Paul W. Webb, Ph.D.
Professor and Director of Program in the Environment
Ph.D. Zoology, 1971, University of Bristol
B.S.C. Zoology, 1967, University of Bristol
Paul Webb holds a joint appointment with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and he serves as Director of the Program in the Environment. Teaching includes Ecological Issues and mainly independent studies and projects, especially with undergraduates on aquatic restoration. Research includes physiological ecology and functional morphology of aquatic vertebrates, primarily fishes. Research seeks to identify and understand fundamental principles of energetics and form and function, which in turn affect distributions of fishes and their populations and assemblages. These interests are currently focusing on how physical factors shape shorelines and hence shoreline fish communities, affecting management and restoration. Another area of research concerns factors that affect fish assemblages in coastal marshes. Much of these researches are done in collaboration with faculty in the engineering school.
Awards and Grants:
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ecology, physiological-ecology and functional morphology of aquatic vertebrates, primarily fishes. Research seeks to identify and understand fundamental principles that determine animal life-history patterns in energetics and in form and function, which in turn lead to various distributions and assemblages in populations and communities. This provides the basis for habitat rehabilitation and management practices. Specific areas of interest include: 1) distribution and flow of energy acquired as food by fishes, and effects of environmental change, including pollution, 2) mechanics and behavior of fish interactions with structure in their habitat, key factors in deterioration and rehabilitation of aquatic communities,3) fish predator-prey interactions, 4) fish assemblages, especially in Great Lakes coastal marshes and effects of human development.
Laboratory and field studies are underway on the use of habitat structure as refuges from flow. Such refuges can potentially reduce energy expenditures and could promote growth and reproduction. Fish use refuges when predation risk and food availability are reduced, and to avoid weather extremes. Other studies examine how fish negotiate complex habitats typical of reefs and weed-beds. The ability of marine and freshwater fish to use structures such as boulders and rocks, root-wads and submerged branches to minimize energy use affects species distributions. Manipulation of such habitat features are essential components of habitat management and restoration.
Research is also being conducted on mechanisms that determine the stability of fish. Fish are exposed to many flow perturbations, such as turbulence in addition to currents. Various forms have different capabilities to stabilize posture and trajectories in different flow regimes typical of natural habitats. These also affect species distributions among habitats and over time.
Studies are also being performed on fish use of freshwater Great Lakes marshes and impacts of human development. Starting with surveys of larval and adult fish distributions, results have now been used to design a monitoring protocol for use by local citizens. More recent experiments have determined the impact of marsh fragmentation on fish communities.
I especially enjoy teaching undergraduates. After all, without a good foundation, it is hard to build. Thus I believe undergraduate education is extremely important, and whenever I ignite someone's interest at this level, its ripple effect will be broader than if I do so later. My major course is Ecological Issues, an introductory environmental course that explores how the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and culture interact in both the genesis and in seeking solutions to the pressing environmental issues faced by our society. I previously co-taught an undergraduate course, Homeplace: Life in the Huron River Valley, an interdisciplinary taught with colleagues from English and Engineering exploring the concept of place. When I can, I teach the biology of fishes at the University of Michigan Biological Station, and have previously taught in animal physiology. I typically have 2 to 5 undergraduates doing independent research projects and internships. At the graduate level, I previously taught Research Paradigms, alternating with Rachel Kaplan. All my teaching recognizes that all resource questions have many dimensions from bio-physical through social-science and behavior to ethics. These areas have different research traditions and approaches. Undergraduates and SNRE students need to be able to work across this spectrum.
I have pretty broad research interests, generally centering around functional-morphology, physiological-ecology, looking towards ecological directions rather than, say cellular molecular biology. Students have done research on ionosmoregulation, muscle mechanics, swimming mechanics and behavior, feeding energetics, toxicology, community structure, population dynamics and in co-chairing with others, mammalian endocrinology, amenity valuation, etc. I have also co-chaired student research in social science areas, on valuation of water quality and perceptions of stakeholders of ecotourism. I believe my role as an advisor is to seek ways for a student to realize their potential and their objectives. As such, I encourage students to develop their own interests. I do not expect students to work on my pet things, unless that is what they wish to do. I do encourage students to develop their own niche. When I can provide support, I do not assume that students make the subject their undergraduate or graduate theses, unless the match is good with their objectives.
Biology and Ecology of Fishes (at UM Biological Station). Introduction to Animal Physiology. Ecological Issues. Independent Studies: Recent and current topics include hydrostatic stability of fishes, response of fishes to turbulence, effects of storms on use of in-shore habitats, effects of in-stream structure of fish distributions, effects of human development on marsh fish communities, developmental asymmetry of amphibians along a toxicant gradient, using bacteria to detoxify hormone mimics.
Jacobus, J. and Webb, P. W. 2005. Using Fish Distributions and Behavior in Patchy Habitats to Evaluate Potential Effects of Fragmentation on Marsh Fishes: A Case Study. J. Great Lakes Res. 31 (Supplement 1);197–211.
Cotel, A. J., Webb, P. W. and Tritico, H. 2006. Do trout choose habitats with reduced turbulence? Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc. 135;610-619.
Webb, P. W. 2006. Use of fine-scale current refuges by fishes in a temperate warm-water stream. Can. J. Zool. 84;1071-1078.
Webb, P. W., A. J. Cotel and L. A. Meadows. 2010. Waves and eddies: effects on fish behaviour and habitat distribution. In Fish Locomotion: An Eco-Ethological Perspective (P. Domenici and B. G. Kapoor, eds), Science Publishers, Enfield, NH, pp. 1-39.
Webb, P. W. and A. J. Cotel. 2010. Turbulence: Does vorticity affect the structure and shape of body and fin propulsors? Integ. Comp. Biol. 50:1-12.
Webb, P.W. and Cotel. A.J. 2011. Assessing possible effects of fish-culture systems on fish swimming: the role of stability in turbulent flows. Fish Physiol. Biochem. in press.