Lee Smee, Ph.D.

University Programs Chair, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Senior Marine Scientist III, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences, University of South Alabama


Dr. Lee Smee is Chair of University Programs and Senior Marine Scientist III. He is a Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the University of South Alabama.

Smee received his Ph.D. from Georgia Tech where he investigated how small-scale turbulence affected chemical signaling between predators and prey and influenced top-down forcing in soft sediment communities. His lab has conducted studies in rocky intertidal communities in Maine as well as oyster, marsh, and seagrass communities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Smee is an Eagle Scout and Scoutmaster of Troop 292 in Mobile, Alabama.


  • Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology, 2006
  • M.S., Georgia Southern University, 1998
  • B.S., Piedmont College, 1996



Current research topics in his lab include oyster reef ecology, mangrove encroachment, pesticide effects on blue crabs, and biogeography of seagrass communities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Smee Lab

Dr. Jessica Lunt

Jessica Lunt

Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Research Scientist

Dr. Jessica Lunt is a research scientist in the Studies of Marine Ecology and Evolution (SMEE) Lab and the undergraduate program coordinator for DISL.

She received her Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and TAMU- Corpus Christi. Her dissertation was on how abiotic factors, particularly turbidity and wave action, shape oyster reef communities. She was a postdoctoral fellow with the Smithsonian Institute at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, FL. She studied the effects filter feeders, primarily bivalves, can have on mitigating harmful algal blooms. Additionally, she headed the benthic ecology lab studying the effects of freshwater discharge on soft-sediment infaunal communities in the St Lucie Estuary adn Indian River Lagoon.

At DISL she maintains a long-term monitoring program on south Texas oyster reefs and investigates the feeding physiology of oysters to improve local aquaculture.

Research Focus

  • Oyster reef ecology
  • Bivalve feeding physiology


  • Ph.D., Texas A&M University, 2014
  • B.S., University of West Florida, 2008

Dr. Benjamin Belgrad

Benjamin Belgrad

Research Senior Marine Scientist I

Dr. Belgrad received his B.S. from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida where he became a Hollings Scholar with NOAA studying salmon olfaction. He received his Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina as a Presidential Fellow working with various crab species to investigate how the local environment and individual differences intertwine to shape predator-prey interactions. As a postdoctoral fellow at Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, he helped lead a multi-institute survey across the Gulf of Mexico to evaluate how seagrass characteristics and hurricanes govern fish and shrimp populations.

Dr. Belgrad joined DISL in 2018 where he maintains a collaborative network that spans the continental United States and incorporates local fisherman, oyster farmers, state resource agencies, and citizen scientists in his applied research.

Research Focus

Dr. Benjamin Belgrad is a quantitative ecologist and physiologist who studies animal responses to major environmental perturbations (e.g., climate change, habitat destruction) from the individual to community level. His current projects focus on improving the efficiency of oyster aquaculture and reef restoration operations as well as investigating the chemical signaling involved in predator-prey interactions. His work involves a wide range of approaches, from field and laboratory experiments, to physiological analyses and computer simulations.


  • Ph.D., University of South Carolina, 2017
  • B.S., Eckerd College, 2013



  • Correia, K.M.*, S.B. Alford, B.A. Belgrad, K.M. Darnell, M.Z. Darnell, B.T. Furman, M.O. Hall, C.W. Martin, A. McDonald, and D.L. Smee. Hurricane effects of seagrass and associated nekton communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries and Coasts. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-023-01276-w
  • Bardou, R., M.J. Osland, et al. 70 authors including D.L. Smee. Rapidly changing range limits in a warming world: critical data limitations and knowledge gaps for advancing understanding of mangrove range dynamics. Estuaries and Coasts. 46: 1123-1140. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-023-01209-7
  • Roney, S,H., M.R. Cepeda, B.A. Belgrad 1 , S.G. Moore, D.L. Smee, J. Kubanek, and M.J. Weissburg. Common fear molecules induce defensive responses in marine prey across trophic levels. Oecologia. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-023-05438-2
  • Belgrad, B.A. 1 , D.L. Smee, and M.J. Weissburg. Predator signaling of multiple prey on different tropic levels structures trophic cascades. Ecology. E4052. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.4050
  • Reustle, J.W.*, B.A. Belgrad 1 , A. McKee, and D.L. Smee. Barnacles as biological flow indicators. PeerJ. 11:e15015. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.15018
  • Belgrad, B.A. 1 , W. Knudson*, S.H. Roney, W.C. Walton, J. Lunt, and D.L. Smee. Induced defenses as a management tool: Shaping individuals to their environment. Journal of Environmental Management. 338: 117808. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.117808


