Dr. Jennifer Burns

Jennifer Burns, Ph.D.

Affiliate Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
(907) 786-1527


  • Ph.D. 1997 Marine Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, AK
  • M.S. 1992 Fisheries, University of Washington, WA
  • B.A. 1990 Biology, Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA

Teaching Responsibilities

  • BIOL A108/108L: Principles & Methods in Biology with Lab
  • BIOL A415/615: Comparative Animal Physiology / Advanced Comp. Physiology
  • BIOL A430/630: Marine Mammal Biology / Advance Marine Mammal Biology
  • BIOL A481: Marine Biology
  • BIOL A490: Antarctic Ecology
  • BIOL A490L: Marine Mammal Necropsy Techniques
  • BIOL A698: Directed Research 
  • BIOL A699: Thesis

Research Interests

Over the past two decades, research in my laboratory has explored the linkages between physiology, nutrition, and performance in mammalian systems. Primarily, our work is focused on polar marine mammals, as the challenges these species face to exploit underwater food resources in a highly seasonal environment have led to multiple unique adaptations that highlight basic physiological principles. Research activities have proceeded along three main lines:

  1. understanding the pattern of physiological development in juvenile marine mammals, how it is regulated
  2. determining how physiological condition impacts diving performance and foraging success in both juvenile and adults; and
  3. determining how critical life history events are influenced by, and reflective of, individual condition and prey availability and environmental conditions.

These questions are particularly relevant in polar ecosystems, where climate change is reducing available habitats, and altering food webs, but they are important to all populations.

To address these questions, students in my lab use a wide variety of analytical tools including computerized dive recorders, satellite telemetry and GIS techniques, as well as several more hands-on techniques such as measuring heart rate and respiration patterns, energy use, and animal condition and health status. To assess physiological status we routinely employ standard veterinary methods, as well as more molecular approaches.

Other Activities

During the 2017-2019 Academic years, Dr. Burns is serving as Program Director for the Antarctic Integrated System Science Program in the Section for Antarctic Sciences, Office of Polar Programs, at the National Science Foundation. She is based in Washington, DC, but maintains her departmental connection and can be reached via her UAA email address. However, while at NSF, she will not be accepting new graduate students or undergraduate researchers into her laboratory.


Complete list with links available via Research Gate and/or OrcID

In addition to publishing our work (listed below), my lab frequently presents research findings orally and as posters at local, national and international conferences and workshops. We regularly present at the meetings of the Society of Marine Mammalogy, American Physiological Society, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Scientific Conference on Antarctic Research, Ocean Sciences, and Alaska Marine Science Symposium, among others.

Peer Reviewed Publications

first author was: * a graduate student in my lab; • a student collaborator; ordered by publication year

