faculty listing

A Photo of  Jennifer Burns

Contact Information

University of Alaska Anchorage
3211 Providence
Integrated Science Building 202C
Anchorage, AK 99508
Phone: (907) 786-1527

Jennifer Burns Associated Faculty

Marine Biology • Marine Mammals


  • Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage
  • INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence), University of Alaska Anchorage
  • ENRI (Environment and Natural Resources Institute), University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Institute of Marine Science, University of California Santa Cruz


  • Physiological Ecology
  • Zoology
  • Marine Biology


  • B.A. 1990 University of California Berkeley (Biology and Zoology)
  • M.S. 1992 University of Washington (Fisheries)
  • Ph.D. 1997 University of Alaska Fairbanks (Marine Biology)
  • Post.Doc. 2000 University of California Santa Cruz (Physiological Ecology)

Research Overview

My research focuses on understanding how the age and physiological status of juvenile marine mammals influences their diving and foraging capacities, and on how differences in rates of physiological development impact life history traits. I currently have an active research program focused on understanding whether the rate and extent of neonatal physiological development is closely correlated with the onset of independent foraging. For all marine mammals, the ability to remain submerged for long periods of time is largely dependent on two parameters: the amount of oxygen that can be carried to depth, and the rate at which it is used. However, our research has suggested that juvenile behaviors are constrained as a result of higher oxygen use rates, smaller reserves, and reduced body size, and that these constraints likely impact growth and survival.

Recently, I have expanded my research to include studies of how nutrition and micronutrients may influence the development of oxygen stores and muscle biochemistry. We are interested in how lipid, protein, and iron intake impacts the maturation of blood and muscle, and how seasonal shifts in activity patterns may serve to regulate physiological status. This work is proceeding in parallel in a variety of polar pinnipeds and in a more local model, the arctic ground squirrel.

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.

Current Research Projects

  • Developing new tools to study marine mammal behavior
  • Freshwater seals in Iliamna Lake: integrating traditional and western knowledge
  • Role of physiological constraint in acquisition of foraging ability in polar mammals
  • Role of micronutrients and iron during postnatal development
  • Overwinter behavior and physiology of Weddell Seals


1. 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. PDF

2. 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.

3. 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

4. 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. PDF

5. 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. PDF

6. 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. PDF

7. 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. PDF

8. 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. PDF

9. 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. PDF

10. 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. PDF

11. 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. PDF

12. 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. PDF

13. 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.

14. 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. PDF

15. 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. PDF

16. 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. PDF

17. 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. PDF

18. Gales,N., Barnes, J.,Chittick, B., Gray, M., Robinson, S., Burns, J.M., Costa, D. (2005) Effective, field‑based inhalation anesthesia for ice seals. Marine Mammal Science 21:717‑727.

19. 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. PDF [PMID: 16228944]

20. 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. PDF

21. 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. PDF

22. 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. PDF

23. 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. PDF

24. 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. PDF [PMID: 16500652)

25. 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. PDF

26. 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. PDF [PMID: 17089167]

27. 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. PDF [PMID: 17576570]

28. 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. PDF

29. 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. PDF

30. 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. PDF

31. 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. PDF

32. 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. PDF

33. 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. PDF

34. 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. PDF

35. 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.

36. Lystek, 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: 179:986‑996. PDF [PMID: 19565249]

37. 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, GSA Books, Special Paper 462, Syracuse NY, pp: 181‑192.

38. 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):757‑66. DOI 10.1007/s00360‑010‑0448‑z [PMID: 20140678]

39. 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 [PMID: 20154189]