Smithwick, Erica

Smithwick, Erica
Pennsylvania State University

I work at the interface of landscape and ecosystem ecology, focusing on the influence of spatial patterns on ecosystem function. I am specifically interesting in the role of fire patterns (e.g., “pyrogeography”) on soil biogeochemistry and carbon storage. Fire reflects trends in both land use and ecosystem dynamics, thus requiring interdisciplinary scientific approaches. Fire also drives carbon flux dynamics between the biosphere and the atmosphere, thus requiring understanding of coupled climate-vegetation changes at multiple scales.  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.

Theoretically, 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 fire dynamics.  Current models in my laboratory include Century, MC1, and Fire-BGC. 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 (Yellowstone, Appalachian Trail, Eastern Cape Parks Board - South Africa), which can serve as benchmarks for ecosystem function and coupled human-nature interactions.