About

My research seeks to understand the environmental and biological controls on carbon dioxide and water vapour exchange between plants and the atmosphere.  I use a range of measurement techniques to gain a deeper insight into these processes, including measurements of how the stable isotope compositions of carbon dioxide and water vapour change during photosynthesis and transpiration.  I am also interested in improving the interpretation of stable isotope signals in plant organic material, in order to gain insight into how leaf gas exchange has responded to global climate change through time and space.  I am especially interested using these tools to understand how tropical rainforests are responding to climate change, and what role they are likely to play in modulating the response of the global carbon cycle to human activity in the coming century.  I am currently a senior lecturer at James Cook University- Cairns.  I am looking for students to join my lab, so if you are interested in discussing a research project, please do get in touch.

Teaching
  • BZ1005: Introductory Ecology (Level 1; CNS)
  • BZ2008: Adaptation to Environmental Change (Level 2; TSV)
  • BZ2450: Biodiversity of Tropical Australia (Level 2; CNS)
  • BZ2808: Adapting to Environmental Challenges (Level 2; CNS)
  • BZ2880: Ecology: Distribution, Abundance and Diversity (Level 2; CNS)
  • BZ3225: Field Ecology (Level 3; CNS)
  • BZ5008: Adaptation to Environmental Change (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ5225: Field Ecology (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5808: Adapting to Environmental Challenges (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5880: Ecology: Distribution, Abundance and Diversity (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC1102: Modelling Natural Systems (Level 1; CNS)
  • SC1109: Modelling Natural Systems-Advanced (Level 1; CNS)
Interests
Research
  • Carbon dioxide and water vapour exchange between plants and the atmosphere
  • Stable isotopes as recorders of plant physiological processes
  • Tropical plant ecophysiology
  • Refixation of respired carbon dioxide by photosynthetic bark
Experience
  • 2013 to 2015 - ARC Future Fellow, James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2011 to 2012 - ARC Future Fellow, The Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
  • 2007 to 2010 - ARC Postdoctoral Fellow, Charles Darwin University (Darwin, Australia)
  • 2005 to 2007 - Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama City, Panama)
  • 2004 to 2005 - Research Associate, Charles Darwin University (Darwin, Australia)
  • 2000 to 2004 - PhD Plant Science, The Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
  • 1997 to 1999 - MSc Forest Resources, University of Idaho (Moscow, Idaho, USA)
  • 1990 to 1996 - BSc Biology, University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
Honours
Awards
  • 2010 - Charles Darwin University Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Performance in Research
Fellowships
  • 2011 to 2015 - Australian Research Council Future Fellow
  • 2007 to 2010 - Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow
  • 2006 to 2009 - Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Tupper Fellow
  • 2005 to 2006 - Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow
Publications

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles
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ResearchOnline@JCU stores 66+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Lucas Cernusak from 2000 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

Natural Environment Research Council - Standard Research Grant

Ozone impacts on tropical vegetation; implications for forest productivity (Trop-Oz)

Indicative Funding
$150,292 (administered by University of Exeter)
Summary
Tropospheric ozone is the third most significant anthropogenic greenhouse gas and has been shown to reduce global plant productivity though oxidative stress. Although tropical forests have been highlighted as being potentially being vulnerable to this ozone damage, few studies have looked at role of ozone in these regions. This project will provide comprehensive measurements of the effects of ozone on plant physiology in tropical forests and use this new knowledge to parameterise global land-surface models.
Investigators
Alex Cheesman, Lucas Cernusak, Stephen Sitch, Timothy Hill, Nadine Unger, Gina Mills, Harry Harmens, Felicity Hayes, Klaus Winter, Benjamin Turner, Johan Uddling, Paulo Artaxo, Gerd Folberth, Yoshiko Kosugi and Kho Lip Khoon (College of Science & Engineering, University of Exeter, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - Cumbria, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Goteborg University, Universidade de S?o Paulo, Met Office, Kyoto University and Malaysian Palm Oil Board)
Keywords
Ozone; Global modelling; Climate change; Forest; Air pollution

QLD Department of Science, Information, Technology and Innovation - Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships

