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April  18, 2011

Color of arctic bird may reveal clues to climate change

Dr. Jeff Johnson will discuss the effects of climate change on the arctic animal kingdom on Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. in the John Deere Planetarium Auditorium (820 38th St.). The Center for Polar Studies lecture, entitled "Adaptive Significance of White Plumage Color in High Arctic Gyrfalcons," is free and open to the public.

Dr. Johnson's research involves studying color differences among gyrfalcons living in the world's arctic and sub-Antarctic regions. Color variations within species often have a strong genetic component, so studying the differences can provide important clues about how the species has evolved over time. By understanding the genetics behind physical traits like feather color, scientists can predict how climate change might affect arctic animals in other ways in the future.

"An important question in the debate on the ecological effects of climate change is whether species will be able to adapt fast enough to keep up with their changing environment," said Dr. Johnson. "Knowing the evolutionary processes that had led to the current gyrfalcon distribution will help us predict how the species may respond to challenges in the future."

He holds an M.S. in zoology from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, Dr. Johnson works as an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of North Texas, where he is part of the sub-Antarctic ecosystems and bio-cultural conservation research cluster. He is interested in evolution and conservation biology, especially the adaptive significance of genetic diversity and the effects of increased population fragmentation and isolation.

This lecture is sponsored by the Augustana Center for Polar Studies and funded through the Augustana Institute for Leadership and Service.

Sam Schlouch
Director, Public Relations and Arts Promotion
(309) 794-7833
samschlouch@augustana.edu