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Feature Essay - Jeff Webb

Jeff Webb

The Fishy Entomologist

At a young age, growing up in Saskatchewan, Canada, I knew I was going to be a biologist.  I have to admit, however, that I was surprised when I became an entomologist as my initial passion was ichthyology. When I was nine and my family moved into a house with a pond in the backyard, I got my first fish. Because winters in Saskatchewan are REALLY cold, I got an aquarium to put the fish in for the winter. In the spring, when the fish went back outside, I had this empty aquarium sitting there, so I bought some fish for it. Of course, when the next winter rolled around, I needed another aquarium. By the time I finished high school, I had 12 aquaria, ranging in size from 2-180 gallons. To this day, I maintain my interest in fish and currently have 800 gallons of aquaria in my basement and a koi pond in my kitchen (yes, the pond is in my kitchen).

After I finished high school, my family moved to Alabama and I enrolled in classes at the University of North Alabama with the intention of pursuing a career studying fish biology. But then, when I was a freshman, I read E.O. Wilson's “Naturalist” and became obsessed with entomology. I had never paid attention to insects before this except when, as a teenager, I read about these cool insects called mayflies in a fly-fishing novel and thought, “I wish we had these in Saskatchewan.”

I moved back to Saskatchewan in my sophomore year and signed up for all the entomology classes I could. One of these was Aquatic Entomology and I was astounded to find out that not only were there mayflies in Saskatchewan, but many were rare and unusual species. This information drove me to start a research career by doing a masters project on the biodiversity of Ephemeroptera in Saskatchewan. I didn't completely abandon my interest in fish, however, as I also did a bit of work on chemical ecology in minnows and stickleback.

For my PhD, I wanted to continue my studies on mayfly taxonomy and the logical place to do this was Purdue where Dr. Pat McCafferty has amassed the world's largest collection of mayflies and is widely known as the 'mayfly guru.' So, in the winter of 2003, I moved to Indiana and started a project studying the systematics of the family Heptageniidae. The heptageniids are one of the most species rich families of mayflies and are found throughout the Holarctic, Afrotropical, and Oriental biogeographic realms. They are some of the best indicators of water quality, but are underutilized in environmental studies because the larvae are difficult to identify. One of the primary goals of my research is to provide the taxonomic tools to allow others to work with this fascinating family.

Much of my work with heptageniids involves the traditional taxonomic tasks of describing new taxa and clarifying species concepts. I also expanded my research 'toolkit' by learning molecular methods such as DNA barcoding (thank you Dr.Virginia Ferris!), database design, computer programming, and grantsmanship. My work here has allowed me to collaborate with researchers from other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, and also provided the means for me to work in Switzerland for a month in the summer of 2005. 

Teaching has perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of attending Purdue. I have had the pleasure of being involved in ENTM 105, 207, 318, 335, and 460. Not only has it been fun and exciting to work with students, but the experience has made me appreciate the time and effort that my professors put into my education.

My time at Purdue has been fantastic. I will finish my studies here in the fall and hope to find a postdoc position to continue my studies in some aspect of evolutionary biology. I am confident that the variety of skills I have developed at Purdue will open many doors of opportunity and I want to thank everyone in the department for making my time here so enjoyable.

In this Issue:
Feature Article
  • Once Again…Waiting in the Wings…HESSIAN FLIES!

Department News

  • Outstanding Service Award
  • John V. Osmun Award nominations being accepted
  • 71st Purdue Pest Management Conference
  • Alumni Reunion at ESA, Indianapolis
  • International Travel
  • Births and Marriage
  • Obituaries

From the Head Bug

  • John V. Osmun Endowed Professorship in Urban Entomology

Outreach Update

  • Community Connections

Development Update

  • John V. Osmun Endowed Chair Campaign

Entomology Students

  • 2007 Entomology Outstanding Student Awards
  • 2006 OVEA Winners
  • New Students for Spring 2007
  • Margam Venu Travels to Africa
  • Feature Essay
Alumni News
  • Austin Frishman
  • Robert Waltz
  • George A. Adrian
  • Larry Bledsoe
  • J. Wayne Brewer
  • Raymond Buchko
  • Michael Meyer
  • Robert Corrigan
  • April 14-15
    Bug Bowl/ Spring Fest