Erica Smithwick


Director of Center for Landscape Dynamics

Personal Lab: Landscape Ecology at Penn State (LEAPS)

I work at the interface of landscape and ecosystem ecology, focusing on the influence of spatial patterns on ecosystem function. I explore how fire patterns (e.g., “pyrogeography”) influence soil biogeochemistry and carbon storage. In the face of increasing concern about fire in human-dominated landscapes, the understanding of the causes and ecological consequences of fire is critical to local and landscape level management. As such, my research is relevant to landscape-level conservation management as well as global change biology. More generally, I am interested in how scale and spatial patterns of disturbance processes can be better modeled so that forecasts of climate change can better incorporate dominant disturbance dynamics. However, I also integrate both laboratory and experimental studies on soil and ecosystem biogeochemistry, and am increasingly interested in spatial statistics (geostatistics), network theory, and Bayesian approaches for understanding and scaling ecosystem complexity. I primarily work in three geographic locations: Africa (Ghana and South Africa), The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Wyoming – USA), and the Northeast.  A majority of my research occurs in natural reserves or parks, which can serve as benchmarks for ecosystem function and coupled human-nature interactions.

Current research interests and activities

Center for Online Innovation in Learning, Research Initiation Grant.  Interactive Videos in Online Learning. Smithwick EAH (PI), Rocco S, Long E, Brzycki E, Wilson T, Mooney M, Edel-Malizia S, Blackstock D. 7/1/2015 - 6/30/2016  ($36,106)

J. William Fulbright Award to South Africa. Measuring and monitoring forest carbon stocks and biodiversity. 1/1/2016 – 6/30/2016.

2015/2016 Penn State Institute of Energy and Environment Seed Grant.  Landscapes of fire and people: how climate, human values, and shifting ecologies will influence mid-Atlantic forest management. 3/15/16 – 6/30/15. Smithwick EAH (PI), Kaye M, Mortensen D, Newman P, Orland B, Shortle J, Taylor A. ($24,737)


The National Park Service.  Identifying critical thresholds: relating soil solution and exchangeable chemistry to detrimental plant responses.  2/1/14- 12/31/14. Smithwick EAH ($20,549)


2013/2014 Penn State Institute of Energy and Environment Seed Grant. Sustainable intensification of grazing land to produce food and bioenergy.  1/1/14 – 12/31/14.  Smithwick EAH (PI) and A Kemanian ($25,000)


The Sustainability Institute Reinvention Fund, Penn State.  Building sustainable communities through the digital global classroom. Smithwick EAH (PI), Crane R, Brown N, Zembal-Saul C. 1/1/14 – 12/31/14 ($36,500)


The John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis.  1/1/2014 – 12/31/2015. Forecasting Forest Response to N Deposition:  Integrating Data from Individual Plant Responses to Soil Chemistry with a Continental-Scale Gradient Analysis.  Linda Pardo, R. Quinn Thomas, Erica Smithwick, and Gregory Lawrence co-PIs.   ($167, 790)


College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Gladys Snyder Educational Grant:  7/1/12 – 6/30/13.  Parks as Stories:  Video Learning Tools to Enhance Landscape Sustainability.  Erica Smithwick PI.  ($5000)


NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences  7/1/2011 to 6/30/2014. Influence of Disturbance and Seasonality on Regional Carbon Flux Upscaling.  Erica Smithwick PI, Ken Davis co-PI, Klaus Keller co-PI, Kusum Naithani co-PI, Jeff Masek co-PI, Robert Kennedy co-PI ($883,605)


National Science Foundation-Division of Ecosystem Biology (EAGER) 7/1/09-6/31/12. Spatial patterns of nutrient limitation and carbon storage in South African coastal lowland landscapes. Erica Smithwick PI ($150,675)


National Science Foundation-Division of Ecosystem Biology (REU-EAGER) 8/1/10 – 7/31/12. Spatial patterns of nutrient limitation and carbon storage in South African coastal lowland landscapes. Erica Smithwick PI ($15,500)


National Park Service, 10/1/08 – 9/30/09. Characterization of “Elevational Landscapes” along the Appalachian Trail Mega-Transect, Erica Smithwick PI ($20,000)


Department of Energy, National Institute of Climatic Change Research 4/09 – 3/11. Consequences of Novel Disturbance Regimes on Climate-Induced Biogeographic Shifts along the Appalachian Trail. Erica Smithwick PI, Dominique Bachelet co-PI ($125,000)