  1. *Beltran, R.S., J. M. Burns, G. Breed. 2018. Convergence of biannual moulting strategies across birds and mammals. Proc Biol Sci. 285(1878): 20180318.
  2. *Beltran, R.S., Ruscher-Hill, B. A.L. Kirkham, J.M. Burns. 2018.An Evaluation of Three-Dimensional Photogrammetric and Morphometric Techniques for Estimating Volume and Mass in Weddell Seals, Leptonychotes weddellii. PLOS One, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone. 0189865
  3. Burns, JM, D. Withrow, J.M. Van Lanen. 2018. Freshwater Seals of Iliamna Lake. Cpt. 23 In: C. A. Woody (Ed.). Bristol Bay Alaska: Natural Resources of the Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems. J. Ross Publishing, 604pp.
  4. Sequeira, A.M.M., J. P. Rodríguez, V. M. Eguíluz, R. Harcourt, M. Hindell, D. W. Sims, C. M. Duarte, D. P. Costa, J. Fernández-Gracia, L. C. Ferreira, G. C. Hays, M. R. Heupel, M. G. Meekan, A. Aven, F. Bailleul, A. M. M. Baylis, M. L. Berumen, C. D. Braun, J. Burns, M. J. Caley, R. Campbell, R. H. Carmichael, E. Clua, L. D. Einoder, Ari Friedlaender, M. E. Goebel, S. D. Goldsworthy, C. Guinet, J. Gunn, D. Hamer, N. Hammerschlag, M. Hammill, L. A. Hückstädt, N. E. Humphries, M.-A. Lea, A. Lowther, A. Mackay, E. McHuron, J. McKenzie, L. McLeay, C. R. McMahon, K. Mengersen, M. M. C. Muelbert, A. M. Pagano, B. Page, N. Queiroz, P. W. Robinson, S. A. Shaffer, M. Shivji, G. B. Skomal, S. R. Thorrold, S. Villegas-Amtmann, M. Weise, R. Wells, B. Wetherbee, A. Wiebkin, B. Wienecke and M. Thums. 2018. Convergence of marine megafauna movement patterns in coastal and open oceans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716137115
  5. Smeele, Z.E., J.M. Burns, L. Van Doorsaler, R.S. Forntenele, K. Waits, D. Stainton, M.R. Shero, R.S. Beltran, A.L. Kirkham, R. Berngartt, S. Krabserger, A. Varsani. 2018. Diverse papillomaviruses identified in Weddell seals. Journal of General Virology.99(4):549-557. doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001028
  6. *Beltran, R.S., J.W. Testa, and J.M. Burns. 2017.An agent-based bioenergetics model for predicting impacts of environmental change on top predators. Ecological Modelling 351 (10): 36–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2017.02.002
  7. Fahsbender, E., JM Burns, S. Kim, S. Kraberger, G. Frankfurter, A. Eilers, M Shero, R Beltran, A Kirkham, R McCorkell, R. Berngartt, M. Male, G. Ballard, D. Ainley, M. Breitbart, A. Varsani. 2017.  Diverse and highly recombinant anelloviruses associated with Weddell seals in Antarctica. Virus Evolution 3(1): vex017, doi: 10.1093/ve/vex017  
  8. Salas, L. N. Nur, D. Ainley, J.M.Burns, and G. Ballard. 2017. Coping with loss of large, energy-dense prey: a potential energy bottleneck for Weddell seals in the Southern Ross Sea. Ecological Applications. 27: 10-25. DOI: 10.1002/eap.1435
  9. Varsani, A., G. Frankfurter, D. Stainton, M. Male, S. Kraberger, J.M. Burns. 2017.  Identification of a polyomavirus in Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) from the Ross Sea (Antarctica). Archives of Virology 162(5):1403-1407. doi: 10.1007/s00705-017-3239-y
  10. •Goetz, K.T., J. M. Burns, L.A. Hückstädt, M.R. Shero, D.P. Costa. 2016. Temporal variation in isotopic composition and diet of Weddell seals in the western Ross Sea. Deep-Sea Research Part II. doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.05.017
  11. •Hückstädt, L.A., M.S. Tift, F. Riet-Sapriza, V. Franco-Trecu, A.M.M. Baylis, R. Orben, J.P. Arnould, M. Sepulveda, M. Santos, J.M. Burns, and D.P. Costa. 2016. Regional variability in diving physiology and behavior in a widely distributed air-breathing marine predator, the South American sea lion Otaria byronia. Journal of Experimental Biology. doi: 10.1242/jeb.138677
  12. Burns, J.M., K.C Lestyk, D. Freistroffer, and M.O. Hammill. 2015.  Preparing Muscles for Diving: Age-Related Changes in Muscle Metabolic Profiles in Harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and Hooded (Cystophora cristata) Seals. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 88:167-182
  13. •Gmuca, N.V., *L.E. Pearson, J.M. Burns, H.E.M. Liwanag. 2015. The Fat and the Furriest: Morphological Changes in Harp Seal Fur with Ontogeny. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 88:158 -166
  14. Noren, S.R., C.V. Jay, J.M. Burns, A.S Fischbach. 2015. Rapid Maturation of the Muscle Biochemistry that Supports Diving in Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens). Journal of Experimental Biology 218:3319-29. doi: 10.1242/jeb.125757
