Thomas M. Smith

Associate Professor

My major research interest has been the development of an individual-based theory of vegetaton dynamics. The focus of the research is to examine how basic physiological and morphological constraints operating at the level of the individual plant influence pattern and process at higher levels of organization (i.e., populations, communities and ecosystems). This interest has led me to pursue a variety of studies to address the mechanisms of plant pattern across a wide range of scales. These studies have ranged from the development of individual-based ecosystem models to laboratory and field experiments examining the response of plants to environmental gradients.

Most recently my research has turned to the development and application of models to explore the response of the terrestrial biosphere to environmental change. Current work is focusing on the potential impacts of rising concentrations of atmospheric CO2, and associated changes in the global climate system on terrestrial ecosystems. Specific studies have examined: (1) the potential impacts of a climate change on global patterns of vegetation distribution, and (2) how the predicted changes in vegetation distribution will influence the role of the terrestrial biosphere in the global carbon cycle.


Smith, R.L. and T.M. Smith. 2000. Elements of Ecology (4th ed. Update). Benjamin Cummings, Menlo Park, CA.

Smith, R.L. and T.M. Smith. 2000. Ecology and Field Biology (6th edition). Benjamin Cummings, Menlo Park, CA.

Lugo, A.E., S.L. Brown, R. Dodson, T.M. Smith and H.H. Shugart. 1999. The Holdridge Life Zones of the conterminous United States in relation to ecosystem mapping. Journal of Biogeography 26:1025-1038.


Introduction to Environmental Sciences (EVSC 1010)
Introduces the principles and basic facts of the natural environment. Topics include earth materials, land forms, weather and climate, vegetation and soils, and the processes of environmental change and their implications to economic and human systems.

Plants, People and Culture (EVSC 2200)
This course will explore the interrelationships between humans and plants. An introduction to basic plant biology provides a framework for exploring the process of plant domestication and the economic and cultural consequences for humans, including plant diversity and use of indigenous plants. The origin and dispersal of major plants used by humans as food, drink, fiber, medicine and fuel will be considered.

Fundamentals of Ecology (EVSC 3200)
Studies energy flow, nutrient cycling and allocation in natural ecosystems, organization of species at the population and community levels, and interaction between people and the biosphere.

Terrestrial Plant Ecology (EVSC 4150)
The objective of the course is to provide students with a basic understanding of factors influencing the distribution of terrestrial plants at the local, landscape, and global scales. We will focus on the basic principles of plant biology and their role on determining the relative distributions and abundances of plant species, patterns of community structure, and ecosystem function.