My name’s Dietrich Epp Schmidt. I’m a systems ecologist by philosophy, and a microbiologist by trade. I study ecological processes of the smallest living organisms at landscape and global scales. I do this in the hopes that my research will provide insights into how our world works, and move us towards better management of our ecosystems for a sustainable future. In pursuing the ecosystem sciences, I have come to see humans, and all aspects of our society, as a part of the ecosystems we inhabit. Likewise, I view all of the various social justice fields as being intrinsically linked to ecology, as the power dynamics that shape our socioeconomic status likewise also shape how society interacts with it’s biotic environment. I am a proponent of adapting to our ecology, rather than adapting it to us because I believe in the long run this will support a more healthy and happy human population.

Early Research

During high school, I worked on a restoration project, an attempt to return the American Lotus to the upper reaches of the tidal portion of the Anacostia River. This project set me adrift, its current drawing me into the cultural history of the Anacostia River along side the particular ecology the American Lotus. Of course I discovered that the story of those two aspects is intrinsically linked. Perhaps the Asian Lotus is more famous than it’s American cousin, but they both have deep ties to their indigenous cultures. Like the Asian variety, the native American Lotus was used extensively by the Indigenous Americans that inhabited the area; every part of the plant is edible, and the tubers were a particularly important source of starch calories. When the Army Corps of Engineers channelized the Anacostia in the 1920’s, they eliminated a tremendous area of wetlands, but they also increased the velocity of the river, ultimately extirpating the lotus from most of the upper tidal area. My restoration work took place in Kingman Marsh, just adjacent to the Langston Golf Course, the first course to open it’s doors to African Americans. This marsh in particular has had a long history of neglect and rejuvenation tied to the politics of the day. I remember sitting in the marsh, waiting for the tide to come in, with the sun beating up on me from the surface of the mudflat. I was thinking to myself about the importance of the lotus in asian culture, and the historic value of the native lotus in indigenous american culture. I began to wonder whether we could restore wetlands in the US by changing the way we eat. If we ate lotus, perhaps we’d value the wetlands a bit more. This has ultimately shaped the way I think about the landscape. I think of agriculture as just another permutation of wildlife management.

My Masters Degree:

For my Masters work, I studied under Dr. Stephanie Yarwood in the University of Maryland’s Environmental Science and Technology Department. I am a member of the Global Urban Soil Ecology and Education Network (GLUSEEN), which is a diffuse network of scientists coordinating research efforts across the globe to gain a better understanding of urban soil ecology. The focus of my research was the interaction between different urban land-uses, and the soil microbial community. I was particularly interested in community process (response to disturbance, stress etc). I conducted both amplicon and shotgun sequencing to discover the identities and potential functions of the bacteria, archaea and fungi. I used the QIIME pipeline for bioinformatics, and mg-RAST and funGUILDS for functional annotations. I did most of my statistical analyses on the R platform. The bulk of my Masters research was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, and can be found here. I also contributed a blog post to the Behind the Paper community for the Nature Publishing Group, which can be found here.

My PhD work:

I continue to work under Dr. Stephanie Yarwood, now exploring the effects of agricultural management on microbial communities. I am working on the Plant Health Project, which is an investigation nested within the Farming Systems Project (a long-term side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture) that seeks to understand the indirect effects of foliar glyphosate application. I am also pursuing research into microbial community assembly at a much finer scale than what has been accomplished before, leveraging laser technology to isolate small communities from soils at a scale of less than 100 microns.

You can find me on ResearchGate and Linkedin

My CV: (coming soon)


Other hobbies:


I garden all over the place. My favorite plants are gaultheria procumbens and asimina triloba. I collect wild cultivars of edible things in the hopes that I can help save them from urban sprawl. I love sharing the wonderful secrets that nature holds with anyone who will listen. I find peace in my camping, hiking, biking and boating trips. I got into academia pursuing the background knowledge to write science fiction novels; my research has been accepted in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, so I guess I’m halfway there? (now for the fiction part…) My career goal is to live on a goat farm 😀

I grew up playing soccer, and migrated over to Ultimate Frisbee to avoid the stubborn ankle injuries. I still play both, at least occasionally.