  • Hodges, D.J., A. Eason, and D.L. Smee. Burrowing behavior of marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata in response to predator cues. Gulf and Caribbean Research. SC7-SC9. https://doi.org/10.18785/gcr.3301.10
  • Correia, K.M., S.B. Alford, B.A. Belgrad, K.M. Darnell, M.Z. Darnell, B.T. Furman, M.O. Hall, C.W. Martin, A. McDonald, and D.L. Smee. Drift macroalgae distribution in northern Gulf of Mexico seagrass meadows. PeerJ. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.13855
  • Correia, K.M. and D.L.Smee. Habitat suitability of drift macroalgae in two shallow coastal estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Volume 557, 151808, ISSN 0022-0981, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2022.151808
  • Hayes, T.H, S.B. Alford, B.A. Belgrad1, K.C. Correia, M.Z. Darnell, B.T. Furman, C.W. Martin, A.M. McDonald, D.L. Smee, and K.M. Darnell. Regional variation in seagrass complexity drives blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) mortality and growth across the northern Gulf of Mexico. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 693: 141-155. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14084
  • Osland, M.J. et al. 21 authors including D.L. Smee. The impacts of mangrove range expansion on wetland ecosystem services in the southeastern United States: Current understanding, knowledge gaps, and emerging research needs. Global Change Biology. Volume 28, Issue 10 p. 3163-3187. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16111
  • Correia, K.M. and D.L. Smee. A Meta-analysis of Tropical Cyclone Effects on Seagrass Meadows. Wetlands.42:108. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-022-01611-0
  • Belgrad, B.A., D.L. Smee, and M.J. Weissburg. Simultaneous predator signaling of prey on multiple trophic levels produces complex patterns of NCEs on basal prey. Ecology 104:6. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.4050
  • Patrick, C.J. et al. 50 authors including D.L. Smee. A universal pattern of trade-offs between ecosystem resistance and resilience to tropical cyclones. Sciences Advances. 8, eabl9155. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abl9155


  • Eason, A., A.B. Powell, S.H. Roney, C. Lin, C. M. Russell, B.A. Belgrad, and D.L. Smee. Timing of predation risk during early development influences oyster shell morphology. Gulf and Caribbean Research. 31: SC1-SC5. https://doi.org/10.18785/gcr.3201.13
  • Rue, C.R, J.D. Selwyn, P.M. Crockett, B. Gillis, L. Gurski, P. Jose, B.L. Kutil, S.F. Magnuson, L.A. Lopez de Mesa, R.D. Overath, D.L. Smee and C.E. Bird. Genetic diversity across the mitochondrial genome of eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Peer J: e12205. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.12205
  • Belgrad, B.A., E.M. Combs, W.C. Walton and D.L. Smee. Use of predator cues to bolster oyster resilience for aquaculture and reef restoration. Aquaculture. 538: 736553. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2021.736553
  • Belgrad, B.A, D.L. Smee, K.M. Correia, K.M. Darnell, M.Z. Darnell, C.T. Hayes, M.O. Hall, B.T. Furman, and C.W. Martin. Environmental drivers of seagrass-associated nekton abundance and function groups across the northern Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries and Coasts. 44, 2279–2290. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-021-00927-0


