Ken Clifton's Biology Homepage

Welcome to my eclectic collection of biology-related topics



Ken's CV

Ken's Travels

Cool Pictures

Amphiprion allardi & Chromis atripectoralis off the coast of Tanzania

What does Ken do?

I study the behavioral ecology and life history tactics of a wide variety of terrestrial and marine organisms. I am particularly interested in the environmental factors that govern where organisms are found and how their dispersion ultimately influences social behavior and the timing of reproduction.

I am also concerned about environmental issues such as the establishment of marine reserves and global climate change, particularly with regards to effects on coral reefs. Click here to learn more

Ken's plans for the future

I'm currently (Fall 2017) teaching Introductory Ecology (Bio 141). Animal Behavior will follow in the spring. I am back as Department Chair until the summer of 2019, after which I will lead another Biology-focused program to East Africa as part of the LC Overseas Program

It goes without saying, I will continue to spend as much time as possible underwater to support my ongoing studies of coral reef organisms

  Tropical Green Seaweeds.  

Bio 352: Animal Behavior

(currently beingtaught: Spring 2017)


Bio 221: Marine Biology

(next taught: Fall, 2018)

  Coral Reef Fishes  

Bio 211: Land Vertebrates

(next being taught in East Africa, Fall 2019)

  Savanna Ungulates  

Bio 141: Investigations in Ecology and Environment

(next taught (by me): Fall, 2017)

Overseas Programs with Lewis and Clark College

East Africa '09

Soitorgos, Tanzania

East Africa '05

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Micronesia '02

Kadai village, Yap.

Other travels... click on images to learn more

Utila Island '08

Some very nice Caribbean diving

Queen Triggerfish (Balistes vetula)

Australia '06

Remarkable diversity both on land and in the sea

Rainbow Lorikeet

Clipperton Atoll '98

One of the world's most isolated tropical atolls

Manta ray with remoras at 100 ft

all photos by Ken Clifton unless otherwise noted

Here are a few of my favorite photos or click here to see a movie of seaweed sex!

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A reminder of who is really at the top of the food chain

Oldoinyo Sambu, Tanzania

Two male sailfin blennies (Emblemaria pandionis) fighting over a territory in San Blas, Panama

Kuna Yala, Panama

Collecting data with an underwater computer

off the coast of Panama


About me....

I was born in North Carolina in 1958 and shortly thereafter moved to Maryland, where my father undertook his doctoral studies at John Hopkins University. In 1962 we moved to California and I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area just as Silicon Valley was earning it's name. The first Apple computer was being built in a garage down the street from my house during that time and the orchards that I knew from my early childhood were inexorably disappearing under an ever expanding tide of concrete. I developed a love of the outdoors during summers spent living in a tent along the coasts of Oregon and Washington where my geologist father pursued his field studies. My interest in marine science was kindled in 1969 by my father's underwater exploits during Tektite I and II: 60 and 20 day missions, living in a habitat on the Caribbean sea floor. Following in my father's flippers, I began using SCUBA at age 12 and earned my NAUI dive certification 1974. In addition to diving, I spent large amounts of time as a teen exploring California's coastal range as an avid backpacker and fisherman. In 1976 I graduated from Homestead High School in Cupertino, CA.


Believing that you can never be too close to the ocean, I attended the University of California at San Diego as an undergraduate, where I majored in scuba diving, intramural sports, and... oh yeah... Biology. I received certification as a Dive Master during that time and broadened my diving experiences with trips to Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. In 1981 I joined Bob Warner's Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara, recieving a PhD in 1987 for my field studies of territorial behavior by coral reef fish in Panama. I then took a break from the ocean to conduct several years of post-doctoral field work on gazelles in Kenya with Jack Bradbury and Sandy Vehrencamp, and my newlywed wife, Lisa (also a biologist). I returned to marine studies in 1992 as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, There, I lived on a small island with my wife and two children for almost five years. Before moving to Portland in 1998 I spent a year lecturing and writing at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Since being hired at Lewis and Clark College, I have enjoyed sabbatical leaves at the University of Guam and James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. I have led biology-focused overseas programs with Lewis & Clark College to Micronesia and East Africa (4 times). I've had the good fortune to visit many of the planet's most amazing habitats, with over 3,000 hrs on SCUBA (most of it on coral reefs) another 10,000 hrs snorkeling, and a life-list for birds that is currently just above 1600 spp.

Selected publications (click on author for pdf version of a paper)

Young, A & Clifton, K.E. 2015. Tardigrades inhabit lichen and moss in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon. Bull. Cal. Lichen Soc. 22(2), 48 - 53. 

Bradbury, J.W., Vehrencamp, S.L., Clifton, K.E. 2015. The Ideal Free Antelope: foraging dispersions. Behav. Ecol. 26(5), 1303 - 1313.

