Shawn O’Donnell


I am a palynologist and palaeoecologist by training, with interests in biological, geological and anthropological approaches to answering the questions Why are things the way they are? and How can the past inform the present and future? I completed my PhD within the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge in 2016. My research there focused on the relationships between tropical vegetation, pollen and land use in modern and ancient landscapes. This took me to the Kelabit Highlands of interior Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo and to the subcoastal limestone karsts of El Nido in northern Palawan Island, Philippines. I produced proxy records of vegetation history from these locales using subfossil pollen sequences, combined with modern botanical surveys and archaeological excavations. As part of previous postgraduate degrees in Australia (ANU & University or Melbourne), I conducted similar research associated with the archaeological site of Kuk Swamp in highland Papua New Guinea, with the palaeoecological and archaeological sites across the Atherton Tableland of northern Queensland, Australia, and with the subalpine treeless vegetation communities and peat bogs of the Mount Buffalo Plateau in eastern Victoria, Australia. Prior to joining the SUNDASIA team, I completed an MSc at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in which I obtained training in plant conservation and taxonomy, gained field botanical collecting experience in Madagascar, and conducted research on the evolution and ecology of pollen structures within the mimosoid legumes that occur on Madagascar.