Erica Smithwick, Professor of Geography, is a landscape and ecosystem ecologist. She is the Director of the Ecology Institute, and the Center for Landscape Dynamics. She is also a Faculty Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at Penn State, and Graduate Faculty in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Her laboratory group (LEAPS: Landscape Ecology at Penn State) is actively involved in understanding how a wide range of disturbances, especially fire, affect ecosystem function at landscape scales. Current research is focused on the influence of these changes on socio-ecological resilience and sustainability, with special attention to protected area management in Africa and the U.S. She recently served as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa at Rhodes University.
Dr. Smithwick has published over 44 publications in peer-reviewed journals and, since arriving at Penn State, secured over $6.4 million dollars in external research funding as lead principal investigator (total = $11.3 million, 97.5% external) from the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy, The National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and beyond. This work is increasingly focused on problems that require inter- and trans-disciplinary teamwork to address complex environmental challenges. One of these projects, funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to address how indigenous and western knowledge systems can be best used to address forest sustainability under climate variability, in partnership with the Menominee tribal nation in northern Wisconsin. More about this project (Visualizing Forest Futures) can be found here: https://sites.google.com/a/pdx.edu/visualizing-forest-futures/home
Before arriving at Penn State, Dr. Smithwick was a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, supervised by Dr. Monica G. Turner, and explored the recovery of forests and soils to large wildfires in Yellowstone National Park using both empirical work and ecosystem models. This work has continued at Penn State, where research documented future wildfire threats in Yellowstone, highlighted in the national press. She earned her Ph.D. from Oregon State University, under the guidance of Mark Harmon, where she studied carbon storage in old-growth forests, and her M.S. from the University of Montana, where she studied fire emissions in forests and grasslands in Zambia.
Recently, Dr. Smithwick was featured in a women-in-science profile: https://wpsu.psu.edu/digital/women-in-science-profiles/