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 genomics, evolutionary ecology; population genomics, community dynamics, phylogeography, biogeography, phylogenomics; 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, other medusae, and sea stars. 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 & projects:


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

Blanchette, F., S. Montroy, S.W. Patris, & M.N Dawson (2020) Marine lakes as biogeographical islands: a physical model for ecological dynamics in an insular marine lake, Palau. Frontiers of Biogeography 12:e47736.

Rapacciuolo, G., J.M. Beman, L.M. Schiebelhut, & M.N Dawson (2019) Microbes and macro-invertebrates show parallel beta-diversity but contrasting alpha-diversity patterns in a marine natural experiment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286:20190999

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, Interface 5:135–150.

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.


Community Genetics and Comparative Phylogeography (see also

Schiebelhut, L.M. & M.N Dawson (2018) Differences in life-history and dispersal potential correlate with differences in population differentiation in terrestrial and marine environments. Journal of Biogeography 45:2427–2441.

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.


Genomics, Epigenomics, & Phylogenomics (see also

Over the past few years, we've been focusing on ramping up our integrative studies by using genomic analyses underwritten by high-quality reference genomes. As part of this work, our lab has been funded by the University of California Conservation Genomics Consortium, NSF's Oceanography program OCE-1737381, NSF's Division of Integrative Organismal Systems IOS-1747821, the California Conservation Genomics Project (CCGP), California Earth Biogenome Project (CalEBP), and Wellcome-Sanger Institute's Aquatic Symbiosis Genomics program (ASG). You can read more about all these projects on our community genomics of marine organisms at website.

Ruiz-Ramos, D.V., L.M. Schiebelhut, K.J. Hoff, J.P. Wares, & M.N Dawson (2021) Initial comparative genomic autopsy of wasting disease in sea stars. Molecular Ecology


Systematics & Diversity

Djeghri, N., P. Pondaven, H. Stibor, & M.N Dawson (2019) Review of the diversity, traits, and ecology of zooxanthellate jellyfishes. Marine Biology 166:147.

Gómez-Daglio, L. & M.N Dawson (2017) Species richness of jellyfishes (Scyphozoa: Discomedusae) in the tropical eastern Pacific: missed taxa, molecules, and morphology match in a biodiversity hotspot. Invertebrate Systematics 31:635-663.

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.


For a mostly complete list of grants and publications, please see recent CV.