  15. *Shero, M.R., G. Adams, J.M. Burns. 2015. Field use of ultrasonography to characterize the reproductive tract and early pregnancy in a phocid, the Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii). The Anatomical Record 298: 1970-1977 doi: 10.1002/ar.23264.
  16. *Shero, M.R., D.P. Costa, and J. M. Burns. 2015. Scaling matters: incorporating body composition into Weddell seal seasonal oxygen store comparisons reveals maintenance of aerobic capacities. Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 185: 811-24. doi: 10.1007/s00360-015-0922-8.
  17. 17.   *Shero, M.R, Krotz, R.T, Costa, D.P, Avery, J.P, and J.M. Burns. 2015. How do overwinter changes in body condition and hormone profiles influence Weddell seal reproductive success? Functional Ecology. 29: 1278-1291. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.12434
  18. *Esslinger, G.G, J.L. Bodkin, A.R. Breton, J.M. Burns, D.H. Monson. 2014. Temporal Patterns in the Foraging Behavior of Sea Otters in Alaska. Journal of Wildlife Management. 78: 689-700
  19. *Pearson, L.E., H.E.M. Liwanag, M.O. Hammill, J.M. Burns. 2014. Developmental shifts in thermoregulatory strategies in harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus). Journal of Thermal Biology, 44: 93-102.
  20. *Pearson, L.E., H.E.M. Liwanag, M.O. Hammill, J.M. Burns. 2014. Thermoregulatory strategy varies among neonatal polar phocids. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part A, 178: 59-67 DOI: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2014.08.006
  21. *Shero, M.R., L.E. Pearson, D.P. Costa, and J.M. Burns 2014. Improving the precision of our ecosystem calipers: Evaluation of a modified morphometric technique for estimating marine mammal body composition. PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091233
  22. Burns, J., Van Lanen, J., Withrow, D., Holen, D., Askoak, T., Aderman, H., O’Corey-Crowe, G., Zimpelman, G., and Jones, B. 2013. Integrating local traditional knowledge and subsistence use patterns with aerial surveys to improve scientific and local understanding of the Iliamna Lake seals. Report to the North Pacific Research Board Project 1116 Final Report, 189pp
  23. •Geiseler, S., A.S. Blix, J.M. Burns, and L. P. Folkow. 2013. Rapid postnatal development of myoglobin from large liver iron stores in hooded seals. Journal of Experimental Biology 216(Pt 10):1793-8. doi: 10.1242/jeb.082099
  24. Mirceta, S., A.V. Signore, J.M. Burns, A.R. Cossins, K.L. Campbell, and M. Berenbrink. 2013. Evolution of mammalian diving capacity traced by myoglobin net charge. Science 340 (6138) DOI: 10.1126/science.1234192
  25. Burns, J.M., H. Alderman, T. Askoak, and D. Withrow. 2012. Local and Scientific Understanding of the Iliamna Lake Freshwater Seals. Pp 211-228 in: Fishing People of the North: Cultures, Economies, and Management Responding to Change, 27th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, C. Carothers et al. (Eds).
  26. Forcada, J. P. Trathan, P. Boveng, I.  Boyd, J. Burns, D. Costa, M. Fedak, T. Rogers, C. Southwell. 2012 Uncertainty in the assessment of responses of Antarctic pack-ice seals to environmental change and increasing krill fishing. Biological Conservation. 149: 40–50; doi: 10.1016.2012.02.002
  27. •Hückstädt, LA, J.M. Burns, P. Koch, B.I. McDonald, D.E. Crocker, and D.P Costa. 2012. Being a specialist in a changing environment: the diet of the crabeater seal along the western Antarctica Peninsula. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 455:287-301; doi:10.3354/meps09601
  28. •Friedlaender, A.S, D.W. Johnston, W.R. Fraser, J.M. Burns, and D.P. Costa. 2011. Ecological Niche Modeling of Sympatric Krill Predators around Margeurite Bay, Western Antarctic Peninsula. Deep Sea Research II, 58: 1729-1740.
  29. *Shero, M.R., Andrews, R.D., Lestyk, K.C., and Burns, J.M. 2011. Development of the aerobic dive limit and muscular efficiency in northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus). Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 182(3):425-36
  30. •Vázquez-Medina, J. P., Olguín-Monroy, N. O., Maldonado, P. D., Santamaría, A., Königsberg, M., Elsner, R., Hammilll, M. O., Burns, J. M. and Zenteno-Savín, T. 2011. Maturation increases superoxide radical production without increasing oxidative damage in the skeletal muscle of hooded seals (Cystophora cristata). Canadian Journal of Zoology 89, 206-212.
  31. •Vázquez-Medina, J.P.; J.G. Sonanez-Organis, J. M. Burns, T. Zenteno-Savin, and R. M. Ortiz. 2011. Antioxidant capacity develops with maturation in the deep-diving hooded seal. Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 2903-2910.
