Michael Burns, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Biology
Martin Hall 128 F

I am a vertebrate anatomist and paleontologist. My current research interests include the histology of hard tissues, particularly those making up dermal armor, and the application of histological techniques to problems in vertebrate paleontology. In addition, I am also interested in the paleobiogeography of Appalachia, the Late Cretaceous continent.

Some specific current projects that would be appropriate for undergraduate research include quantitatively examining trace fossils from the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site (http://www.gsa.state.al.us/gsa/minkin.html). This is one of the most important sites for vertebrate trackway fossils on earth and is the only protected fossil site in the state of Alabama. It preserves trackways from invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles, and even traces from fish fins. Projects on this site might include examining trackways quantitatively to either (1) differentiate species represented at the site or (2) study the locomotor habits of these extinct animals.

I have also had undergraduate students working on projects from the Ice Age Bell Cave site in northwestern Alabama. These projects include (1) identifying fossils to add to our understanding of the faunal composition of the site, and (2) doing statistical analyses on previously collected and sorted material.

I am also interested in several other potential projects utilizing morphometric techniques, including analyzing fossilized tiger shark teeth to determine how many species are represented at a specific site.

Projects more appropriate for graduate level work include the histological examination of fossil vertebrates and I am very open to almost any research proposal dealing with this topic. In the past, I have largely worked on armored dinosaurs and, more generally, the histology of armor and the dermal skeleton in tetrapods, both modern and extinct. I am currently working with a graduate student on determining the nature/etiology of fused vertebrae in mosasaurs, an extinct group of large-bodied, predatory marine reptiles. We hope to add to our understanding of this phenomenon by examining the microstructure of the preserved hard tissue.

Michael Burns

Courses Taught

Undergraduate Courses Taught

  • Introductory Biology I (BY 101)
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I (BY 263)
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology II (BY 264)
  • Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (BY 320)
  • Directed Studies in Biology (BY 327)
  • Introduction to Research in Biology (BY 370)
  • Biology Internship (BY 397)
  • Senior Seminar (BY 496)

Graduate Courses Taught

  • Seminar in Evolutionary Biology (BY 574)
  • Seminar in Systematics (BY 577)


  • 2015 Ph.D. Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 2010 M.Sc. Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 2007 B.S. Magna Cum Laude with Honors in Geology, Minor in Biology, Dickinson College, Carlisle,
  • Pennsylvania

Other Responsibilities

  • 2018 – Faculty Advisor, Secular Student Alliance at Jacksonville State University
  • 2017 – Graduate Teaching Assistant Coordinator, Biology Department, Jacksonville State University
  • 2017 – Faculty Advisor, Beta Beta Beta - TriBeta - Biology Honor Society, Jacksonville State University, Mu Phi Chapter