Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Scientist Spotlight: Mike Johns

Mike Johns is the newest member of our Farallon Program. He officially joined the team as a biologist in 2014, but interned on the island with us in 2012. We asked Mike what his favorite part of his job is, what accomplishments he’s most proud of so far, and what he’s looking forward to.

Q: What are your favorite parts of the work you’ve done at Point Blue so far?

A: The obvious answer to this question would be the many amazing moments I’ve shared with fellow staff and interns on Southeast Farallon Island. From netting ashy storm-petrels beneath the veil of the Milky Way and its billions of stars, to watching a golden fog roll in from atop the lighthouse at sunset. The island truly is a special place, and these experiences are what make the challenges of fieldwork worth the effort. An unexpected example would be applying different graphical techniques to visualize the amazing long-term datasets Point Blue has amassed during its tenure on the Farallones, both to explore complex patterns in the data and help explain those patterns in a way that is accessible to the general public.

Q: Give one or more examples of satisfying accomplishments so far.

A: Taking an in-depth look at over 30 years of breeding records for Cassin’s auklets has been a very rewarding process. For example, Cassin’s are a bit unique among their taxonomic peers in that their the only Alcid that attempts two broods in a single season, a behavior that is particularly uncommon for long-lived species expected to invest more in self-maintenance rather than increased reproductive effort. By leveraging life-long reproductive records of known-age auklets from the Farallones, we’ve demonstrated pairs that double brood multiple times throughout their lives actually produce the most offspring and live the longest, indicating some degree of individual quality allows them to invest more in reproductive output without increasing their risk of early mortality. Not only do these findings provide answers to complex theoretical life-history questions, they also help refine our estimates of productivity and survival, key parameters used to predict how Cassin’s may respond to the threat of a rapidly changing climate.

Q: What are you excited about working towards in your position?

A: Recently, we have been deploying small archival light-sensing tags called geolocators on Cassin’s auklets and pigeon guillemots, in an effort to characterize their non-breeding winter distribution, habitat needs, and potential risk of oil spill exposure when away from the island. Preliminary results have revealed some rather unexpected patterns in their movements, particularly with pigeon guillemots, which seem to spend their winter months north of Vancouver Island around Haida Gwaii. I am excited to continue this work, hopefully by expanding into new types of tags deployed on additional species, partially because understanding the non-breeding conditions of seabirds is essential for better management, and partially because of a primal curiosity to see where they go. Beyond this, and even beyond my time as a program biologist, Southeast Farallon Island represents an important natural laboratory for studying marine top predators in a highly variable environment, and I’m most excited to see what new discoveries will be made and insights gained over the next 50 years or research!

Explore some of Mike’s recent publications and data visualizations below:

Johns, M.E., P. Warzybok, R. Bradley, J. Jahnke, M. Lindberg, G.A. Breed. (2018) Increased reproductive investment associated with greater survival and longevity in Cassin’s auklets. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 285: 20181464.  Publication Brief.

Johns, M.E., P. Warzybok, R. Bradley, J. Jahnke, M. Lindberg, G.A. Breed. (2017) Age, timing, and a variable environment affect double brooding in a long-lived seabird. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 564: 187-197. Publication Brief.