Effects of Infiltration of Terrestrial Microbes into Aquatic Microbial Communities

Hello, all! My name is Jamie Harris and I am a rising sophomore Biology major with a minor in Public Health at the College of William and Mary.  This summer, my research in Dr. Williamson’s bacteriophage ecology  lab will deal with, as you may have noted from the title, the effects of infiltration of terrestrial microbes into aquatic microbial communities.  More specifically, I will determine the general shifts in microbial communities in William and Mary’s wet retention ponds before, during, and after, major storm events.

Wet retention ponds are designed to prevent flooding, recharge groundwater, and improve water quality in other local bodies of water, and they are a prime area for the intersection of aquatic and terrestrial microbes. Surprisingly, despite the increased prevalence of wet retention ponds, the interactions within the microbial communities they create have not been analyzed in depth.  In a general ecological sense, it is not clear whether endemic aquatic microbes are displaced by invasive terrestrial microbes.  How are the normal fluctuations within the microbial community affected by invaders?  In a more applied sense, many local ponds and lakes are used for recreation.  Unknowing users of recreational waters may come into contact with pathogenic microbes from runoff, causing gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.  In both senses, this work will provide the potential for a more conclusive determination of the effect of terrestrial microbes on aquatic microbial communities.

Microbiology and public health are two of my primary interests, and this project has the potential to integrate these two concepts. If storm water runoff typically introduces microbial pathogens into lakes and ponds, that has negative implications for water quality and, in turn, public health. If every storm event results in a massive influx of pathogens into community lakes that are not naturally eliminated, this is a concern.   By doing this project and presenting this research, I will shed light on this issue, and encourage further research regarding the effects of terrestrial microbes on aquatic communities.  I anticipate the results from my research this summer to raise many new questions and require continued analysis throughout my time at the College.

I’m really excited to start working, learning, and making the world a better place bit-by-bit!