  • Lunt, J. and D.L. Smee. Turbidity alters estuarine biodiversity and species composition. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 77: 379-387. https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsz214
  • Ponce, M., B.A. Belgrad, W. Walton. and D.L. Smee. Hatchery exposure of oyster spat to different predators strengthens oyster shells. Gulf and Caribbean Research. 31: SC36 – SC40. https://doi.org/10.18785/gcr.3101.14
  • Whalen, M.A., et al. 67 authors including M.S. Diskin, D.L. Smee. Climate drives the geography of marine consumption by changing predator communities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 117: 28160 – 28166. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2005255117
  • Kimbro, D.L., A.E. Scherer, J.E. Byers, J.H. Grabowski, A.R. Hughes, M.F. Piehler, and D.L. Smee. Environmental gradients influence biogeographic patterns of nonconsumptive effects on oysters. Ecosphere. 11 (10): e03260. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.3260
  • Smee, D.L., J.W. Reustle, B.A. Belgrad, and E.L. Pettis. Storms promote ecosystem resilience by alleviating fishing. Current Biology. 30: R869 – R870. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.048
  • Reustle, J. and D.L. Smee. Salinity variation and turbidity influence trophic cascades through sensory-driven mesopredator release and facilitation of different predator types. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 639: 127-136. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13283
  • Reustle, J. and D.L. Smee. Cloudy with a chance of mesopredator release: sensory disruption alleviates top-down control in estuaries. Limnology and Oceanography 9999: 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1002/lno.11452



  • Scherer, A.E., C.E. Bird, M. R. McCutcheon, X. Hu, D.L. Smee. Two-tiered defense strategy may compensate for predator avoidance costs of an ecosystem engineer. Marine Biology. 165.8; 131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-018-3391-2
  • Correia, K.M. and D.L. Smee. Organophosphate Pesticides Alter Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus) Behavior in Single and Consecutive Exposures. Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology. 75.1; 134-144.
  • Schroeder-Spain, K., L.L. Fisher, and D.L. Smee. Uncoordinated: Effects of sublethal malathion and carbaryl exposures on juvenile and adult blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 504; 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2018.03.005
  • J.B. Loveless and D.L. Smee. Changes in arthropod communities as black mangroves Avicennia germinans expand into Gulf of Mexico salt marshes Arthropod-Plant Interactions. Pages 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11829-018-9643-8
  • J.B. Loveless and D.L. Smee. Assessing the Efficacy of Marsh Restoration via Terracing by Comparing Vegetation Density and Nekton Abundance Before and After Restoration Gulf of Mexico Science. Vol. 34 (1). https://doi.org/10.18785/goms.3401.05


  • Lunt, J., J. Reustle, and D.L. Smee. Wave energy and flow reduce the abundance and size of benthic species on oyster reefs. Marine Ecology Progress Series 569:25-36. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12075
  • Smee, D.L., J. A. Sanchez, M.Diskin, and C. Trettin. Mangrove expansion into salt marshes alters associated faunal communities. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 187:306-313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2017.02.005
  • Diskin, M.S. and D. L. Smee. Effects of black mangrove Avicennia germinans expansion on salt marsh nekton assemblages before and after a flood. Hydrobiologia. 803.1: 283.-294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-017-3179-2
  • Scherer, A.E., M.M. Garcia, and D. L. Smee. Predatory blue crabs induce stronger nonconsumptive effects in eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica than scavenging blue crabs. PeerJ Vol. 5:e3042. https://doi.org/10.7717%2Fpeerj.3042
  • Scherer, A.E. and D.L. Smee. Eastern Oysters Crassostrea virginica Produce Plastic Morphological Defenses in Response to Crab Predators Despite Resource Limitation. The Biological Bulletin. 233.2: 144-150.
  • Gain, I.E., R.A. Brewton, M.M.R. Robillard, K.D. Johnson, D.L. Smee, and G.W. Stunz. Macrofauna using intertidal oyster reef varies in relation to position within the estuarine habitat mosaic. Marine Biology 164.1:8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-016-3033-5
  • Smee, D.L. and A.E. Scherer. Phenotypic Plasticity in Oysters Mediated by Chemical Cues from Predators and Injured Prey. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 57:E409.
  • Scherer, A.E., C.E. Bird, X. Hu, M. Mccutcheon, and D.L. Smee. The cost and mechanism of an induced morphological defense in the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. Integrative and Comparative Biology 57:E398.


