Michael Dawson, UC Merced

Mike Dawson created the LINES project (Leadership & INnovation in Environment and Sustainability) to connect campus leaders and the community. This project uses lines—such as shorelines, treelines, and skylines—to explore how climate change is affecting natural systems.

Mike Dawson is an Associate Professor in the Life and Environmental Sciences program at UC Merced. He holds an MS in Biological Computation from the University of York in England and a PhD in Biology from UCLA. Currently, Mike is the principal investigator on a Dimensions of Biodiversity award from the National Science Foundation that explores how post-glacial climate change affected community assembly in the tropical western Pacific. This work contributed to the establishment of an UNESCO World Heritage Site in the rock islands of Palau. Mike is also deputy Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Biogeography and for Frontiers in Biogeography.

To learn more about Mike and his lab visit his website.

Mike’s work allows us to understand biodiversity at every level.

Mike’s research focuses on understanding the origins, maintenance, and loss of marine biodiversity. His research spans the molecular to the ecosystem levels. Specifically, he is interested in how molecular variation explains differences between individuals, populations, and species. In turn, he explores how genetic, organismal, population, and community variation shape the environment.

Mike created the LINES project (Leadership & INnovation in Environment and Sustainability).

Lines are typically thought of as boundaries, but with Mike’s project lines are paths to understanding future climate change.

The theme of this project is the shoreline. Shorelines are typically thought of as a division between terrestrial and marine habitats. But, Mike’s project focuses on the idea that the shoreline not only divides two places, but it is also a division in time.

Millions of years ago, Merced was under the Pacific Ocean, and was an ancient shoreline. In fact, marine species can now be found as fossils in this area. Now, descendants of these marine species inhabit the current California coastline. Mike is using these divisions in place and time to investigate the distributions of these marine species. In turn, he is exploring how changes in climate can affect a species’ geographic range.

Mike is using LINES to unify the campus community. He is collaborating with faculty in other departments, such as Anthropology and Economics. Mike is also engaging the community off campus. For instance, he wants to work with fossil collectors. He will share his findings with relevant marine resource managers, like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Parks, and National Parks.

in the Field

  • Mike Dawson's team hiking on a rocky ledge to get to a field site.
  • A global positioning system (GPS) placed on the rocky intertidal zone.
  • A bright orange sea star.


What is a common misperception from non-scientists about climate research?

Perhaps—and not just from non-scientists because it is human nature—that we under-value short-term individual actions as solutions to long-term large-scale climate problems. Whatever you can do, however small—just do it!

What is the most rewarding part about being a UC Climate Action Champion?

The opportunity to work with motivated and talented people at all stages in their education, and from all walks of life, who are making the world a better and safer, more sustainable place.

What do you hope your project contributes to your university, the UC-system, and society?

I hope it helps students appreciate the natural world and their role in being its custodians.

What is one thing you want to tell non-scientists about climate change?

You hold the key. Find your local political representatives’ websites, and write to them today to ask them to support research into biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem health, and the social injustices they cause.


• Identified field sites for data collection

• Engaged students and faculty on campus

• Worked with UCTV to develop a Sustainability Channel featuring UC faculty research


Mike Dawson smiles in his headshot in his lab
"Whatever you can do,
however small—
just do it!"
Mike Dawson smiles in his headshot in his lab
"Find your local political representatives'
websites, and write to them today
to ask them to support research in
biodiversity, climate change,
ecosystem health,
and the social injustices they cause!"
To get involved, contact us


Community Members Aid Cutting-Edge Research in ‘BioBlitz’ Project

April 26th, 2017|0 Comments

Under the guidance of Professor Michael Dawson and a team of conservation biologists from UC Merced, UCLA, and Cal State

  • Dr. Mike Dawson leans on a rock conducting field research

Using Sea Stars to Tell the Climate Change Story

March 22nd, 2017|0 Comments

By Nicole Block, Climate Communications Student Writer  Dr. Michael Dawson, an associate professor in Life and

  • One bright orange and many purple sea stars on a rocky floor

Starfish Baby Boom Surprises Biologists

July 7th, 2016|0 Comments

  Despite the sea star wasting disease epidemic that has nearly halved some populations and that Mike researches, hundreds of

  • Green field with mountain in distance

Faculty Climate Champion at UC Merced puts plan into action

February 1st, 2016|0 Comments

Biodiversity Professor Michael Dawson has been named UC Merced’s inaugural Faculty Climate Action Champion by the UC Office


Michael Dawson is studying the 2013 outbreak of sea star wasting disease that killed 90% of the species on the California coast and why some populations can survive environmental changes. 

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