Natalie Dawson

Photo of Dawson, Natalie

Natalie Dawson

Director of the Wilderness Institute, Assistant Professor of Wilderness Studies

Personal Summary

Long before I knew how to run a transect, radio collar a mammal, or genotype a particular individual, I was fascinated with the natural world.  I have strived ever since to understand the natural processes involved in shaping our sense of place with natural landscapes.  I read about dodo birds and isolated strands of DNA in high school, worked on trail crews and biology crews in college, and found alternative ways to travel across northern landscapes during and after college.  My love affair with the natural world continued into my dissertation research, where I focused on the mechanisms responsible for species diversification in high latitude island archipelagos.  Research involved field crews in remote locations, teaching students about islands that are not only many US maps, and through this, I developed a love for field teaching and experiential education.  After three years of research and field teaching, I found my way to Missoula, where I have the opportunity to engage and inspire students to explore and learn in wild places and urban surroundings.


Ph.D., Biology, University of New Mexico, 2008

B.Sc., Biology, Central Michigan University, 2002

B.Sc. Environmental Science, Central Michigan University, 2002

Courses Taught

Wilderness and Civilization I NRSM 373

Wilderness and Civilization Field Studies I NRSM 273

Wilderness and Civilization Field Studies II NRSM 273

Wilderness Issues Lecture Series NRSM 371

Internship NRSM 398

Alaska Rainforest: Ecology and Policy of the Tongass (Field course through Wild Rockies Field Institute and UM)

Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures (Field course through Wild Rockies Field Institute and UM)

Research Interests

My current research focuses on the biogeography of carnivores on islands along the North Pacific Coast of North America. I am looking at potential reasons for the recent decline of pine marten (Martes americana and Martes caurina) on several islands in southeast Alaska.  I am also interested in understanding the influences of climatic fluctuations on these island populations.  Together with other researchers at the United States Geological Survey and the University of New Mexico, we are trying to understand the influence of past glaciations on the biogeographic distributions of mammals across Beringia, the large, formerly ice-free corridor that connected contemporary Eurasia with North America.  Hopefully, our understanding of past climatic changes, and biological response to these changes, will help us understand what will happen in the uncertain future.

Field of Study

Biogeography, mammalogy, evolution, conservation genetics, land management planning

Professional Experience

Staff Scientist, Center for Biological Diversity, February 2009-March 2010

Postdoctoral Researcher, United States Geological Survey, March 2010-March 2011

Graduate Research Assistant, United States Geological Survey, January 2007-August 2008


I  learn through experience, and teach what I learn.  I am inspired by wild landscapes, the opportunity to experience the planet by foot, bicycle, ski, rope, packraft, kayak, or any other self-propelled mode of transportation.  My wanderlust leads me on amazing adventures, where I learn about the world, and can take those experiences back to my students, in the form of fireside stories, tangential classroom lessons, and witty conversations on long van rides to scientific conferences.