Faculty Profile - University of Houston
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Faculty Profile

Steven PenningsSteven Pennings

Moores Professor and Vice Chair
Department of Biology and Biochemistry
Research Division:
Ecology and Evolution (Primary)

Office: Science & Research 2, 321F
Contact: scpennin@central.uh.edu - 713-743-2989

Education: Ph.D., University of California at Santa Barbara

Google Scholar Profile

Plant Community Ecology

Dr. Steven Pennings studies the factors that structure plant communities in salt marshes, mangroves and coastal prairies. Coastal wetlands are relatively simple systems that contain strong gradients in physical stress (notably waterlogging of soils, and salinity). As a result, they are ideal systems for experimentally studying how physical stress, disturbance and biological interactions combine to create pattern in plant communities.

Mangroves are a major habitat type at low latitudes on the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. The distribution limit of mangroves is set by winter freezing. With recent warmer winters, mangroves are expanding to higher latitudes. Pennings is interested in how the switch from marsh to mangrove will affect wetland function, and especially the services (coastal protection, support of fisheries, eco-tourism) that people depend on.

Plant-herbivore Interactions

The interactions between plants and herbivores are complex because many factors (toughness, spines, macro- and micro-nutrients, chemical defenses) determine how suitable a plant is as food. In addition, herbivore populations are affected not only by food availability but also by predation. Pennings is interested in what structures herbivore populations, what determines herbivore feeding choices and in how plant-herbivore interactions vary across space and time. He has done this work in a variety of habitats including coastal wetlands and coastal prairies.

Other Topics

His laboratory group has also had an interest in parasitic plants, impacts of oil spills on coastal wetlands, long-term ecological research, and herbivory by sea hares. Please see his website for additional information.

Honors and Awards:

2013: Moores Professor, University of Houston
2012: Society of Wetland Scientists Service Award – For editorial service for the society journal “Wetlands”
2010: Society of Wetland Scientists Merit Award – For outstanding research

Organizations, Outreach, Boards, Memberships:

Director, University of Houston Coastal Center, http://www.uhcc.uh.edu/