Environmentally responsive biocomposite fertilisers

Indicative Funding
$100,000 over 2 years (administered by University of Queensland)
Summary
Nutrient pollution, caused by fertiliser inefficiencies, is a pervasive and ongoing problem that contributes prominently to the decline of the Great Barrier Reef and increased input costs for Queensland farmers. This project aims to deliver innovative fertilisers for Queensland?s expanding agro-nanotechnology sector with a commercial product for local manufacturers to service our bioeconomy. The project capitalises on strong industry partnership and expertise in advanced material design and manufacture, IP in material engineering and crop science. Environmentally responsive fertilisers are novel and cost-effective formulations, based on urea, tailored starches and functional additives, and a step towards high-yielding, high-efficiency agriculture.
Investigators
Lucas Cernusak, Paul Luckman, Damien Batstone, Steven Pratt and Matthew Reading (College of Science & Engineering, The University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry)
Keywords
Nitrogen pollution; Great Barrier Reef; Polymer; Sugar cane; Fertilizer; Bioefficiency

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Hydraulic control on water use, growth and survival in tropical rainforest

Indicative Funding
$26,522 over 3 years (administered by ANU)
Summary
Tropical rainforests are sensitive to climate variability, especially drought, but despite large effects regionally and globally this sensitivity is poorly understood. The focus of this project will be to measure the drought-related limits to water transport in the woody xylem tissue of trees in Australian tropical rainforests, in order to understand how this influences tree water use, photosynthesis, health and mortality risk. The intention is to compare forests that contrast strongly in seasonal drought stress, and to use the information to develop a model designed for speciesdiverse forest, with subsequent potential global application. The outcomes will inform fundamental ecology, conservation science and Earth system model development.
Investigators
Patrick Meir and Lucas Cernusak in collaboration with Rafael Oliveira, Maurizio Mencuccini, David Galbraith and Emanuel Gloor (Australian National University, College of Science & Engineering, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds)
Keywords
Tropical Forest; Drought; hydraulic failure; sapflow; Ecosystem Function; model development

Wet Tropics Management Authority - Student Research Grant Scheme

Evaluating drought response in tropical rainforests across the Wet Tropics using dynamic vegetation models

Indicative Funding
$1,400
Summary
Future climate scenarios indicate a considerable threat to tropical rainforests, but the implications of this threat are yet to be fully understood. Here, we develop and parameterize two individual-based ecophysiology process models, MAESPA and TFSv.2SP, using site specific trait, growth and meteorological data. These models will be used to simulate Net Primary Productivity as a function of water-use, and light availability to evaluate the rainforest response to prevailing climate and to soil moisture deficit. MAESPA and TFSv.2SP will be compared on their ability to simulate measured response to climate for two TERN SuperSites at the Daintree Rainforest and Robson Creek. The models will be parameterized with extant data for dominant plant species at each site, they will then be driven by the measured climate over the last 15 years and validated using time series sap flow data, flux data, and/or stand level productivity data. Following this model validation exercise, site specific climate predictions for the next 50 years will be acquired from CSIRO and UNSW to run the models in a predictive mode to estimate potential future trajectories for these two sites
Investigators
James Milner, Michael Liddell, Lucas Cernusak and Patrick Meir (College of Science & Engineering and Australian National University)
Keywords
Rainforest; drought experiment; Wet Tropics; Vegetation

Wet Tropics Management Authority - Student Research Grant Scheme

The effects of drought on the phenology and eco-physiology of tree species in a tropical rainforest

Indicative Funding
$3,800
Summary
Understanding the impacts of climate change has important implications for the conservation of our natural resources and the successful future management of our planet. This project aims to analyze the reproductive phenology of many different species and use carbon and oxygen stable isotopes from leaves in different stages of development in order to understand a knowledge gap in plant eco-physiology, phenology and climate change studies. This approach has been little used for tropical species, and even less for evergreen ones. There is still a lack of connection between phenology and physiology in studies of carbon uptake and photosynthetic activity. Besides being undoubtedly important to the Earth?s climate regulation, tropical forests are still poorly understood, especially when it comes to phenology of wet tropical forests and evergrees tree species. Stable isotopes are an innovative technique to further understand how trees are responding to climate change and what we may expect in the future, enabling us to fill the lack of understanding of vegetation processes influenced by biotic and abiotic factors.
Investigators
Nara Oliveira Vogado and Lucas Cernusak (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
phenology; Tropical rainforest; ecophysiology; Stable isotope; drought; Daintree

