Portrait of Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith



I work in the Computational Science Lab at Microsoft Research, committed to improving society’s (people, businesses, governments) abilities to predict geotemporal phenomena (properties and processes that can be associated with geographical space and time). I’ve worked in both theoretical and applied ecological science since I left high-school and have come to realise the enormous untapped value in predictive models of ecological and environmental systems. I aim to unleash that potential on the world. In recent years, I’ve also discovered so many other geotemporal phenomena that we can predict, anticipate and make decisions about much better than we have done to date, especially in the domains of agriculture, utilities and energy, to name some major business sectors.

Shortly after I started at Microsoft I data-constrained models of infectious disease dynamics in wildlife populations to understand the infection mechanisms (Smith et al. 2009). To our surprise these showed remarkable predictive accuracy over 6 years of prediction (they were not trained for this). I turned my focus to the global carbon cycle where we produced the world’s first fully data constrained global land carbon model (Smith et al. 2013). This shows high accuracy at predicting carbon storage around the world. I then turned to marine ecology to test our new modelling environment in its ability to support research in data constrained modelling. That model shows great skill at forecasting marine plankton dynamics over multiple years (Smith et al. 2015)

I’m currently working on some research projects with UK companies to investigate the value of predictive models of geotemporal phenomena to their businesses. While doing that I maintain research interests in predicting crop dynamics, carbon and vegetation, human responses to climate change, and ecosystem structure and function.






As a kid: always looking for explanations for patterns in the natural world.

Revelation: shocked to discover at university that ecology was not taken seriously as a quantitative discipline. I was determined to be an ecology forecaster

First attempts: determination to hone my quantitative skills led to research projects involving individual based models of crops. A stint at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew was my “Beagle Voyage” inspired me to do my first major research project as an undergraduate – combining my knowledge of modelling plants with theories of evolutionary specialisation to predict how plants evolve around the world by evolving virtual plants in virtual worlds.

Back to school: Troubled by the lack of depth in my ability to connect that research with the real world I went back to RBG Kew as implementer of a number of conservation projects. After two years I undertook a PhD in mathematical ecology at Heriot-Watt University to hone my mathematical skills.

On with business: three years later I joined Microsoft Research with a new skills set and buzzing with ideas about how to make ecological predictive models better shadow reality – it was time to get serious about ecological prediction!

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Other Peer-Reviewed publications

M.Smith, A.White, J.A.Sherratt, S.Telfer, M.Begon, X.Lambin, (2008) Disease effects on reproduction can cause population cycles in seasonal environments. Journal of Animal Ecology, 77(2), 378-389 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2007.01328.x.

M.J. Smith, J.A.Sherratt (2007) The effects of unequal diffusion coefficients on periodic travelling wave properties in oscillatory reaction diffusion systems. Physica D, 236(2), 90-103, doi:10.1016/j.physd.2007.07.013

Sherratt, J.A. & Smith M.J. (2008) REVIEW, Periodic Travelling Waves in Cyclic Populations: Field studies and reaction-diffusion models. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2007.1327 Proc. R. Soc. Interface, 5, 483-505.

M.J. Smith, R.Sibly (2008) Identification of tradeoffs underlying the primary strategies of plants. Available online, Evolutionary Ecology Research , 10(1), 45-60.

M.J. Smith, J.A.Sherratt, N.J.Armstrong, (2008) The effects of obstacle size on periodic travelling waves in oscillatory reaction-diffusion equations. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London – Series A, 464, 365-390. doi: 10.1098/rspa.2007.0198.

M.J. Smith, A.White, J.A.Sherratt, X.Lambin, M.Begon, (2006) Delayed Density Dependent Season Length Alone can Lead to Rodent Population Cycles. American Naturalist 167(5), 695-704. doi: 10.1086/503119.

C.Buckee, K.Koelle, M.J. Mustard (Smith), S.Gupta, (2004). The Effects of Host Contact Network Structure on Pathogen Diversity and Strain Structure. PNAS 101(29), 10839-44. doi:10.1073/pnas.0402000101

M.J.Aitkenhead, M.J.Mustard (Smith), A.J.S.McDonald, (2004). Using neural networks to predict spatial structure in ecological systems. Ecol. Mod. 179(3), 393-403. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2004.05.008.

M.J. Mustard (Smith), D.B.Standing, M.J.Aitkenhead, D.Robinson, A.J.S.McDonald (2003). The emergence of primary strategies in evolving virtual-plant populations. Evol. Ecol. Res. 5, 1067-81. Available online.

Other Publications

Other Publications

Smith, M.J., Brodie, C., Kowalczyk, J., Michnowicz, S. & McGough, H.N. (2006). CITES Orchid Checklist Volume 4.

United Nations (2005). “Endangered Species” stamp series. Contributed text.

Mustard (Smith), M.J. & Yuzbasioglu, S. (2005). Turkish Delights. Kew Magazine, Spring 2005

McGough, H.N. Groves, M.G. Sajeva, M. Mustard (Smith), M.J. & Brodie, C (2004). CITES and Succulents, A User’s Guide. Lego Press

McGough, H.N. Groves, M.G., Mustard (Smith), M.J.‡ & Brodie, C.(2004). CITES and Plants, A User’s Guide. Lego Press

Williams, C. Davis, K. & Cheyne, P. (with the assistance of Mustard (Smith), M.J. & Brodie, C) (2003). The CBD, for Botanists.

Tools Archive

Tools Archive

  • Maximum Entropy Species Distribution Modelling Tutorial
  • Tools for analysing and interpreting data on disease dynamics.
  • Exploring the significance of the different mathematical concepts of stability for ecological systems.
  • Tools to aid in Scientific Teaching and Communication.