United States Department of the Interior Joint Fire Science Program 7/1/09- 12/31/10. Climate, Fire and Carbon: Tipping Points and Landscape Vulnerability in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Erica Smithwick PI, Monica Turner co-PI, Anthony Westerling co-PI, William Romme co-PI, Michael Ryan co-PI ($140,653)

National Science Foundation 3/15/10 – 2/28/15. GK-12: Carbon Education and Research Together for Humanity, Renee Diehl-lead PI, Erica Smithwick co-PI, Annmarie Ward co-PI, Elizabeth Boyer co-PI, Angela Leuking co-PI ($3,000,000)

National Science Foundation -Coupled Natural Human Systems 10/09- 8/31/14 Collaborative Research: Climatic Extremes, Mining, and Mycobacterium ulcerans: A Coupled Systems Approach. Petra Tschakert-lead PI, Erica Smithwick, Annmarie Ward, Kamini Singha, Joseph Oppong, Edith Parker ($1,421,997) 

National Science Foundation, Ecosystem Science Program, 2012-2017. RCN: The Novus project for integrating paleo- and neo-ecosystem ecology. K. K. McLauchlan PI, D. Gavin co-PI and P. Higuera co-PI (Erica Smithwick, participant) ($499,753)


Research Interests

  • landscape ecology
  • ecosystem ecology
  • biogeochemistry
  • fire ecology


  • Ph.D. Forest Science/Ecology, 2002, Oregon State
  • M.S. Resource Conservation (Forestry), 1997, University of Montana
  • B.S. cum laude Geological Sciences/Environmental Studies, 1995, Tufts University



Doug Baldwin (Geography PhD).  “Influence of climate change and disturbance on coupled water-carbon fluxes and variability at landscape scales” 




Ethan Davis (Ecology PhD). “The Potential Impact of Food and Energy Choices on Global Land Use Patterns and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Jamie Peeler (Geography PhD)

Past Advisees

Eric Taber (Geography MS)

Jared Oyler, MS (Geography). “The Effect of Burn Severity on Short-Term Post-Fire Boreal Vegetation Recovery in Interior Alaska,” May 2009.

Michelle Williams-Tober, MS (Ecology). “Relative Nitrogen Availability Along a Condition Gradient in Headwater Wetlands in the Upper Juniata Watershed, Pennsylvania,” June 2009.

Elizabeth Crisfield, PhD (Geography). “Factors and Conditions Affecting Climate Adaptation in Appalachian Forests,” Fall 2012.

Luke McCormack, PhD (Ecology/Dual-Title Graduate Degree in Biogeochemistry), Co-Advisor with David Eissenstat (Ecosystem Science and Management). “Measuring and Modeling Fine Root Dynamics in Temperate Forests.” Fall 2012.


Kristine Averill, PhD (Ecology), Co-Advisor with Dave Mortensen (Crop and Soil Science) “The Roles of Herbivore Selectivity and Landscape Context in Exotic Plant Invasion”, June 2014

Courses Taught

  • GEOG 001: Global Parks & Sustainability
  • GEOG 414: Landscape Ecology
  • GEOG 510: Graduate Seminar (Terrestrial Ecosystem Modeling: Concepts and Applications)


Published or In Press
Wu, J*, Tschakert P, Klutse E, Ferring D,  Ricciardi V, H Hausermann H, Oppong J, Smithwick EAH. Buruli ulcer disease and its association with land cover in Southwestern Ghana. PLoS Neglected Tropical Disease, in press.
Keane, RE, Loehman, R, Clark, J, Smithwick EAH, Miller C.  2014.  Exploring interactions among multiple disturbance agents in forest landscapes: simulating effects of fire, beetles, and disease under climate change.  Ch.9 in Mapping and Modeling Forest Landscape Patterns, Perera A., Remmel, R. and Buse L., eds., Springer, in press.
Keane RE, McKenzie D, Falk DA, Smithwick EAH, Miller, C., Kellogg, L-K. B. Representing climate, disturbance, and vegetation interactions in landscape models. 2015.  Ecological Modeling 309-310: 33-47.
Wu, J, Smithwick EAH, Ferring D, Hausermann H, Oppong J, Ricciardi V, Tschakert P 2015.  Buruli Ulcer (BU) and landscape disturbance in Ghana 2007-2010.  Data set.  Available online [ ] at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.  doi:10.13014/D3G44N6X

