Sunday, January 14, 2018

Deb Hamilton - An Uncommonly Strong, Independent, Woman Scientist. GUEST BLOGGER

Hi Everyone,

I'm pleased to introduce our amazing guide Deb Hamilton, who has graciously agreed to guest blog today.  Simply put, Deb is the most amazing Conservationist I have ever met.  The photos you see here pretty much show you who Deb is - a caring, mentoring, scientist.  I'm not sure I've ever seen her when she wasn't helping someone.

Deb is the Directora Ejecutiva of the Monteverde Institute, which focuses on conservation, education, and outreach about tropical forests.  They were kind enough to let her join us on this trip and share her knowledge and experiences with the students. 

Deb is a published scientist, directs the institute, runs occasional small businesses....and is one of the leading experts on tropical reforestation....

Deb is equally home in the board room, the classroom, the lab, speaking to local farmers about conservation, or wading through the tropical forest with a shovel and planting trees.  Unlike a lot of scientists that focus on the theoretical, Deb is the sort of person that rolls up her sleeves (note the picture above) and does hands-on conservation.

Deb has been one of the guides on the WSU trip for 7 years, and has collaborated extensively with our own Dr. Tim Parshall on research.  While the rest of us on the bus are sleeping, listening to tunes, or daydreaming, Tim and Deb are usually busy collaborating and analyzing data.  Their work resulted in a collaborative conference presentation at the Ecological Society annual meeting in 2016.

In fact, while we were driving today, Deb learned that one of her scientific papers just got published in the journal Biotropica.  The title of her paper is Resource Tracking and its conservation Implications for an Obligate Frugivore (Procnias tricarunculatus, the Three-wattled Bellbird).

I asked Deb to write about the path that brought her to where she is - a senior scientist who is a woman - and to provide advice to aspiring scientists.  Here's what she wrote:


What is my advice to aspiring biologists?  Follow your passion.  Then be ready to watch your passions morph into new interests – and then follow them.  Walk through the doors of opportunity as they appear.  The work won’t be hard because you will love every minute of it.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts where 80 or so tree species cover the landscape of the entire state.  Now my backyard where I live in Costa Rica has 138 species of trees in it.  Who would’ve believed that I would change from a career in accounting and computer programming to a career in conservation biology?  And my family never thought that I’d leave my native New England to spend 25 (and more) years in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

The University System of New Hampshire is to blame for my radical change in careers from business to conservation biology. To fulfill a science requirement, I took the only course that was offered that Spring semester in northern New Hampshire:  Ornithology. I wasn’t thrilled that this was the option but accepted my fate.  The instructor was excellent, and I was completely hooked after the first class. As a capstone, I went to the Peruvian Amazon to learn about the tropics.  I came back convinced that I would pursue a graduate degree that would lead me to work in the tropics with the conservation of birds.

I researched the use of windbreaks in Monteverde, Costa Rica as micro-corridors for forest dwelling birds that must move through fragmented landscape. I met other biologists and George Powell hired me to collect data in his research of the Three-wattled Bellbird, as species in danger of extinction in Central America.  He turned the project over to me in 1997 to travel throughout the country to learn of the status of this bird in Costa Rica and Panama.   I was also hired to research the cause of the decline of the Umbrellabird, hiking into remote rain forest in search of this ghost-like species.  I collected data for another researcher and we published a paper on the distribution of birds in the region.

<<Here's a windbreak we saw on the drive to the coast today>>

When I was accepted into graduate school, I was thrilled to learn that my advisor was John Terborgh.  He was one of my heroes that was leading the call to protect neotropical migratory birds.  When I told him of my interests, he informed me that he wasn’t working with birds so much as he was with trees.  Trees? 

When we learned that the decline of the Three-wattled Bellbird was a consequence of habitat loss on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica, George Powell sat me down and asked me what I was going to do about it.  The answer was obvious and several of us started a conservation organization.  We protected several pieces of forest with the help of donors and collaborators.  Our greatest success, however, is the reforestation program where we have restored at least 400 ha of pasture land.

And now, I study trees.  With colleagues, we investigate survivorship, growth, and determine the effectiveness of different reforestation techniques.  While I might not be studying birds directly, I am working on conservation of birds in the tropics – a dream come true.

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