R. Quinn Thomas


Associate Professor | Virginia Tech | Data Science Faculty Fellow | Lead of Ecological Forecasting Initiative Research Coordination Network

Ecosystem Dynamics and Forecasting

Ecosystem: We study the forest and freshwater ecosystems upon which society depends

Dynamics:  We model how ecosystems change over time in response to land-use, climate change, atmospheric deposition, and management.  We measure carbon, water, and energy exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere using eddy-covariance and biometeorology sensors.

Forecasting:  We predict the future of ecosystems by combining observations and ecosystem models using statistical techniques.

Data Science Faculty Fellow
Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation & Department of Biological Sciences
Virginia Tech

Steger Hall (0477) Room 315B
1015 Life Science Circle
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Google Scholar


Ecological Forecasting Initiative Research Coordination Network (DEB-1926388)

Lead PI of an NSF sponsored 5-year project that is leading workshops, conferences, and collaborative software development to address the following objectives:

  1. Define community standards and best practices for developing, sharing, and archiving forecasts and models
  2. Increase the number and diversity of NEON-enabled (National Ecological Observatory Network) forecasts by developing and hosting the NEON Ecological Forecasting Challenge
  3. Create educational materials to empower scientists at all career stages to forecast using NEON data products
  4. Support the creation of software to produce NEON-enabled forecasts at intensive and collaborative coding-focused workshops
  5. Align forecast outputs and decision support with the needs of forecast users at mission-driven agencies to guide decision making, and
  6. Synthesize forecasts to examine how limits to forecastability vary across ecological systems and scales.

Other current projects

Resilient Water Systems: Integrating Environmental Sensor Networks and Real-Time Forecasting to Adaptively Manage Drinking Water Quality and Build Social Trust (CNS-1737424)

Cyberinfrastructure Enabling End-to-End Workflows for Aquatic Ecosystem Forecasting (DBI-1933016)

Macrosystems EDDIE: An undergraduate training program in macrosystems science and ecological forecasting (DEB-1926050)

Decadal prediction of sustainable agricultural and forest management - Earth system prediction differs from climate prediction (USDA-NIFA 2015-67003-23485)

Regionally specific drivers of land-use transitions and future scenarios: A synthesis considering the land management influence in the Southeastern U.S (NASA-NNX17AI09G)


In the news

A vicious cycle of oxygen loss threatens water quality in lakes - VT News

Fewer ticks, cleaner water, and more carbon intake: Fellowship recipient Quinn Thomas plans to use data to predict our environment - VT News

Virginia Tech pioneers smart reservoirs - Roanoke Times

Confronting ecological change takes a collaborative leap with the NEON Ecological Forecasting Challenge - VT News

To ensure safe drinking water, experts forecast the health of lakes and reservoirs - VT News

Researchers co-locate to Steger Hall at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute to tackle infectious diseases and rapid environmental change - VT News

Using data to predict the future of ecosystems - VT News

Researchers receive NSF grant to create Ecological Forecasting Research Coordination Network - VT News

Testing the water: Virginia Tech team launches system to predict water conditions - VT News

Global Change Center researchers to forecast water quality with NSF support - VT News

Global Change Center researchers help water authority create ‘best water possible,’ prepare for warmer temperatures - VT News

Study forecasts growth rates of loblolly pine trees through first half of 21st century - VT News

Study incorporates ecological processes into Earth system models to aid climate change predictions - VT News



Click for a full list of publications

Recent (2022 - )

Thomas, R.Q, R.P. McClure, T.N. Moore, W.M. Woelmer, C. Boettiger, R.J. Figueiredo, R.T. Hensley, C.C. Carey. Near-term forecasts of NEON lakes reveal gradients of environmental predictability across the U.S. Accepted Frontiers in Ecology and Environment Pre-print: https://doi.org/10.1002/essoar.10510642.1

Moore, T.N., R.Q. Thomas, W.M. Woelmer, C.C Carey. 2022. Integrating ecological forecasting into undergraduate ecology curricula with an R Shiny application-based teaching module. Forecasting 4:604-633. https://doi.org/10.3390/forecast4030033

Carey, C.C., P.C. Hanson, R.Q. Thomas, A.B. Gerling, A.G. Hounshell, A.S.L Lewis, M.E. Lofton, R.P. McClure, H.L. Wander, W.M. Woelmer, B.R. Niederlehner, M.E. Schreider. 2022. Anoxia decreases the magnitude of the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus sink in freshwater ecosystems. Global Change Biology 28: 4861-4881 https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16228

