• Dawn Reding, Associate Professor of Biology

    "Science literacy is vital to being an informed citizen."

Dawn Reding

At Home with the Liberal Arts

Reding has always enjoyed learning and discovering new things, so she felt naturally drawn to academia. “Being at a liberal arts institution like Luther has some added advantages,” she says, “It lets me balance both teaching biology and research. Plus, it allows me to interact with colleagues and students with diverse backgrounds, interests, and strengths. Such an environment helps me to think more broadly and creatively.”

Research Focuses on Bats and the Gray Fox

Reding enjoys ecology and evolutionary biology because she believes the fields are important to understanding the way the natural world works. She also likes working on applied problems and having a mix of field and lab work.

Her bat and gray fox research topics are a good fit with these interests.

“Bats are an important part of our environment and provide us with many benefits,” she says. “However, rapid growth of wind energy development and the spread of a fungal pathogen that causes White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) are generating increasing concern for the survival of bat populations in the United States.”

Several once-common species now face regional extinction. “I’m working with students to investigate bat activity and fatality at the Luther College wind turbine,” she says. “By learning more about the types of bats present in our area and how they may be affected by the wind facility, we can help develop strategies to ensure long-term persistence of these bat species.”

Reding’s other research topic focuses on the gray fox. “The gray fox is an economically and ecologically important fur-bearing predator that ranges across much of North America and into South America,” she says. “Based on body size and coat color variation, 16 subspecies have been described. Although common elsewhere, gray fox have declined in the Midwest, and the ‘prairie gray fox’ subspecies is being reviewed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. However, it is unclear whether this subspecies is actually genetically unique and warrants protection.”

Reding is currently working with collaborators at Iowa State University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Missouri Department of Conservation to conduct a genetic study across the U.S. to identify the geographic locations of genetic boundaries and if prairie gray fox are genetically unique.

Field Experiences Lead to Teaching

After completing her undergraduate degree, Reding worked as a field biologist on several projects with different government agencies and universities. “This took me to amazing places like the Everglades, Glacier National Park, and Horicon Marsh,” she says. “These experiences convinced me that I wanted to pursue advanced education so that I could direct research like this. From there I attended the University of Hawaii and Iowa State University (ISU) for my M.S. and Ph.D., respectively.” Reding continued at ISU for a post-doc that was part teaching and part research. It was in this position that she saw the advantages of doing both and applied for the position at Luther.

Being a Professor Suits Her

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching at Luther is interacting with students and colleagues, whether it be in the classroom or collaborative research,” she says. “I’ve especially enjoyed working closely with students on collaborative research. The students produce quality research in the end, but helping them navigate the process is the most rewarding part.”

Reding says she also likes teaching non-majors in science courses. “Many students dread and fear taking science classes, but science literacy is vital to being an informed citizen,” she says. “It's great to see them change their tune and recognize that scientific understanding can be both attainable and relevant.”

Study Abroad Course

I’ll co-teach (with Dr. Molly McNicoll) Ecology of Ecuador for the first time this coming January Term. Highlights include visiting the Amazon rainforest, Andean cloud forest, and Galapagos Islands.

—Dawn Reding


  • Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
  • The Wildlife Society
  • Iowa Academy of Science

In her spare time, Reding enjoys spending time with her 9-month old daughter, Alexandra, and her husband, Ben.