Hagarty J, Azanu D, Atosona B, Voegborlo R, Smithwick EAH, Singha K. Chemistry of natural waters and its relation to Buruli Ulcer in Ghana. 2015. Journal of Hydrology, accepted.
McCormack, ML, Crisfield E, Raczka B, Schnekenburger F, Eissenstat DM, Smithwick EAH. 2015. Sensitivity of four ecological models to adjustments in fine root turnover rate.  Ecological Modeling 297: 107-117. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2014.11.013
Smithwick, EAH, ML McCormack*, M Lucash, G Sivandran. 2014. Improving the representation of roots in terrestrial models, Ecological Modelling 291: 193-204. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2014.07.023
8.      McCormack ML, Adams TS, Smithwick EAH, Eissenstat DM. 2014. Variability in root production and root phenology alter estimates of fine root turnover rate. Ecology, 95: 2224-2235
McLauchlan KK, PE Higuera, DG Gavin, SS Perakis, MC Mack, H Alexander, J Battles, F Biondi, B Buma, D Colombaroli, S Enders, DR Engstrom, FS Hu, JR Marlon, J Marshall, M McGlone, J L. Morris, LE Nave, BN Shuman, E Smithwick, DH Urrego, DA Wardle, CJ Williams, JJ Williams.  2014. Reconstructing disturbances and their biogeochemical consequences over multiple timescales. BioScience 64(2): 105-116.
McCormack ML, Eissenstat DM, Prasad AM, Smithwick EAH. 2013.  Regional scale patterns of fine root lifespan and turnover under current and future climate.  Global Change Biology 19(6): 1697-1708. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12163
Smithwick EAH, Eissenstat DM, Lovett G, Bowden R, Rustad L, and Driscoll C. 2013. Root Stress and Nitrogen Deposition: Consequences and Research Priorities New Phytologist, 197 (3): 712-719. DOI: 10.1111/nph.12081
Smithwick EAH, Naithani KJ, Balser TC, Romme WH, and Turner MG. 2012. Fine-Scale Spatial Distribution of Microbial Communities and Soil Nitrogen Cycling Following Wildfire. PLoS One, 7(11):e50597.  Doi:. 10.1371/journal.pone.0050597
Hausermann H, Tschakert P, Smithwick EAH, Ferring D, Amankwah R, Klutse E, Hagarty J, Kromel L. 2012. Contours of risk: spatializing human behaviors to understand disease dynamics in changing landscapes.  EcoHealth (9): 251-255, DOI:10.1007/s10393-012-0780-8.

McCormack ML, Adams TS, Smithwick EAH, Eissenstat DM. 2012. Predicting fine root lifespan from functional traits in temperate trees.  New Phytologist 195(4): 823-831. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2012.04198.x

Westerling AL, Turner MG, Smithwick EAH, Romme WH, Ryan MG. 2011.  Continued warming could transform Greater Yellowstone fire regimes by mid-21st Century, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 108: 13165-13170.

Turner MG, Romme WH, Smithwick EAH, Tinker DB, Zhu J. 2011. Variation in aboveground cover influences soil nitrogen availability at fine spatial scales following severe fire in subalpine conifer forests. Ecosystems 14(7):1081-1095.

Smithwick, EAH, Westerling A L, Turner MG, Romme WH, Ryan MG. Vulnerability of Landscape Carbon Fluxes to Future Climate and Fire in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” In: Questioning Greater Yellowstone’s Future: Climate, Land Use, and Invasive Species.Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. October 11–13, 2010, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Yellowstone National Park. C. Andersen, ed., 131–134. Yellowstone National Park, WY, and Laramie, WY: Yellowstone Center for Resources and University of Wyoming William D. Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources

Smithwick EAH. 2011. Pyrogeography and biogeochemical resilience, pp143-164 in The Landscape Ecology of Fire, ed. by D. McKenzie, D. Falk, C. Miller, Springer.

Cleveland MR, Smithwick EAH, Wardrop DH, Brooks RB. 2011. The wetland disturbance index: links with soil and water nitrate concentrations. Wetlands 31(5):853-863.

