Millions of species demonstrate that evolution happens, but few illuminate the process. My lab focuses on elucidating the origins, maintenance, and loss of biodiversity, from molecular to ecosystem levels. We are interested in how molecular variation explains and causes differences between individuals, populations, species, and higher taxa, and how the environment shapes genetic, organismal, population, and community variation. Our work scales from micro-evolution to macro-evolution and integrates biological and physical sciences.

Topic areas: adaptation, ecological genetics, evolutionary ecology, genomics; population genetics, community dynamics, phylogeography, biogeography, phylogenetics; speciation, systematics, taxonomy; behavior, morphology; climate change, invasive species, marine protected areas.

Research in my lab currently has 4 major focii: (i) evolutionary ecology of islands using seawater lakes as model systems, and our understanding of global biogeography, (ii) systematics, biogeography, ecology, and evolution of scyphozoan jellyfishes, (iii) community genetics of intertidal invertebrates, and (iv) genomics of Mastigias medusae. Each has relevance to contemporary global issues such as invasive species and climate change. Particularly, I am interested in building interdisciplinary projects that draw together expertise from Quantitative Systems Biology, Environmental Systems, Applied Mathematics, and Computer and Information Systems.


Example publications:


Comparative Biogeography & Evolution: islands, and freshwater-marine-terrestrial comparisons

Dawson, M.N. (2015) Islands and island-like marine environments. Global Ecology & Biogeography DOI: 10.1111/geb.12314.

Dawson, M.N. (2012) Species richness, habitable volume, and species densities in freshwater, the sea, and on land.  Frontiers of Biogeography 4:105–116.

Dawson, M.N., & W.M. Hamner. (2008) A biophysical perspective on dispersal and the geography of evolution in marine and terrestrial systems. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface5:135–150.

Dawson, M.N, & W.M. Hamner. (2005) Rapid evolutionary radiation of marine zooplankton in peripheral environments.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 102:9235–9240.


Systematics & Diversity

Bayha, K.M., & M.N Dawson. (2010) A new family of allomorphic jellyfish, Drymonematidae (Scyphozoa, Discomedusae), emphasizes evolution in the functional morphology and trophic ecology of gelatinous zooplankton. Biological Bulletin 219:249–267.

Bayha, K.M., M.N Dawson, A.G. Collins, M.S. Barbeitos, & S.H.D. Haddock. (2010) Evolutionary relationships among scyphozoan jellyfish families based on complete taxon sampling and phylogenetic analyses of 18S and 28S ribosomal DNA.  Integrative & Comparative Biology 50:436–455.

Dawson, M.N, & D.K. Jacobs. (2001) Molecular evidence for cryptic species of Aurelia aurita (Cnidaria, Scyphozoa).  Biological Bulletin 200:92–96.

Dawson, M.N & W.M. Hamner. (2009) A character-based analysis of the evolution of jellyfish blooms: adaptation and exaptation.  Hydrobiologia 616:193–215.


Community Genetics and Comparative Phylogeography

Dawson, M.N, C.G. Hays, R.K. Grosberg, & P.T. Raimondi. (2014) Dispersal potential and population genetic structure in the marine intertidal of the eastern North Pacific. Ecological Monographs 84:435–456.

Dawson, M.N. (2014) Natural experiments and meta-analyses in comparative phylogeography. Journal of Biogeography 41:52–65. doi:10.1111/jbi.12190

Dawson, M.N. (2012) Parallel phylogeographic structure in ecologically similar sympatric sister taxa. Molecular Ecology 21:987–1004.

Dawson, M.N, K.D. Louie, M. Barlow, D.K. Jacobs, & C.C. Swift. (2002) Comparative phylogeography of sympatric sister species, Clevelandia ios and Eucyclogobius newberryi (Teleostei, Gobiidae), across the California Transition Zone. Molecular Ecology 11:1065–1075.



Pending, we're currently sequencing the Mastigias genome and unfurling reduced genome analyses of various marine inverts.


For a full list of publications, please see CV.