  32. Burns, J.M., K.C. Lestyk, N. Skomp, N. Bishop, M.O. Hammill. 2010. Development of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism in cardiac and skeletal muscles from harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and hooded (Cystophora cristata) seals. Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 740-748.
  33. *Prewitt, J.S., Freistroffer, D.V. Schreer, J.F., Hammill, M.O., Burns, J.M. 2010. Postnatal development of muscle biochemistry in nursing harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pups: Limitations to diving behavior? Journal of Comparative Physiology  B. 180(5): 757-766
  34. *Savarese, D., and J.M. Burns. 2010. Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardsii) use of the Bering Glacier habitat: implications for management. In: Interdisciplinary Studies of Earth’s Largest Temperate Surging Glacier Editors:  Edward Josberger and Robert Shuchman, Geological Society of America, Special Paper 462: 181-192.
  35. •Frid, A., J.M. Burns, G. Baker, R. Thorne. 2009. Predicting synergistic effects of resources and predators on foraging decisions by juvenile Steller sea lions. Oecologia 158:775-786
  36. *Lestyk, K.C., L.P. Folkow, A.S. Blix, M.O. Hammill, J.M. Burns. 2009. Development of myoglobin concentration and acid buffering capacity in harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and hooded (Cystophora cristata) seals from birth to maturity.  Journal of Comparative Physiology  B. 179: 985-996.
  37. *von Biela, V.R., V.A. Gill, J.L. Bodkin, and J.M. Burns. 2009.  Phenotypic plasticity in the average age at first reproduction of female northern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni).  Journal of Mammalogy 90(5):1224-1231
  38. Burns, J.M. and Hammill, M.O. 2008. Does iron availability limit oxygen store development in seal pups? pp. 417-428 in: 4th CPB meeting in Africa: MARA 2008, Molecules to Migration: the Pressures of Life, S. Morris, A. Vosloo, Eds. Medimond International Proceedings, Bologna, Italy.
  39. Burns, J.M., M.A. Hindell, C.J.A. Bradshaw, and D.P. Costa. 2008. Fine-scale habitat selection by crabeater seals diving within Marguerite Bay, Antarctica. Deep Sea Research II 55: 500-514.
  40. Costa, D.P., J.M. Klinck, E.E. Hofmann, M.S. Dinniman, J.M. Burns. 2008. Upper Ocean Variability in West Antarctic Peninsula Continental Shelf Waters as Measured Using Instrumented Seals. Deep Sea Research II 55: 323-337.
  41. •McDonald, B., D. Crocker, J. Burns, and D. Costa. 2008. Body condition as an index of winter foraging success in crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophaga). Deep Sea Research II 55: 515-522.
  42. *Rehberg, M.J. and J.M. Burns. 2008. Differences in diving and swimming behavior in pup and juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in Alaska. Canadian Journal of Zoology 86:539-553.
  43. *von Biela, V. R., J.W. Testa, V.A. Gill, J.M. Burns. 2008. Cementum width as an index of reproduction. Journal of Wildlife Management. 72:618-623.
  44. Burns, J.M., K.C. Lestyk, M.O. Hammill, L.P. Folkow, and A.S. Blix. 2007. Size and distribution of oxygen stores in harp and hooded seals from birth to maturity. Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 177: 687-700.
  45. *Clark, C.A., J.M. Burns, J.F. Schreer, M.O. Hammill. 2007. The development of total body oxygen stores in nursing harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 177: 217-227.
  46. •Fowler, S.L., D.P. Costa, J.P.Y. Arnould, N.J. Gales, J.M. Burns. 2007. Ontogeny of oxygen stores, field metabolic rates, and the calculated aerobic dive limit in the Australian sea lion. Functional Ecology 21: 922-935.
  47. •Lapierre, J.L., J.F. Schreer, J.M.Burns, and M.O. Hammill. 2007.  Effect of diazepam on heart and respiratory rates of harbor seal pups following intravenous injection. Marine Mammal Science. Marine Mammal Science 23:209-217.
  48. Burns, J.M.. T.M. Williams, S.M. Secor, N. Owen-Smith, N.A. Bargmann, M.A. Castellini. 2006. New insights into the physiology of natural foraging. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 79(2):242-249
  49. *Clark, C.A., J.M. Burns, J.F. Schreer, K. Mashburn. 2006. Erythropoietin levels in developing harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). General and Comparative Endocrinology. 147: 262-267
  50. •Kuhn, C.E., B.I. McDonald, S.A. Shaffer, J. Barnes, D.E. Crocker, J.M. Burns, D.P. Costa. 2006. Diving Physiology and Winter Foraging Behavior of a Juvenile Leopard Seal (Hydrurga leptonyx). Polar Biology. 29: 303-307.
