Dr. Lee's research is about understanding how aquatic microorganisms come together to form complex communities, including biofilms of algae and bacteria, and how the communities interact with their habitat in freshwater ecosystems. Biofilms are direct contributors to ecosystem function, but how algal and bacterial species come together and coexist within biofilms is not well known. Understanding microbial community assembly has important implications for predicting the effects of environmental change from regional to global scales. Dr. Lee's research includes algal taxonomy and natural history, which provide fundamental knowledge for interpreting how and why organisms respond to ecosystem-scale processes.
Dr. Lee uses artificial stream experiments and field observations to measure ecosystem function and examine structure. Specifically, she is investigating the mechanisms underlying known suppression of primary production by a commonly used pharmaceutical, diphenhydramine (active ingredient in Benadryl).
Cary's Artificial Stream Research Facility was constructed in 2013 to advance studies of stream ecosystems, including the effects of novel contaminants.
Dr. Lee is also investigating the response of benthic communities to other contaminants found in urban streams, including anti-depressants, illicit drugs, and road salt. Currently, the consequences of exposure to these contaminants are unknown for aquatic ecosystems.
Dr. Lee is identifying the algal and bacterial species found in the Gwynns Falls watershed as part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long Term Ecological Research project, as well as Wappinger Creek near the Cary Institute, to facilitate future research in these aquatic ecosystems. In addition to using microscopy to identify algal species, Dr. Lee will use high-throughput next generation sequencing methods to obtain bacterial composition and insights into the interactions between algae and bacteria in stream biofilms.
Cleaned specimens of diatoms (unicellular algae with glass cell walls) from a Baltimore stream.