Skyrail Rainforest Foundation - Research Funding

Oxygen isotope (?18O) composition of leaves and wood in rainforest plants grown under varying environmental conditions

Indicative Funding
$2,000
Summary
This project aims to identify environmental factors (such as varying altitudes, humidity, temperature, rainfall and carbon dioxide concentrations) that change the stable oxygen isotopic ratio within the wood and leaves of rainforest plants. This will be done through analysis of samples collected from wet tropics forests, and from grown plants in controlled greenhouses (with varying temperatures and CO2 levels). The results will help to explain how plants have responded to past environmental changes, and to infer how they will respond to future changes. This will assist in the development environmental management practices of the wet tropics bioregion.
Investigators
Kristal Kinnane, Lucas Cernusak and Alex Cheesman (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
?18O ? Stable oxygen isotope ratio; Environmental variation; Climate Change; Wet tropics bioregion; Stem and Leaf Variation

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Unsaturation of vapour pressure inside leaves: fundamental, but unknown

Indicative Funding
$511,100 over 3 years
Summary
This project will determine when and to what extent the air inside leaves becomes unsaturated with water vapour. All current interpretation and modelling of leaf gas exchange assumes saturation under all circumstances. Compelling evidence has been obtained suggesting this is not true under moderate air vapour pressure deficits. A novel technique will be employed to assess the water vapour concentration of the air inside leaves based on stable isotope analysis of carbon dioxide and water vapour exchanged between leaves and air. The project will provide fundamental knowledge about how stomata regulate photosynthesis and water use, with significant implications for modelling vegetation function and for improving the performance of crop plants.
Investigators
Lucas Cernusak and Graham Farquhar in collaboration with Nate McDowell (College of Science & Engineering, Australian National University and Los Alamos National Laboratory)
Keywords
leaf gas exchange; Stomata; Stable Isotopes

Wet Tropics Management Authority - Student Research Grant Scheme

Oxygen isotope (?18O) composition of leaves and wood in rainforest plants grown under varying environmental conditions

Indicative Funding
$1,500
Summary
This project aims to identify environmental factors (such as varying altitudes, humidity, temperature, rainfall and carbon dioxide concentrations) that change the stable oxygen isotopic ratio within the wood and leaves of rainforest plants. This will be done through analysis of samples collected from wet tropics forests, and from grown plants in controlled greenhouses (with varying temperatures and CO2 levels). The results will help to explain how plants have responded to past environmental changes, and to infer how they will respond to future changes. This will assist in the development environmental management practices of the wet tropics bioregion.
Investigators
Kristal Kinnane, Lucas Cernusak and Alex Cheesman (College of Science & Engineering)
Keywords
?18O ? Stable oxygen isotope ratio; Environmental variation; Climate change; Wet tropics bioregion; Stem and leaf variation

Powerlink Queensland - Contract Research

Abrasive Blasting - Are There Any Environmental Concerns

Indicative Funding
$74,284 over 2 years
Summary
The re-surfacing and re-use of existing high voltage towers instead of removing and replacing with new structures has the potential to alter the way that power transmission infrastructure is used in the long term in Queensland. This project will look at using abrasive blasting in the high value and sensitive landscape of the rainforests of the Wet Tropics and will develop the science narrative around how the process interacts with the local environment.
Investigators
Michael Liddell, Tobin Northfield, Lucas Cernusak, Anthony Morrison, Simon Berryman and Nicole Lashmar (College of Science & Engineering, Macquarie University and Powerlink Queensland)
Keywords
Invertebrate Physiology; Ecophysiology; Aerosols
Supervision

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

Current
  • Fruit development in Theobroma cacao: understanding the limitations to optimized cacao production. (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Are Mountain-Top Endemic Plants Constrained in their Distributions by Physiology? (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Climate Change Effects on Tropical Trees: Phenology, Eco-Physiology and Stable Isotopes of Amazon Forest Species under Increasing CO2 (PhD , Primary Advisor)
Collaboration

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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jcu.me/lucas.cernusak

Email
Phone
Location
  • E2.205, Sir Robert Norman Building (Cairns campus)
Advisory Accreditation
Primary Advisor
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