Ahlswede, B.J., T.L. O’Halloran, and R.Q. Thomas. 2022. Combined carbon and albedo climate forcing from pine and switchgrass grown for bioenergy. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 5:774067 https://doi.org/10.3389/ffgc.2022.774067

Lewis, A., W. Woelmer, H. Wander, D. Howard, J. Smith, R. McClure, M. Lofton, N. Hammond, R. Corrigan, R.Q. Thomas, C.C. Carey. 2022. Increased adoption of best practices in ecological forecasting enables comparisons of forecastability across systems. Ecological Applications 32: e02500 https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2500

Carey C.C., W.M. Woelmer, M.E. Lofton, R.J. Figueiredo, B.J. Bookout, R.S. Corrigan, V. Daneshmand, A.G. Hounshell, D.W. Howard, A.S. Lewis, R.P. McClure, H.L. Wander, N.K. Ward, and R.Q. Thomas. 2022. Advancing lake and reservoir water quality management with near-term, iterative ecological forecasting. Inland Waters 12: 107-120 https://doi.org/10.1080/20442041.2020.1816421

Kyker-Snowman, E., D.L. Lombardozzi, G.B. Bonan, S.J. Cheng, J.S. Dukes, S.D. Frey, E.M. Jacobs, R. McNellis G, J.M. Rady G, N.G. Smith, R.Q. Thomas, W.R. Wieder, and A.S. Grandy. 2022. Increasing the spatial and temporal impact of ecological research: A roadmap for integrating a novel terrestrial process into an Earth system model. Global Change Biology 28: 665-684. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15894

Ahlswede, B.J., T.L. O’Halloran, and R.Q. Thomas. 2022. A minimally managed switchgrass ecosystem in a humid subtropical climate is a source of carbon to the atmosphere. GCB Bioenergy 14:24-36 https://doi.org/10.1111/GCBB.12897

Woelmer, W., R.Q. Thomas, M. Lofton, R. McClure P, and C.C Carey. 2022. Near-term phytoplankton forecasts reveal the effects of model time step and forecast horizon on predictability. In Press at Ecological Applications. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2642

Pre-prints undergoing peer-review

Hounshell, A.G., B. M. D’Acunha, A. Breef-Pilz, M.S. Johnson, R. Quinn Thomas, C.C. Carey. Eddy covariance data reveal that a small freshwater reservoir emits a substantial amount of carbon dioxide and methane. Earth and Space Science Open Archive https://doi.org/10.1002/essoar.10510558.1

Lofton, M.E., D.W. Howard, R.Q. Thomas, C. C Carey. Progress and opportunities in advancing near-term forecasting of freshwater quality. Earth and Space Science Open Archive https://doi.org/10.1002/essoar.10512426.1

Smith, J.W., L.R. Johnson, and R.Q. Thomas. Assessing Ecosystem State Space Models: Identifiability and Estimation. arXiv https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.08967



Click for full C.V.

A.B. Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (2001 - 2005)

M.S. University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH (2005 - 2007)

Ph.D. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (2007 - 2012)

Post-doc, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO (2012 - 2013)

Assistant Professor, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA (2013 - 2019)

Associate Professor, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA (2019 - present)

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA (2021 - present)

Visiting Scholar, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (2021 - 2022)

Visiting Scientist, Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia (2022 - present)

Data Science Faculty Fellow, College of Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA (2022 - present)


Team Members


Mary Lofton (Co-mentored with Cayelan Carey)
Maike Holthuijzen (Co-mentored with Cayelan Carey)
Freya Olsson (Co-mentored with Cayelan Carey)

PhD Students

Joshua Rady


Benjamin Ahlswede (PhD)
Michael Graham (PhD; Geospatial and Environmental Analysis; co-advised with Megan O’Rourke)
Kevin J. Horn (Post-doc)
Annika Jersild (MS)
Ryan McClure (Post-doc; Co-mentored with Cayelan Carey)
Wyatt McCurdy (MS)
Tadhg Moore (Post-doc; Co-mentored with Cayelan Carey)
Laura Puckett (UG)
John Smith (PhD in Statistics; co-advised with Leah Johnson)



FREC 3004: Environmental Informatics
FREC 5884: Ecological Forecasting
FREC 3604: Climate Science
FREC 5034: Ecosystem Dynamics
FREC 5204: Ecosystem and Climate


Join Us

Interested Ph.D. or Masters of Science students should send an email letter of inquiry containing an overview of your research interests and your C.V. Please feel free to contact me with questions about the application process, graduate school at Virginia Tech, or potential research ideas.