Texas Tech University

Jennifer Burns, PhD

Chair and Professor, Department of Biological Sciences; Affiliate Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage

Email: jenn.burns@ttu.edu

Phone: 806-742-2715


2000 Postdoctoral Scholar, Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz

1997 Doctor of Philosophy (Interdisciplinary Studies: Marine Biology), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Marine Science. “The development of diving behavior and physiology in juvenile Weddell seals in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica”

1992 Masters of Science (Fisheries), University of Washington, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. “Environmental and biological factors that influence harbor seal haulout behavior in Washington, and their consequences for the design of population surveys”

1990 A.B. Biology (conc. Marine) and Zoology (double), English minor, University of California, Berkeley.


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Dr. Jennifer Burns

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, and how it is regulated;

2. Determining how physiological condition impacts diving performance and foraging success; and

3. Exploring how critical life history events are influenced by, and reflective of, physiological status, 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.

Current Research Projects

Collaborative Research: the role of maternal iron transfer in the development of heme stores and aerobic diving capacity in grey seal pups. PI JM Burns (TTU), M. Shero (WHOI), G. Breed (UAF); National Science Foundation, IOS-2133824. 

Physiological and Genetic Correlates of Reproductive Success in High- versus Low-Quality Weddell seals. PIs: M.R. Shero (WHOI), B. Briggs (UAA), A. Hindle (UNR), J. Burns (UAA/TTU) Collaborators: Gregg Adams (U. Saskatchewan). National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs 

Openings in the Lab

The Burns' lab is searching for three graduate students to participate in two separate, NSF-funded, multi-PI field projects on pinniped ecophysiology and behavior. The first project is focused on individual variation in the diving behavior of lactating female Weddell seals and their pups, requires field work in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, and is collaborative with Dr. Michelle Shero at WHOI, Dr. Allyson Hindle at University of Nevada Los Vegas, and Dr. Briggs at University of Alaska Anchorage.

The second project focuses on the role of iron in the physiological development of grey seal pups and their resulting post-weaning movements and diving behavior. One student will focus on pups, and the second on how maternal diet and condition may influence the amount of milk and iron that moms can provide to their pups. The project field work will take place on Sable Island, Canada, and will be conducted in collaboration with partners from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada, Dr. Michelle Shero (WHOI), and Dr. Greg Breed from University of Alaska Fairbanks.

For all projects, we prefer students who have experience with field work, and who have already completed a MSc, although applicants desiring a PhD who do not yet have a MSc will be considered if they can demonstrate strong analytical skills. Students will be provided with stipend support, as well as tuition and fees; some student teaching is expected.

Students are being recruited for Fall 2023, but can start as early as summer 2023, with an option for working as a technician in Spring 2023 for the Sable Island Projects.

To apply, please submit a letter of interest, a CV, and unofficial transcripts (if available) to Dr. Burns at jenn.burns@ttu.edu

Selected recent publications (*Grad student in my lab)

  1. Shero, M.R., Kirkham, A.L., Costa, D.P.  and J.M. Burns (2022). Iron mobilization during lactation reduces oxygen stores in a diving mammal. Nat Commun 13, 4322 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-31863-7
  2. *Tsai, E. DW Schwilk, M.A. Castellini, J. M. Burns (to be submitted). Diving into he past: tools for recovering historic dive traces from film-based time depth recorders using data from Weddell seals. Animal Biotelemetry
  3. Shero, M.R., Burns, J.M. (2022). The Weddell Seal: Eco-Physiological Adaptations to a High-Latitude Seasonal Environment. In: Costa, D.P., McHuron, E.A. (eds) Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Phocids . Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88923-4_13
  4. *Beltran, R.S.B., G.A. Breed, T. Adachi, A. Takahashi, Y. Naito, P.W. Robinson, W.O Smith Jr., A. M Kilpatrick, A.L Kirkham, J. M. Burns (2021). Seasonal resource pulses and the foraging depth of a Southern Ocean top predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 288, 20202817, doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.2817.
  5. *Merrill, G, J.W.Testa, and J. M. Burns (2021). Maternal foraging trip durations as a population-level index of foraging and reproductive success for the northern fur seal. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 666:217-229. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13694
  6. Quinn M. P., S. Kraberger, D. P. Martin, M.R. Shero, R.S. Beltran, A. L. Kirkham, M. Aleamotu'a, D. G. Ainley, S. Kim, J. M. Burns, Arvind Varsani. (2021). Circoviruses and cycloviruses identified in Weddell seal fecal samples from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Infection, Genetics and Evolution: 95,105070. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2021.105070
  7. Hückstädt, LA., M.A., Piñones, D.M. Palacios, B.I. McDonald, M.S. Dinniman, E.E. Hofmann, J.M. Burns, D.E. Crocker, D.P. Costa (2020). Future shifts in the habitat of crabeater seals along the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature Climate Change. Https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0745-9.
  8. *Walcott, S., M. Horning, A. Kirkham, J.M. Burns (2020). Thermoregulatory costs in molting Antarctic Weddell seals: impacts of physiological and environmental conditions. Conservation Physiology. 8(1): coaa022, doi: 10.1093/conphys/coaa022
  9. *Shero, M.R., P.J. Reiser, L. Simonitis,J. M. Burns. (2019). Links between muscle phenotype and life history: Differentiation of myosin heavy chain composition and muscle biochemistry in precocial and altricial pinniped pups Journal of Comparative Physiology B. 189(6): 717-734, DOI:10.1007/s00360-019-01240-w
  10. *Beltran, R.S., A.L. Kirkham, G.A. Breed, J.W. Testa, and J. M. Burns. (2019). Reproductive success delays moult phenology in a polar mammal. Sci.Rep.9: 5221 https://doi:10.1038/s41598-019-41635-x
  11. Brennan, S.R., D.P. Fernandez, J.M. Burns, S. Aswad, D.E. Schindler, T.E. Cerling. (2019). Isotopes in teeth reveal a cryptic population of coastal freshwater seals. Conservation Biology 33(6): 1415-1425. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13303
  12. Frankfurter G, Beltran RS, Hoard M, Burns JM. (2019). Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing of Antarctic Seal Flipper Tags. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 43(2): 313-316. https://doi.org/10.1002/wsb.964
  13. *Pearson, L.E., E.L. Weitzner, J.M. Burns, M.O. Hammill, H.E.M. Liwanag. (2019). From ice to ocean: Changes in the thermal function of harp seal pelt with ontogeny. J. Comp. Physiology B. 189: 501-511. https://org/10.1007/s00360-019-01214-y00061   
  14. Piñones, A., D.P. Costa, J.M. Burns, J.M. Klinck, E. Hofmann, M. Dinniman, F. Roquet, K. Goetz. (2019). Hydrographic variability along the inner and mid-shelf region of the western Ross Sea obtained using instrumented seals. Progress in Oceanography 174: 131-142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2019.01.003
  15. *Beltran, R.S., J.M. Burns, G. Breed. 2018. Convergence of biannual moulting strategies across birds and mammals. Proc Biol Sci. 285(1878): 20180318. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.0318

Department of Biological Sciences

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