Smithwick EAH2010. Pyrogeography:  Lessons for future northeastern U.S. landscapes. Penn State Environmental Law Review 18(2): 101-121.

Smithwick EAH. 2010. Disturbance ecology, biogeochemistry and resilience: three decades of inquiry. Organized Oral Session 34. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 91:80-93.

Turner MG, Smithwick EAH, Tinker DB, and Romme WH. 2009. Variation in foliar nitrogen and aboveground net primary production in young postfire lodgepole pine. Canadian Journal of Forest Research-Revue Canadienne De Recherche Forestiere 39:1024-1035.

Smithwick EAH, Kashian DM, Ryan MG, and Turner MG. 2009. Long-Term Nitrogen Storage and Soil Nitrogen Availability in Post-Fire Lodgepole Pine Ecosystems. Ecosystems 12:792-806.

Smithwick EAH, Ryan MG, Kashian DM, Romme WH, Tinker DB, and Turner MG. 2009. Modeling the effects of fire and climate change on carbon and nitrogen storage in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) stands, Global Change Biology 15:535-548.

Schoennagel T, Turner MG, and Smithwick EAH. 2008. Landscape heterogeneity following large fires: insights from Yellowstone National Park, USA, International Journal of Wildland Fire, in press.

Metzger KL, Smithwick EAH, Tinker DB, Romme WH, Balser TC, and Turner MG. 2008. Influence of coarse wood and pine saplings on nitrogen mineralization and microbial communities in young post-fire Pinus contorta. Forest Ecology and Management 256:59-67.

Turner, MG, Smithwick EAH, Metzger KL, Tinker DB, and Romme WH. 2007. Inorganic nitrogen availability following severe stand-replacing fire in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, inaugural paper, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 104 (12): 4782-4789.

Smithwick EAH. 2006. Editorial: Role of microbial communities in mediating ecosystem response to disturbance, Special Issue in Plant and Soil 289:1-3

Smithwick EAH.  2006. Gentle introduction to complexity on landscapes.  Book Review for Ecology 87(11):2954-2955

Smithwick EAH, Harmon ME, Domingo JB. 2006. Changing temporal patterns of forest carbon stores and net ecosystem carbon balance: The stand to landscape transformation, Landscape Ecology 22(1): 77-94. 

Smithwick EAH, Mack MC, Turner MG, Chapin III FS, Zhu J, Balser TC. 2005. Spatial heterogeneity and soil nitrogen dynamics after severe fire in a black spruce (Picea mariana) forest, Alaska: Distinct controls at different scales. Biogeochemistry 76: 517-537 

Smithwick EAH, Turner MG, Mack MC, Chapin III, FS. 2005. Post-fire soil nitrogen cycling in northern conifer landscapes affected by severe, stand-replacing fires.  Ecosystems 8: 163-181

Smithwick EAH, Turner MG, Metzger KL, Balser TC. 2005. Variation in NH4+ mineralization and microbial communities with stand age in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forests, Yellowstone National Park (USA). Soil Biology and Biochemistry 37: 1546-1559

Homann PS, Harmon ME, Remillard SM, Smithwick EAH.  2005. What the soil reveals: Maximum ecosystem C stores of the Pacific Northwest region, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 220: 270-283

Miller JM, Turner MG, Smithwick EAH, Dent LC, Stanley EH. 2004. Extrapolation: the science of predicting ecological patterns and processes. Bioscience 54(4): 310-320

Smithwick EAH, Harmon ME, Domingo JB. 2003. Modeling multi-scale effects of light limitations and edge-induced mortality on carbon stores in forest landscapes. Landscape Ecology 18(7): 701-721

Korontzi S, Ward DE, Susott RA, Yokelson RJ, Justice CO, Hobbs PV, Smithwick EAH, Hao WM.  2003. Seasonal variation and ecosystem dependence of emission factors for selected trace gases and PM2.5 for southern African savanna fires. Journal of Geophysical Research 108(D24), 4758

Smithwick EAH, Harmon ME, Acker SA, Remillard SM. 2002. Potential upper bounds of carbon stores in the Pacific Northwest. Ecological Applications 12(5): 1303-1317

Hoffa EA, Ward DE, Hao WM, Susott RA, Wakimoto RH. 1999. Seasonality of carbon emissions from biomass burning in a Zambian savanna. Journal of Geophysical Research 104: 13,841 – 13,853.