Research at IAB

The Institute of Arctic Biology is Alaska’s principal research and educational institution for investigating high-latitude plant, animal, and human biological systems and providing the public, state of Alaska, and national resource managers and policymakers the necessary knowledge to interpret, predict, and manage biological ecosystems in the face of uncertainty.

Biomedical Science

Researchers in biomedical science within the Institute of Arctic Biology draw on the unique environment of Alaska to better understand human health from a broad range of perspectives. Biomedical faculty are a multi-disciplinary group with backgrounds spanning ecology, nutrition, epidemiology, virology, zoophysiology, neurobiology, exercise physiology, cancer, and molecular biology. Research takes place in laboratories, natural field settings, and communities, where faculty and students study the role of diet in disease, the biological basis of anxiety disorders, ways to promote health in Alaska Native communities, the role of DNA repair in cancer, the diagnosis and prevalence of viral pathogens, human resilience to biological and environmental stress, hibernation as a model for mitigating human responses to trauma, and physiological responses to environmental change. Students studying biomedical science go on to work in medicine, academia, industry, and nonprofit agencies, including tribal health organizations.

Evolution & Biodiversity

Evolutionary biology is central to all disciplines in biology and a powerful tool for resolving long-standing questions about biodiversity at different scales. Faculty and students at the Institute of Arctic Biology study basic and applied aspects of evolution in diverse plants, animals, fungi, and microbes from Arctic to tropical ecosystems. The University of Alaska Museum of the North, located on the UAF campus, provides world-class research collections for studies in evolution and biodiversity

Microbial Ecology

Microbial ecologists at the Institute of Arctic Biology investigate the many roles microbes play in ecosystem, animal, and human health. Our research topics include the biodegradation of environmental contaminants, biogeochemical cycling, plant-microbe interactions, antibiotic resistance, and emerging diseases. We employ tools such as MinION (Nanopore) and Illumina sequencing, stable isotope probing, molecular biology, and traditional microbiology to address a wide range of questions in microbial ecology.

Our group actively fosters education and outreach to K12 students and the public. We help organize collaborations between the environmental sciences, arts, and humanities, produce art-science exhibits and performances for the public, and we conduct collaborative research on the impacts of these activities on audiences, such as “Microbial Worlds: An Arts-humanities-science Collaborative Exhibit”.

UAF microbial ecologists play an active role in the Alaska Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, where students, faculty, and researchers from across the University of Alaska system annually meet together with state and federally employed microbiologists and employees of environmental consulting firms to network and share their research.

Northern Ecosystems

Much of the northern landscape is pristine wilderness harboring the last free-ranging populations of North American megafauna and predators.  Northern ecosystems, and Alaska in particular, are experiencing some of the fastest rates of climate warming on Earth. Researchers at the Institute of Arctic Biology seek to understand how this landscape is affected by an array of disturbances including wildfire, flooding, insect and pathogen outbreaks, permafrost thaw, and drying of lakes and streams.  

Research on northern ecosystems at IAB is focused on boreal forest and tundra ecosystems, and is conducted by faculty with expertise on CO2 and other trace gas fluxes from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, modeling of climate change impacts on ecosystems, evolutionary and population ecology, animal behavior, permafrost-wildfire-vegetation dynamics, aquatic ecology, and microbial ecology. Our teaching uses disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, with offerings ranging from freshman courses on Alaska’s natural history to graduate courses in Global Change Biology. Research at the Toolik Field Station and Bonanza Creek LTER program bring researchers together from across the world and provides valuable opportunities for undergraduate and graduate education.

Polar Physiology

The polar regions are the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. Faculty and students at the Institute of Arctic Biology are at the forefront of research investigating the capacity of polar organisms to withstand a changing climate. Toolik Field station, located above the Arctic Circle in the Brooks Range, provides outstanding support for field-based studies on high-latitude organisms. Current research in polar physiology includes studies aimed at understanding the stress response of seabirds, thermal tolerance of Antarctic fishes, and hibernation physiology in Arctic ground squirrels and bears.

Species Interactions

Species interactions are an integral component of ecology. Researchers at the Institute of Arctic Biology investigate a wide spectrum of questions that contribute to both ecological theory and applied biology relevant to resource management. Many of these are investigated from the perspective of plant phenology and succession, plant-animal interactions pertaining to various forms of herbivory, and broader studies of trophic relationships. Examples of ongoing research projects include pollination biology of native and invasive species, vegetation responses to herbivory by irruptive insect species, interactions of insect and mammal herbivores on successional dynamics, and broader studies of predator-prey interactions across a range of taxa.

One of the biggest challenges in understanding how populations, communities, and ecosystems are responding to a rapidly changing environment is understanding how interactions between species are changing. We are tackling this challenge by evaluating the impacts of a rapidly warming environment, the spread of non-native plants and animals, and the continued fragmentation of habitats on interactions between plants, animals, fungi, and microbes. Much of this research is part of long-term studies associated with the Long Term Ecological Research Programs at Bonanza Creek (Boreal forest LTER) and Toolik Field Station (Arctic tundra LTER).

Wildlife Biology

Research in wildlife biology focuses on a wide range of marine and terrestrial species and includes studies of demography, trophic dynamics, physiological ecology, animal movement and behavior, and the complexity of human dimensions of wildlife management and the impacts of climate change on wildlife and habitats. Research by faculty and students at the Institute of Arctic Biology helps to predict how wildlife populations and their habitats may be affected by changing ecological conditions with the goals of conserving wildlife populations, mitigating wildlife problems, and enhancing positive interactions (hunting, wildlife watching) between people and wildlife. Faculty and students collaborate with a diversity of stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, NGOs, and tribal organizations, in addition to local communities and industry. Our graduates are often employed by these organizations.