Meet the 2016 scholar – Martin A. Hamilton, Ph.D.

Dr M.A. Hamilton, Research Leader (UKOTs), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, England, UK

Dr M.A. Hamilton, Research Leader (UKOTs), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, England, UK

Martin Hamilton is a native of Cerulean, Kentucky.  He spent his formative years on the family farm surrounded by miles of farm land and forests.  These years provided many opportunities to explore the natural world and Martin developed a love for nature, plants in particular.

After high school, Martin discovered Horticulture as a career choice and studied at Western Kentucky University (WKU). The WKU program proved to be the perfect setting for Martin to develop his interests in woody plants and gain knowledge from the excellent teaching staff. Martin had the chance to work on the WKU University farm as a compost research assistant and manager of the WKU horticulture greenhouses. While at WKU, he had the opportunity to travel across the USA with the WKU Horticulture Club. One of the first trips undertaken was to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest outside Louisville, Kentucky.  Martin was inspired by the collections and the staff at Bernheim, so much so that he applied for a summer internship following his junior year where he gained first-hand knowledge of the impacts of invasive species. His experiences at Bernheim gave him a deep appreciation of the expertise needed to control exotic species and a firm understanding of the management processes.

Martin was awarded a B.Sc. degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in Horticulture from WKU in May 2000.  Following graduation, he joined a horticultural tour of Europe. During this European adventure, the group visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Kew) in London, England and Martin was amazed by the world-class gardens. After returning to the USA, Martin went back to work at Bernheim for one year to learn more from the staff and study the collections. In 2001, Martin decided that further studies were needed for his career to advance. His application was successful for a place on Course 39 of the Kew Diploma in Horticulture, a three year work and study program at Kew.  During his time as a Kew student, Martin worked with Dr Colin Clubbe to develop a travel scholarship proposal to visit the US and British Virgin Islands to survey threatened plant species in the wild and to assist local conservationists with propagation. This experience changed Martin’s career path as it turned his attention fully to conservation. After finishing the Kew diploma in 2004, Martin took a one year contract working in the Kew Herbarium with Dr Clubbe as the UK Overseas Territories Program Officer.  This contract was briefly extended until Martin became a permanent member of staff holding the new post of UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) Program Coordinator in January 2006.

Dr M.A. Hamilton with Varronia rupicola on Anegada, British Virgin Islands

Dr M.A. Hamilton with Varronia rupicola on Anegada, British Virgin Islands

Over the next nine years, Martin worked closely with many staff in other departments and international collaborators to protect, study and conserve the unique plants and habitats of the UK Overseas Territories. During this time Martin first started to study and collaborate on the flora of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) working with the late Commander John Topp. The two collaborators produced a checklist of the plants of BIOT in 2009 based on the holdings of Kew and the collections and field notes of Commander Topp. Martin undertook remote sensing work of BIOT during the preparations for the 2010 Chagos Expedition that saw Dr Colin Clubbe of Kew visit the archipelago to collect botanical data using a GIS and data collection system that Martin developed.

In October 2012, Martin embarked on a part-time PhD at Birkbeck, University of London alongside his full-time work at Kew. His research focused on the biogeography and conservation genetics of Varronia rupicola, a plant species, which has a very restricted range of distribution in the Caribbean – from western Puerto Rico to the low-lying island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Very little was known about the species in the wild, its phenology or its habitat requirements when the research started. The thesis, which was produced in December 2015 and defended in February 2016, demonstrates the importance of designing future conservation measures for threatened plant species to include areas that show high suitability under a range of potential change scenarios and urges proactive conservation actions.

Dr M.A. Hamilton collecting data on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

Dr M.A. Hamilton collecting data on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

Since December 2014, Martin has been the Research Leader for the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team at Kew within the newly formed Conservation Science Department. Martin’s on-going field projects are mostly focused in the Caribbean; however, he is actively involved in projects across the UKOTs. Martin’s current portfolio includes many aspects of conservation biology such as inventory and monitoring of plant communities; effects of management and climate change on plant communities; conservation assessment, population analysis and recovery planning for threatened plant species; and the impacts and monitoring of invasive alien species.

Martin has had the opportunity to travel extensively through his work and see the impacts of exotic and invasive species in a range of tropical habitats. The support provided by CCT-US will enable him to participate in the Chagos Atoll Restoration Expedition (CAREX) in 2016. Kew’s involvement in the CAREX project and Martin securing the CCT-US scholarship for 2016 will expand the team’s involvement in BIOT in 2016 and beyond.

After learning of his successful application, Martin said “I am looking forward to working with an international group of dedicated specialists in one of the most unique areas of our planet and input into an ambitious and much needed action plan to preserve one of the jewels in the British crown!

Dr. Hamilton's participation in the expedition is made possible in part from contributions by The Kayne Foundation, The Schnormeier Foundation and CCT-US members.