, vectors and infectious disease organisms (e.g., major projects on introduced avian malaria in native Hawaiian birds, invasive chytrid fungus in amphibians, and tick-transmitted pathogens).

Fleischer grew up in Southern California and attended the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in biology from UCSB in 1978 and received his doctorate in evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas in 1983. After two years of postdoctoral work at UCSB studying cowbird vocal dialects and genetic structure, he spent six years as university faculty before moving to the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 1991 to develop the Zoo's program in conservation genetics.

Fleischer has authored or co-authored more than 280 peer-reviewed contributions to scientific literature. His research program has been supported primarily via competitive grant and contract funding from National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and other federal and state agencies and foundations. Among other honors, Fleischer was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003 and was the 2012 recipient of the William Brewster Medal of the American Ornithological Society.

Fleischer has been a rabid birder and naturalist since the age of 13. After taking a very illuminating and exciting genetics course as an undergrad at UCSB, he decided to merge his fascination with bird ecology and evolution with his newfound interest in molecular genetics, ultimately combining population genetic theory, fieldwork and molecular lab analyses. This synergy led to a career conducting and guiding students and postdocs in conservation genomics research.

Research Interests

Evolutionary biology, conservation biology, population genetics, behavioral ecology, ornithology, mammalogy, malaria parasites.


Ancient DNA

By studying ancient DNA, scientists can learn about genetic variation and how certain species have changed over time. Ancient DNA methods have also proved useful in the study of wildlife disease.

Genomic Responses to Disease

Some frogs and salamanders have an innate resistance to the deadly chytrid fungus. Scientists are studying their genes to help save amphibians.

Genomics, Transcriptomics and Epigenomics

Center for Conservation Genomics scientists sequence genomes and transcriptomes in large part to develop markers for detailed population studies, and to assess responses to stressors such as pathogens and climate change.

Microbiomes and Metagenomics

Smithsonian scientists are working to uncover the earth's incredible diversity of microorganisms and to understand how they impact plant, animal and ecosystem health.

Pathogens and Parasites

Smithsonian scientists study infectious diseases and their impacts on wildlife, including malaria, invasive chytrid fungus, tick-borne pathogens and more.

Relationship Between Skin Microbiomes and Disease Outcomes

Scientists are studying the natural communities of bacteria on frogs' skin for antifungal properties that may help some frogs resist, or survive, the deadly infection caused by chytrid fungus.