Dr Will Hawthorne

Research Interests

Tropical botany and plant ecology

I am a tropical botanist / plant ecologist, concentrating mostly on the interface between the academic and the practical management of tropical biodiversity, particularly in forest and mostly in Africa and the Caribbean.

After a Ph.d. on the ecology and biogeography of the East African coastal forests, I worked for several years in Ghana as plant ecologist and botanist on a forest inventory and management project, for the Ghana Forestry Dept. and ODA (now DFID). Since the early 1990s, I have been part time on research projects in the Dept. Plant Sciences, part-time freelance. Work has included: national and local botanic surveys, biodiversity databases, field guides, forest regeneration after logging and fire and guidance to forest managers. In short: researching and implementing ways of managing, conserving and assessing tropical plant biodiversity. I have worked mostly in tropical Africa - especially Ghana - and the Caribbean, but also in the Americas, from Mexico to Chile, and to Malaysia.

I have an ongoing interest in the development and implementation of objective but rapid means of assessing Bioquality, a term for emphasising the critical or globally important aspects of the plant life in a region rather than numbers of species per se. This has involved developing Rapid Botanic Surveys, and Star ratings for species with interlinked Genetic Heat Indices for plant communities. My involvement in Bioquality assessment and Rapid Botanic Survey (RBS) continues through collaboration with: surveys for the Ghana Ministry of Natural Resources of their network of special protected areas (GSBAs), set up as a consequence of an earlier national botanic survey; Darwin Initiative botanic surveys in Trinidad & Tobago, and Chile; RBS assesments for hydro-electric schemes in Sierra Leone and mining projects in Guinea, Mt. Nimba and Senegal and Ghana’s Northern Savanna biodiversity project.

Another continuing interest has been forest regeneration and plant regeneration guilds, particularly in the context of determining or promoting recovery of rain forest condition after disturbance and use, and understanding the autoecology of the varied species in forest. I co-wrote and co-edited with Wageningen University researchers the Biodiversity of West African Forests, which won the silver Engler book medal in 2008.

One of the main constraints in research, scientific management and conservation of rain forests is the need for accurate and rapid identification of infertile plants in the field; there is also a need to highlight to a broad audience the value and interest of plant diversity. I have therefore written field guides and other identification tools for West Africa and the Caribbean, including guides for West African woody plants; a farmer-friendly photo-guide to the larger trees of Ghana; and an ecotourist and student-friendly guide to the plants of Grenada.  I have collaborated in the development of database software for the management of forest data for planning reduced impact logging, and have been responsible for setting up the Virtual Field Herbarium (VFH) with image gallery here on the herbarium server.

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