  • Scherer, A.E. and D.L. Smee. A review of predator diet effects on prey defensive responses. Chemoecology 26.3:83-100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00049-016-0208-y
  • Smee, D.L. Nueces Bay Marsh Restoration–Post Construction Assessment. Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program.
  • Wolfe, K.D., M.L. Wainwright, D.L. Smee, and R. Mozzachiodi. Eat or be eaten? Modifications of Aplysia californica feeding behaviour in response to natural aversive stimuli. Animal Behavior 12:123-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2016.07.030
  • Scherer, A.E., J. Lunt, A.M. Draper, and D.L. Smee. Phenotypic plasticity in oysters (Crassostrea virginica) mediated by chemical signals from predators and injured prey. Invertebrate Biology 135.2:97-107. https://doi.org/10.1111/ivb.12120


  • Lunt, J. and D.L. Smee. Turbidity interferes with foraging success of visual but not chemosensory predators. PeerJ 3:e1212. https://doi.org/10.7717%2Fpeerj.1212
  • Smee, D.L., A. Scherer, J. Lunt, and A. Draper. Turbidity triggers mesopredator release by altering chemically mediated trophic interactions. Integrative and Comparative Biology 55:E170.


  • Weissburg, M., D.L. Smee, and M.C. Ferner. The sensory ecology of nonconsumptive predator effects. The American Naturalist 184(2):141-157. https://doi.org/10.1086/676644
  • Robinson, E.M., J. Lunt, C.D. Marshall, and D.L. Smee. Eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica deter crab predators by altering their morphology in response to crab cues. Aquatic Biology 20(2):111-118. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00549
  • Lunt, J. and D.L. Smee. Turbidity influences trophic interactions in estuaries. Limnology and Oceanography 59(6), 2002-2012. https://doi.org/10.4319/lo.2014.59.6.2002
  • Ray, B.R., M.W. Johnson, K. Cammarata, and D.L. Smee. Changes in seagrass species composition in northwestern Gulf of Mexico estuaries: effects on associated seagrass fauna. PLoS One 9(9):e107751. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107751
  • Johnson, K.D., J.H. Grabowski, and D.L. Smee. Omnivory dampens trophic cascades in estuarine communities Marine Ecology Progress Series 507:197-206. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10815
  • Johnson, K.D. and D.L. Smee. Predators influence the tidal distribution of oysters (Crassostrea virginica). Marine Biology 161(7):1557-1564. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-014-2440-8


  • Mehrubeoglu, M., D.K. Smith, S.W. Smith, D.L. Smee, and P.A. Simionescu. Investigating oyster shell thickness and strength using three imaging modalities: hyperspectral imaging, thermal imaging and digital photography. Imaging Spectrometry XVII 8870:88700O. https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2027336


  • Miller, S.H., J. Reuther, R.D. Overath, and D.L. Smee. PS 93-178: Genetic variation in eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in the western Gulf of Mexico. The 94th ESA Annual Meeting.
  • Smee, D.L., M. Weissburg, and M.C. Ferner. Fluid dynamics affects the outcomes of blue crab-hard clam interactions. Journal of Shellfish Research 28(3):729.


  • Smee, D.L. and M.C. Ferner. COS 73-10: Alteration of sensory abilities regulates the spatial scale of non-lethal predator effects. ESA/SER Joint Meeting.


  • Smee, D.L. The Ecology of Yikes! Environmental Forces Alter Prey Perception of Predators