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Michelle Paddack: Fish Biologist, Food webs, & Herbivores

Michelle Paddack is an Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences at Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, CA; she is also a Senior Conservation Scientist at the Oceanic Society.

“The underlying goal driving each aspect of my life’s work is to provide tangible inputs toward creating sustainable management and conservation of marine ecosystems.  I do this through two different channels – scientific and educational. As a marine ecologist, I specialize in the population dynamics and ecology of reef fishes (both tropical and temperate). My main interests include examining how ecological interactions between fish and their reef environment structure and maintain reef communities, and determining how ecosystem-level perturbations (both environmental and anthropogenic) affect population structure and behaviors of reef organisms. I work on both small and large scales, ranging from how and why a single species of fish differs in numbers, sizes, and behavior from one reef to an adjacent one to analyzing data from reefs spanning across ocean basins and decades to look at long-term and large-scale patterns. I do both of these by combining focused field studies with statistical and meta-analytical techniques. I believe that the issues we are facing today require multi-faceted approaches and perspectives, and that the best way to do this is to work collaboratively with scientists and resource users across the globe. In this way, we can identify and address the most important and effective questions facing the people and organisms whose lives rely on healthy ocean ecosystems. In this vein, I have successfully helped to establish marine protected areas, document the species most affected by changes in fishing rates, discover which species most strongly help to maintain coral reefs, and discerned how and why reef communities are changing over decades.

The second component of my work toward marine conservation is through education. Having investigated and experienced first-hand incredible changes in the marine ecosystem – both loss and recovery – I am deeply aware of the need to tap into the innate ecological knowledge of people and help them to connect that with experiences and supporting knowledge that will foster critical thinking and insightful action toward the pressing issues facing us and our ocean ecosystems today. I believe that each person, no matter who they are or what they do, has the capacity of scientific thought and knowledge, and when someone has a direct experience and even a small thread of understanding of nature, then that will ripple out into actions that help to heal our ocean communities of which we are so much a part.”