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Biological Sciences Profiles

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Michael Childress

Biological Sciences

Associate Professor

Undergraduate Program Coordinator - Biological Sciences

Jordan Hall 105 [Lab]
Jordan Hall 105A [Office]


Educational Background

PhD, Biological Sciences, Florida State University, 1995
MA, Zoology, University of California at Berkeley, 1990
BS, Biology/Marine Science, University of Tampa, 1987

Profile/About Me

I am an evolutionary behavioral ecologist studying the impact of climate change and behavioral adaptations in marine animals. My teaching and research focuses on understanding the impact of habitat loss on the conservation of marine communities. I enjoy training graduate students, undergraduate students and teachers in the methods of experimental marine ecology.

Research Interests

Shallow water marine communities are one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Changes in water quality due to nutrient runoff, freshwater diversion, ocean acidification and global warming are having major impacts on the structure and function of these important communities and the fisheries they support. My research focuses on studying the impact of habitat loss and drought on blue crabs, lobsters and reef fishes along the southeastern US. Through a combination of field surveys, manipulative experiments, laboratory behavioral observations and individual-based modeling our research attempts to build models that can accurately forecast the response of these species to future changes in climate and habitat quality. Behavioral adaptations may be the most important attributes for resilience to habitat loss so more work is needed to understand how behavioral resilience is generated and maintained in these species.

Research Group (Lab)

Tokea Payton - PhD student - Biological Sciences
Kara Noonan - MS student - Biological Sciences
Randi Sims - MS student - Biological Sciences

Courses Taught

BIOL 1010 Frontiers in Biology
BIOL 3940 Something Very Fishy Creative Inquiry
BIOL 4480 Marine Ecology
BIOL 4700 Behavioral Ecology
BIOL 4710 Behavioral Ecology Laboratory
BIOL 4940 Conservation of Marine Resources Creative Inquiry
BIOL 8100 Evolutionary Behavioral Ecology
BIOL 8400 Understanding Biological Inquiry

Selected Publications

- Noonan, K.R. and M.J. Childress. 2020. Association of butterflyfishes and stony coral tissue loss disease in the Florida Keys. Coral Reefs. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-020-01986-8
- Smith, K.M., T.G. Payton, R.J. Sims, C.S. Stroud, R.C. Jeanes, T.B. Hyatt, and M.J. Childress. 2019. Impacts of consecutive bleaching events on transplanted coral colonies in the Florida Keys. Coral Reefs. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-019-01823-7
- Moody, K.N., J.L.K. Wren, D.R. Kobayashi, M.J. Blum, M.B. Ptacek, R.W. Blob, R.J. Toonen, H.L. Schoenfuss and M.J. Childress. 2019. Evidence of local adaptation in a waterfall climbing Hawaiian goby fish derived from coupled biophysical modeling of larval dispersal and post-settlement selection. BMC Evolutionary Biology DOI: 10.1186/s12862-019-1413-4
- Smith, K.M., B.E. Quirk-Royal, K. Drake-Lavelle and M.J. Childress. 2018. Influence of ontogenetic phase and resource availability on parrotfish foraging preferences in the Florida Keys (USA). Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 603: 175–187. DOI: 10.3354/meps12718
- Baeza, J.A., M.J. Childress and L.J. Ambrosio. 2018. Chemical sensing of microhabitat by pueruli of the reef-dwelling Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus: testing the importance of red algae, juveniles, and their interactive effect. Bulletin of Marine Science 94(3): 603-618. DOI: 10.5343/bms.2017.1132
- Baeza, J.A., L. Simpson, L.J. Ambrosio, N. Mora, R. Guéron, and M.J. Childress. 2016. Active parental care, reproductive performance, and a novel egg predator affecting reproductive investment in the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus. BMC Zoology DOI: 10.1186/s40850-016-0006-6
- Childress, M.J., K.A. Heldt and S.D. Miller. 2015. Are juvenile Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) becoming less social? ICES Journal of Marine Science 72 (suppl 1): i164-i169 DOI:10.1093/icesjms/fsv045
- Heldt, K.M., W.C. Bridges, Jr. and M.J. Childress. 2015. Behavioral responses to habitat loss in juvenile lobsters. Marine Ecology Progress Series 521:117-128. DOI: 10.3354/meps11125
- Moody, K.N., S.N. Hunter, M.J. Childress, R.W. Blob, H.L. Schoenfuss, M.J. Blum and M.B. Ptacek. 2015. Local adaptation despite high gene flow in the waterfall-climbing Hawaiian goby, Sicypoterus stimpsoni. Molecular Ecology 24:545-563. DOI: 10.1111/mec.13016

Selected Talks

2020 - Something Very Fishy: An ocean literacy STEAM exhibit impacts how children, teachers, and university students think about science - Biology Beyond the Classroom Symposium – SICB 2020 Online
2016 - Adaptations in a changing climate: Lessons from creative inquiry - Focus on Creative Inquiry – Plenary, Clemson, SC
2015 - With a little help from my friends: The evolution or social behavior in a climate of change - Ralph W. Yerger Distinguished Alumni Lecture, FSU, Tallahassee, FL


Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Benthic Ecology Society
National Marine Educators Association
Animal Behavior Society
Ecological Society of America
International Society of Behavioral Ecology

Honors and Awards

2019 - Excellence in Student Engagement - College of Science, Clemson University
2015 - Ralph W. Yerger Distinguished Alumni - Biological Sciences, Florida State University
2015 - Phil and Mary Bradley Award for Mentorship in Creative Inquiry, Clemson University
2015 - Teaching Award of Excellence (> 6 years experience) CAFLS, Clemson University
2008 - Teacher of the Year Award (< 10 years experience) CAFLS, Clemson University


We have created an elementary school marine science STEAM program called Something Very Fishy. It combines a musical theatre puppet show with a hands-on science exhibit to teach kids about climate change and the impacts on our ocean life. Clemson creative inquiry students design and man these exhibits during a post-performance imaginary field trip through the Florida Keys where the kids explore mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs, transplant corals to the reef, dive to the Aquarius underwater habitat, and help identify live marine invertebrates. Through this program children grades K-5 learn about being a responsible steward for our oceans and how they can make a difference in saving our planet.


Childress Lab Home Page
Childress Lab Coral Reef Research
Childress Lab Marine Biology Outreach
Conservation of Marine Resources CI Blog
Something Very Fishy Online