Birgitte I. McDonald, Ph.D., Assistant professor


As a physiological and behavioral ecologist, I investigate adaptations that allow animals to survive in extreme environments. Marine mammals and birds provide an ideal study system to investigate how animals deal with extreme conditions because of their large size variation, geographic distribution and physiological challenges they face on a daily basis including hypoxia, extreme temperatures, and fasting. Understanding the mechanisms that allow an organism to interact and survive in its environment is crucial for predicting, and potentially mitigating, their response to climate change. My research program focuses on two broad areas of research: 1) determining the diving capacity of breath-hold divers and understanding the underlying mechanisms, and 2) determining the energetic requirements of foraging and reproduction to better understand energy allocation, physiological trade-offs, and the organism’s role in the ecosystem.

I received an M.A. in Biology from Sonoma State University and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California Santa BirgitteMcDonald_AntarcticfursealCruz. My graduate research focused on understanding the reproductive energetics of pinnipeds ranging from a study examining the mechanism behind increased lactation efficiency with age in elephant seals, to investigating how maternal traits and foraging behavior influence energy allocation in Antarctic fur seals. In addition to my thesis research, I was able to pursue my other research interests in foraging ecology and diving physiology in a variety of species including California sea lions, Galapagos sea lions, elephant seals, and crabeater seals.

In June of 2013, I completed a postdoctoral research project at Scripps Institution of Oceanography evaluating the role of blood oxygen depletion, heart rate, and oxygen management strategies in the determination of routine foraging dive durations of the California sea lion.  I then moved to Denmark to work at Aarhus University as a NSF International Research Fellow studying the field energetics and diving physiology of harbor porpoises.  I joined the faculty at Moss Landing Marine Labs  in January 2015.

Contact Information:

Gitte McDonald
Moss Landing Marine Labs
Moss Landing, CA  95039
(831) 771-4417