  51. *Richmond, J.P, J.M. Burns, L.D. Rea. 2006 Ontogeny of total body oxygen stores and aerobic dive potential in the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 176: 535-545
  52. Burns, J.M., D.P. Costa, K. Frost, and J.T. Harvey. 2005. Physiological development in juvenile harbor seals. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 78:1057-1068
  53. Gales, N., Barnes, J.,Chittick, B., Gray, M., Robinson, S., Burns, J., Costa, D. 2005. Effective, field-based inhalation anesthesia for ice seals. Marine Mammal Science 21:717-727.
  54. *Richmond, J.P., J.M. Burns, L.D. Rea, K. Mashburn. 2005. Postnatal ontogeny of erythropoietin and hematology in free-ranging Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus). General and Comparative Endocrinology. 141:240-247
  55. Burns, J.M., C. A. Clark, J.P Richmond. 2004.The impact of lactation strategy on physiological development of juvenile marine mammals: implications for the transition to independent foraging. Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry, International Congress Series. 1275: 341-350
  56. Burns, J.M., D.P. Costa, M.A. Hindell, CJ. Bradshaw, N. Gales, S.J. Trumble, B. 2004. Winter habitat use and foraging behaviour of crabeater seals along the western Antarctic Peninsula.  Deep Sea Research II 51: 2279-2303
  57. *Greaves, D.K., J.F. Schreer, M.O. Hammill, J.M. Burns. 2004. Diving heart rate development in postnatal harbour seals, Phoca vitulina. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 78(1): 9-17.
  58. *Greaves, D.K., R.L. Hughson, Z. Topor, J.F. Schreer, J.M. Burns, M.O. Hammill. 2004. Changes in heart rate variability during diving in young harbour seals, Phoca vitulina. Marine Mammal Science 20(2): 296-304. 
  59. •LaPierre, J., J.F. Schreer, M.O. Hammill. J.M. Burns. 2004. Developmental changes in cardiorespiratory patterns associated with terrestrial apnoeas in harbour seal pups. Journal of Experimental Biology. 207:3891-3898
  60. Drabek, C.M. and J.M. Burns. 2002. Heart Anatomy of the deep diving hooded seal (Cystophora cristata). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80:2030-2036
  61. Burns, J.M. and G. Kooyman. 2001. Habitat use by Weddell seals and emperor penguins foraging in the Ross Sea, Antarctica.  American Zoologist. 41: 90-98.
  62. Burns, J.M. and J.F. Schreer. 2000. Changes in the behavioral repertoire of Weddell seal pups diving in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Pp. 85-95, in: Antarctic Ecosystems: Models for Wider Ecological Understanding. Davidson, B. (ed.) Caxton Press, Christchurch, New Zealand.
  63. Burns, J.M. 1999. The development of diving behavior in juvenile Weddell seals: pushing physiological limits in order to survive. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 773-783.
  64. Burns, J.M., M.A. Castellini, and J.W. Testa. 1999. Movements and diving behavior of weaned Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) pups. Polar Biology. 21: 23-36.
  65. Burns, J.M., and M.A. Castellini. 1998. Dive data from satellite tags and time depth recorders: a comparison in Weddell seal pups. Marine Mammal Biology. 14 (4): 750-764.
  66. Burns, J.M., S.J. Trumble, M.A. Castellini, and J.W. Testa. 1998. The diet of Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, as determined from scat collections and stable isotope analyses. Polar Biology.19 (4):272-282.
  67. Burns, J. M. and J.F.Schreer. 1998. The effects of age and condition on the behavioral repertoire of diving Weddell seal pups.FASEB Journal. 12 (4) A333.
  68. Burns, J.M., M.A. Castellini, K.K. Hastings, T. Zenteno-Savin. 1997. Development in Juvenile Weddell seals: diving behavior, physiology, nutritional status, and survivorship. Antarctic Journal U.S. 30(5):131-132
  69. Burns, J.M., J.F. Schreer, and M.A. Castellini. 1997. Physiological effects on individual dive patterns and foraging strategies in yearling Weddell seals. Canadian Journal of Zoology 75: 1796-1810.
  70. Burns, J. M. and J.W. Testa. 1997. Seasonal and diurnal variation in the development of diving behavior in Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) pups. pp 328-334 in: Antarctic Communities, Battaglia, B. J. Valencia, D.W.H. Walton (ed.) Cambridge University Press.
  71. Burns, J. M. and M.A. Castellini. 1996. Physiological and behavioral determinants of the aerobic dive limit in Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) pups. Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 166:473-483.
  72. Castellini, M.A., J.W. Testa, L.D. Rea, J.M. Moss, and K.K. Hastings. 1994. Diving development and survivorship in Weddell seal pups. Antarctic Journal U.S. 29(5):171-172.