In November 2012, Simon Haberle was appointed Professor of Natural History in the Department of Archaeology and Natural History (ANH), ANU. Simon has a long association with the Australian National University, completing his undergraduate degree here in 1986 before continuing with a PhD which considered the long-term agricultural history of the Tari Basin, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. After completing his PhD in 1994, he spent several years traveling and researching in various places including Panama, Brazil, Chile and numerous islands in the Pacific with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of the impacts and interactions that people have had on their environments through time. His latest expeditions to islands in the Indian Ocean will also open up this region to a greater understanding of past environmental change.
Simon’s research interests focus on how and why the environment has changed over the recent and deep past (from tens to thousands of years ago). He believes that one of the major barriers to gaining a better understanding of future environmental change is the lack of understanding of the long-term history of environmental dynamics, which includes the impact of agriculture and fire on landscapes, rates of species migration in response to climate change, and the introduction and extinction of species due to human agency. Simon believes that research into these areas can tell us much about the reasons why the world we live in is as it is today. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pacific, where the rate of environmental change continues to have major consequences for many island communities. Simon’s work on the remote eastern Pacific islands of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago and the Galapagos Islands demonstrated the profound changes that occurred after the initial period of human settlement within the last 400 years. This contrasts with the much deeper time landscape transformations that occurred in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where evidence shows thousands of years of human interaction and transformation of these regions.
As Professor in Natural History at the Department of Archaeology and Natural History, Simon will build on the earlier work of Emeritus Professor Geoff Hope and Foundation Professor Donald Walker to promote a diverse and vibrant research and training environment where researchers and students can focus on reconstructing responses of ecosystems (species, families, communities, landscapes) to past environmental change (e.g. fire, climate change, human impact, sea-level rise) on timescales ranging from tens to thousands of years. Full details of his ongoing research projects can be found on the PalaeoWorks and ANH websites. Simon will also continue in his role as Chair of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific Reconciliation Action Plan which is intended to bring focus to and prioritise initiatives in the College that advance the broader aims of reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of Australia.