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.

  • BZ1005: Introductory Ecology (Level 1; CNS)
  • BZ2008: Adaptation to Environmental Change (Level 2; TSV)
  • BZ2808: Adapting to Environmental Challenges (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)
  • SC1102: Modelling Natural Systems (Level 1; CNS)
  • SC1109: Modelling Natural Systems-Advanced (Level 1; CNS)
  • 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
  • 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
  • 2010 - Charles Darwin University Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Performance in Research
  • 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

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

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 57+ research outputs authored by Dr Lucas Cernusak from 2000 onwards.

Current Funding

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

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Unsaturation of vapour pressure inside leaves: fundamental, but unknown

Indicative Funding
$511,100 over 3 years
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.
Lucas Cernusak and Graham Farquhar in collaboration with Nate McDowell (College of Science & Engineering, Australian National University and Los Alamos National Laboratory)
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
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.
Kristal Kinnane, Lucas Cernusak and Alex Cheesman (College of Science & Engineering)
?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
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.
Michael Liddell, Tobin Northfield, Lucas Cernusak, Anthony Morrison, Simon Berryman and Nicole Lashmar (College of Science & Engineering, Macquarie University and Powerlink Queensland)
Invertebrate Physiology; Ecophysiology; Aerosols

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.

  • Climate Change Effects on Tropical Trees: Phenology, Eco-Physiology and Stable Isotopes of Amazon Forest Species under Increasing CO2 (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Fruit Development in Theobroma Cacao: Understanding the Limitations to Optimized Cacao Production (PhD , Secondary Advisor)

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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