Clifton, K.E. 2013. The ecological significance of sexual reproduction by tropical green algae. In: Research and Discoveries – The revolution of science through SCUBA. Chapter 18. Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences, pp. 219 – 228.

Clifton, K.E. 2012. Common Reef Fishes of Northern Tanzania. Shutterfly Press, Redwood City, CA

Clifton, K.E., Dubey, E.M., & Woodburn, E. 2009. A quantitative assessment of reef fish distribution and abundance within near-shore reef habitats of Yap State, F. S. M. J Ocean Science Foundation 2:1-29.

Clifton, K.E. 2008. Spatial patterns of reproductive synchrony by four genera of tropical green seaweed across a latitudinal gradient in the Caribbean. Proc. 11th Int. Coral Reef Symp. 1:351-355

Guest, J.R., Baird, A.H., Clifton, K.E. & Heyward, A.J., 2008. From molecules to moonbeams: Spawning synchrony in coral reef organisms. Invert. Reprod. Develop. 51(3):145-149.

Clifton, K.E. & Rogers, L. 2008. Sex-specific mortality explains non-sex-change by large female Sparisoma radians, a protogynous Caribbean parrotfish. Animal Behavior, 75:e1-10.

Bernardi, G, Robertson, D.R, Clifton, K.E., Azzurro, E. 2000. Molecular systematics, zoogeography, and evolutionary ecology of the Atlantic parrotfish genus Sparisoma. Mol. Phyl. Evol. 15: 292-300.

Clifton, K.E. & Clifton, L.M. 1999. The phenology of sexual reproduction by tropical green algae. J. Phycol. 35:24-34.

Clifton, K.E. & Clifton, L.M. 1998 A survey of fishes from various habitats within the Cayos Cochinos Marine Preserve, Honduras. J. Trop. Biol. 46: 109-124.

Clifton, K.E. 1997 Mass spawning by green algae on coral reefs. Science. 275: 1113-1116.

Clifton, K.E., Kim, K. & Wulff, J.L. 1997 A field guide to the reefs of Caribbean Panama emphasizing western San Blas, Panama. Proc. 8th Int. Coral Reef Symp. 1: 167-184.

Bradbury, J.W., Vehrencamp, S.L., Clifton, K.E, & Clifton, L.M. 1996. The relationship between biterate and local forage abundance in wild Thompson's gazelles. Ecology 77: 2237-2255.

Clifton, K.E. 1996. Field methods for the behavioral study of foraging ecology and life history of herbivorous coral reef fishes. Proc. Am. Acad. Und. Sci. 16: 75-82.

Clifton, K.E. 1995. Asynchronous food availability on neighboring Caribbean coral reefs determines seasonal patterns of growth and reproduction for an herbivorous parrotfish. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 116: 39-46.

Clifton, K.E. & Robertson, D.R. 1993. Risks of alternative mating tactics. Nature 366:520.

Clifton, K.E., Bradbury, J.W. & Vehrencamp, S.L. 1994. The fine grain mapping of grassland protein densities. Grass and Forage Sci. 49:1-8.

Clifton, K.E. & Clifton, L.M. 1991. A field method for the determination of total nitrogen in plant tissue. Commun. in Soil Sci. Plant. Anal. 22:851-860.

Clifton, K.E. 1991. Subordinate group members act as food finders within striped parrotfish territories. J. Ex. Mar. Bio. Ecol. 145:141-148.

Clifton, K.E. 1990. The costs and benefits of territory sharing for the Caribbean coral reef fish, Scarus iserti. Behav. Ecol. Soc. 26:139-147.

Clifton, K.E. 1989. Territory sharing by the Caribbean striped parrotfish, Scarus iserti, patterns of resource distribution, group size, and behaviour. Anim. Behav. 37:90-103.


2008. Investigating the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 upon the structure and function of calcium carbonate accretion in tropical green algae of the genus Halimeda. John S. Rogers Summer Research Program. Lewis and Clark College.

2001-2004. "The role of sexual reproduction in the ecology and life history of green algae on coral reefs. National Science Foundation. [0082439]

1999-2000. "Effects of prey availability and flock size on the foraging success of shorebirds in threatened wetland habitats" John S. Rogers Summer Research Program. Lewis and Clark College.

1998 - 1999 "Ecological and biochemical consequences of seaweed spawning on coral reefs" National Geographic Research Council [6146-98].

1997. "The phenology of sexual reproduction by green algae on coral reefs" Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Research Opportunity Grant [400-340026-0-16].

1994-1996. "Ecological determinants of scheduling of spawning of a tropical reef fish" (D.R. Robertson, Co-PI). Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Program [SS1234-530A].


Professional Societies: Animal Behavior Society, International Society of Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Reef Studies, Phycological Society of America, Western Society of Naturalists.

Comments... criticisms... any good jokes you want to share? Please e-mail me at:

 Mailing address: Department of Biology, Lewis and Clark College, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Rd, Portland, OR 97219

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