Dr Rebecca Hamilton


Research activity per year

Personal profile


Research Focus

I am a physical geographer who uses geo-historic data to unravel how ecosystems, particularly biodiversity hotspots, respond to various drivers of change (notably climate, fire, and human disturbance) over long timescales. My specialization is in palynology, which is a sub-discipline of geography that uses plant pollen and spores as well as charcoal preserved in sediment layers to reconstruct past ecological change through time. I aim to use my research to support the conservation of resilient and thriving socio-ecological systems. 

Curriculum Vitae

I currently work as a research fellow at the Australian National University and the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthrology in Jena, Germany. My primary research forms of part of the ‘PANTROPOCENE’ research group, lead by Dr. Patrick Roberts, and focuses on assessing the degree to which combined pre-colonial/ colonial disturbance impacted the structure and composition of tropical rainforest in the bounds of the former Spanish Empire.

In 2019, I was awarded the Merewether Fellowship at the State Library of NSW (Australia). This project – ‘Conservation mapping: a case study of Sydney’s 19th century water reserves’ – marries historical and palaeoecological data to determine the actual history of remnant freshwater wetlands within Sydney’s urban core that are protected on the basis of their representing the pre-European landscape.

Between 2017 and 2019, I worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University on an Australian Research Council funded project ‘The pace and rhythm of climate: 600,000 years in biological hotspot’ under CI A/Prof Janelle Stevenson. My research focused on reconstructing the floristic and fire history of Sulawesi’s lowland tropical rainforest over a million years. This work presents the longest terrestrial record of forest-fire dynamics from insular south-east Asia, and, along with complimentary research stemming from the ICDP-funded Towuti Drilling Project (lead by J. Russell) reveals the response of the Indo-Pacific-Warm-Pool to global climate change.

I completed my Ph.D. in Geography at the University of Sydney 2017. My thesis used palaeoenvironmental techniques to examine the long-term impact of climate and fire on the resilience of south-east Asian tropical monsoon forests over thousands of years.

Available student projects

Please get in touch if you are interested in student projects focused on tropical palaoecology, conservation palaeoecology, or urban environmental history.

Research interests

conservation, tropical forests, palaeoecology, palynology, fire history, sedimentology, Southeast Asia, Australia

Researcher's projects

Title: Conservation mapping: a case study of Sydney’s 19th century water reserves

Brief Description: This project marries palaeoecological and historical data to determine the actual history of places now regarded as significant natural and cultural landscapes, including Sydney's 19th century water reserves. It aims to test claims of ‘pristine’ environments thought to have escaped European development.

Funding Body: State Library of NSW Merewether Fellowship (2019)


Title: PANTROPOCENE – Finding a Pre-industrial, Pan-tropical 'Anthropocene

Principle Investigator: Dr. Patrick Roberts | Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Role: Postdoctoral Researcher (palaoecology)

Brief Description: This project studies the degree to which combined pre-colonial and colonial impacts on tropical forests across the bounds of the former Spanish Empire, particularly across the under-studied region of the Philippine Archipelago, initiated changes to climate, geomorphology, and the atmosphere and whether such feedbacks represent the origins of a pre-industrial 'Anthropocene'.

Funding Body: European Research Council


Title: The pace and rythm of climate: 600,000 years in biological hotspot

Principle Investigator: A/Prof Janelle Stevenson |The Australian National University

Secondary Investigators: A/Prof Marco Coolen | Curtin University & Prof James Russell | Brown University

Role: Postdoctoral Fellow (2017 to 2019)

Brief Description: This project aims to produce a terrestrial vegetation, fire and biodiversity record for the last 1,000,000 years in Sulawesi. The unrivalled length and resolution of this record makes it a benchmark reconstruction of past environments that may transform our understanding of the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool and maritime Southeast Asia.

Funding Body: Australian Research Council (Discovery) 




BSc (Hons), PhD (USyd)

Education/Academic qualification

Geosciences, PhD, The University of Sydney

Award Date: 7 Apr 2017

External positions

Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

1 Mar 20201 Mar 2023


  • GB Physical geography
  • QH301 Biology

Expertise Areas

  • Palaeontology (incl. Palynology)
  • Sedimentology
  • Ecological Impacts of Climate Change
  • Conservation and Biodiversity
  • Palaeoecology


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