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Department of Botany
mbthomas [at] hawaii [dot] edu
Bio: Michael Thomas has degrees in Forest Management from Virginia Tech (BSc) and Plant Sciences from the University of Florida (PhD Botany, MS Horticulture). He arrived to the Pacific Islands as a Peace Corps volunteer (Kingdom of Tonga) in 1989. Serving for 4 years, he worked to identify and promote local tree crop varieties to strengthen the traditional Tongan agricultural system in the face of shifting monocultural crop production. He has worked and studied ethnomedical knowledge systems in Brazil, Jamaica, and more recently across the Pacific Rim in Hawaii, Tonga, Palau , Samoa, and Fiji. Much of his applied work has been in the developing world, he has worked on numerous agribusiness development projects in more than 20 countries focusing on ex-situ and in-situ plant conservation, indigenous crop management, value chain processing, and sustainable value-added agricultural production including non-timber forest products.
Projects: Michael has recently researched the plant-use of ngasech (first birth) ceremony in Palau, documenting the ceremony including the various clan headdress styles and the ritualistic medicinal plant-based cleansing baths. He also has an ongoing database project to unify regional herbarium specimen data from all of the Pacific Island countries in a standardized data portal (NSF BRC- 1057303). This portal is now serving as the basis of the cross-cultural documentation of plant uses in Polynesia and he is working towards the integration of Micronesia plant based traditional knowledge. Much of this knowledge is in danger of disappearing, and the systematic documentation preserves knowledge systems while also contributing to an understanding of the diversity plant-based traditional knowledge.