Claudia Johnson

Claudia C. Johnson

Professor of Geological Sciences
Geobiology, Caribbean geology, reefs, evolution of rudistid bivalves, paleoclimate.

Office:   GY501
Phone:   812-855-0646
Research Website – Geology of Invertebrates Lab

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., 1993, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • M.S., 1984, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • 1982, University of West Indies, Jamaica, Coral Reef Ecology Course
  • B.A., 1981, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • 1979, Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico, Study Abroad Program

Research Interests

A primary focus of my research is to evaluate evolutionary processes in the paleotropics. My research initiatives address:

  • biotic replacement of one group by another in tropical ecosystems
  • rates, magnitudes and timing of the replacements
  • tropical environmental processes.

The reef ecosystem provides the empirical database from which I synthesize patterns and processes affecting reef evolution and demise. I examine reefs that evolved under Cretaceous "greenhouse", Pleistocene "icehouse" and Oligocene transitional climate states, and evaluate biotic changes in the context of the tropical ocean-climate system. I have an active program examining modern reefs to ascertain if a biotic replacement will occur as we move rapidly toward a warmer climate state. The ultimate focus of my work is to evaluate the complexity of paleobiologic and ecologic factors that combined to allow the reef ecosystem to persist over 600 million years of Earth’s history. With this knowledge, I anticipate predictions about the future health of our modern reef ecosystem can be made.

My research area is focused in the Caribbean region, and my students and I pursue field investigations in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Barbados. We travel to museums such as the National Museum of Natural History, the Paleontological Research Institute, the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, and the Texas Memorial Museum to acquire specific paleontological specimens for research.

An extension of my research to the Olduvai Gorge basin focuses on evaluation of the finer points of paleotropical environmental reconstructions at the time of evolving lineages of hominids. 2013 and 2014 field seasons in Tanzania concentrated on ~1 million year-old bivalve taxonomy and systematics and depositional environments. Sequence stratigraphic analyses will allow for further interpretations of the evolving paleoenvironments.

As Distinguished Lecturer for the Paleontological Society, I’ve presented research results to 17 institutions in three countries across geology, biology and geography departments.

I am the recipient of NSF grants on the subject of ancient ocean-climate systems, and I co-edited two research volumes and numerous papers on the topic. Currently, three Ph.D. students are studying integrated geobiological aspects of the paleoclimate paleocean system. My graduate students receive grants from The Paleontological Society, Sigma Xi, the Geological Society of America and the Latin American Foundation, as well as private and federal agencies.

The IU Paleontology Collection is under the umbrella of the Center for Biological Research Collections. The 5th floor of the Geology Building houses a fossil specimen repository with over 1.25 million specimens, as well as teaching and research collections. We house extensive fossil collections from Indiana and beyond, and our students work on the collections routinely as part of their academic education.

Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy and basic teaching methodology are to work with students through the levels of learning, from memorization of facts through comprehension, analysis and synthesis of disparate data sets, in order to demonstrate that there is a tangible process to learning science. My goal is to bring scientific research information to the classroom, and to develop informative, interactive classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A further goal is to provide field, laboratory and museum training to students so they may pursue independent studies for graduate degrees and academic and industry careers.

At the undergraduate level I teach geology courses to both non-science students and geology majors, and I research student learning. I supervise the completion of undergraduate research projects for Undergraduate Research in Geology in which the scientific method and the importance of data collection, analysis and interpretation are emphasized. I conduct research with the IU STARS and Hutton Honors programs for undergraduate researchers. At the graduate level I teach courses that are related to my research, and team-teach seminars and courses that require information integrated from paleontology, geology and related scientific fields such as chemistry, physics and biology.

Graduate Student Projects

Local Environmental Dynamics on the Atlantic and Caribbean Coasts of Prehistoric Dominican Republic: A Geoarchaeological Approach to Midden Shells and Associated Ceramics

Indigenous utilization of shallow-water resources from archaeological marine shells in the Dominican Republic

Fidelity of chitons in the fossil record

Paleoecology of the Maastrichtian El Rayo Formation, Southwestern Puerto Rico

Depositional environments of the Barrancas and Rio Maton Limestone Members, Albian Puerto Rico.

Analysis of Coral Reef Variation in Bonaire

Sedimentology, geochemistry and paleobiology of a marginal marine depositional environment, the Mansfield Formation, Martin County, Indiana

Undergraduate Projects and Opportunities

Opportunities exist for field, laboratory, and museum-based research questions that address evolutionary processes in the paleotropical and temperate ecosystems. In-house samples from Pleistocene, Oligocene and Cretaceous scleractinian corals and for Cretaceous rudist bivalves can be utilized for undergraduate research projects.

Federal Research Grants

NSF 8/1/17 - 7/30/19; $149,387; Motz, G., Johnson, C.C., Polly, P.D. Title: Digitization PEN: Paleoniches on the western Cincinnati arch, the Ordovician of Indiana

IMLS – Institute of Museum and Library Services MA-30-16-0458-16; 10/1/16 - 9/30/18, $112,505; Motz, G., Polly, P.D., and Johnson, C.C. Title: ACCESSioning at Indiana University: Promoting Digital Access and (Re-) Discovery of the IU Paleontology Collection.

NSF EAR 9/1/09-8/31/13, $475,302, Schieber, L., Johnson, C.C., Polly, P.D., and Elswick, E. R., Title: Infrastructure upgrade, curation and data basing of Indiana University collections.

NSF EAR 9/1/09-8/31/13, $475,302, L. Schieber, C. Johnson, P.D. Polly, E.R. Elswick. Title: Infrastructure upgrade, curation and data basing of Indiana University collections.

USAID, 10/2010–12/2011, $100,000, C.D. Beeker, C. Conrad, C.C. Johnson and others. Title: Living Museums of the Sea: A Network of Marine Protected Areas in SE Dominican Republic.

USAID, 9/08-8/10, $200,000. C.D. Beeker, C. Conrad, C.C. Johnson and others. Title: Living Museums of the Sea: A Network of Marine Protected Areas in SE Dominican Republic.

Teaching Awards and Recognitions

  • Trustees Teaching Award in the Tenure Track Faculty, College of Arts and Sciences, 2013-14
  • Nominated for the Student Choice Awards, Student Alumni Association, 2009
  • Teaching Excellence Recognition Award, Department of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, 2000, 2012
  • Fellow, Faculty Learning Program, Indiana University 2004 to present


My interest in teaching extends beyond the college classroom to the greater geologic community and to the general public interested in geology. My service-related work with professional societies and communities is oriented toward educational activities. In our local Bloomington community my students and I participate in Wonderlab’s Fossil Days Program, the Kids Coalition Event in Salem, Indiana, the Fossil Event for the Science Olympiad, and the IU-sponsored Brownie Math and Science Event for the Girl Scouts.

Current departmental service includes Curator and Collections Co-Manager, IU Paleontology Collections, Member of the Undergraduate Assessment Committee, and Member of the Undergraduate Committee.