Thea Whitman


Thea Whitman – Assistant Professor

Soil ecology, soil microbiology, terrestrial carbon biogeochemistry, climate change

UW-Madison, Department of Soil Science
1525 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1299, USA
Fax: 608.265.2595

Telephone: 608.263.4947

Web: at
Twitter: @theawhitman

Program Affiliations

  • Department of Soil Science


  • B.Sc.H. Environmental Biology, 2008, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
  • M.S. Soil Science, 2010, Department of Soil Science, Cornell University
  • Ph.D. Soil Science, 2014, Department of Soil Science, Cornell University
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, 2014-2015, University of California-Berkeley

Teaching and Research Overview

I am fascinated by the beautiful complexities of soil, from its tiniest inhabitants to its role in the global carbon (C) cycle. My research is situated at the nexus of soil biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, and global environmental change. Focusing on organic matter cycling and the molecular and microbial mechanisms that drive it, I seek to understand the processes that control soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics and SOM interactions with microbes and minerals. My lab combines soil biogeochemistry and microbiology with bioinformatics, molecular work, and fieldwork, in order to conduct fundamental and applied research with relevance for land-use management, agroecology, and climate change policy.

I teach two courses in the spring: Forum on the Environment (SOIL SCI / ENV ST 101), where we investigate global environmental issues, and Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry (SOIL SCI / MICROBIO 523), where we study microbes in the soil environment, including their roles in nutrient cycling, their impact on climate change, and their ecology, as well as the molecular and bioinformatic approaches to studying them.

Awards and Honors

2014: SSSA Francis and Evelyn Clark Soil Biology Scholarship
2014: NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
2013: American Geophysical Union Outstanding Student Presentation Award
2013: Cornell University CALS Outstanding TA Award (“The Golden Apple”)
2008-12: National Science and Engineering Research Council Postgraduate Scholarships – Doctoral                          (10-12); Master’s (08-10)
2011: Barbara McClintock Award, Cornell University
2010: MacDonald/Musgrave Award, Cornell University

Selected Publications

Whitman, T., C. Pepe-Ranney, A. Enders, C. Koechli, A. Campbell, D.H. Buckley, and J. Lehmann.  2016. Dynamics of microbial community composition and soil organic carbon mineralization in soil following addition of pyrogenic and fresh organic matter. The ISME Journal, doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.68.

Whitman, T., and J. Lehmann.  2015. Three-source partitioning with two stable isotopes is a powerful tool for the biogeochemical toolbox. Nature Communications doi:10.1038/ncomms9708.

Dharmakeerthi, R.S., K. Hanley, T. Whitman, D. Woolf, and J. Lehmann.  2015. Organic carbon dynamics in soils with pyrogenic organic matter that received residue additions over seven years. Soil Biol. Biochem. 88:268-274.

Whitman, T., Z. Zhu, and J. Lehmann.  2014. Carbon mineralizability determines interactive effects on mineralization of pyrogenic organic matter and soil organic carbon. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48:13727-13734.

Whitman, T., A. Enders, and J. Lehmann.  2014. Pyrogenic carbon additions counteract positive priming of soil carbon mineralization by plantsSoil Biol. Biochem. 73:33-41.

Whitman, T., K. Hanley, A. Enders, and J. Lehmann.  2013.  Black carbon labile fraction across production temperatures as related to its initial propertiesOrganic Geochem. 64:76-83.

Enders, A., K. Hanley, T. Whitman, S. Joseph, and J. Lehmann.  2012.  Characterization of biochars to evaluate recalcitrance and agronomic performanceBioresource Technol. 114:644-653.

Whitman, T., S.F. Yanni, and J.K. Whalen.  2011. Life cycle assessment of corn stover production for cellulosic ethanol in QuebecCan. J. Soil Sci. 91(6):997-1012.

Whitman, T., C.F. Nicholson, D. Torres, and J. Lehmann.  2011. Climate change impact of a biochar cook stove in western Kenyan farm households: system dynamics model analysisEnviron. Sci. Technol. 45(8):3687-3694.

Whitman, T., and J. Lehmann.  2011. Systematic under- and overestimation of GHG reductions in renewable biomass systemsClimatic Change 104(2):415-422.

Whitman, T., S. Scholz, and J. Lehmann.  2010.  Biochar projects for mitigating climate change: an investigation of critical methodology issues for carbon accountingCarbon Mgmt. 1:89-107.

Whitman, T., and L.W. Aarssen.  2010.  The leaf size/number trade-off in herbaceous angiospermsJ. Plant Ecol.-UK 3(1):49-58.

Whitman, T., and J. Lehmann.  2009.  Biochar – One way forward for soil carbon in offset mechanisms in Africa? Environ. Sci. Policy 12(7):1024-1027.