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 an associate professor at James Cook University - Cairns Campus.  

  • BS2460: Fundamentals of Ecology (Level 2; CNS)
  • BS5460: Fundamentals of Ecology (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ3220: Population and Community Ecology (Level 3; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ3225: Technological Applications in Ecology (Level 3; CNS)
  • BZ5220: Population and Community Ecology (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ5225: Technological Applications in Ecology (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC1102: Modelling Natural Systems (Level 1; CNS & TSV)
  • 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
  • 2018 - Make Our Planet Great Again Laureate- Campus France
  • 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 98+ 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.

Australian Research Council - Linkage - Projects

Integrating climate adaptation into rainforest restoration plantings

Indicative Funding
$410,237 over 3 years, in partnership with Australian Genome Research Facility ($15,000)
This project aims to investigate the impact of within species adaptation to climate on reforestation success in the Australian Wet Tropics. For a suite of six species of tropical tree frequently employed in rainforest restoration plantings in northeast Queensland, we will test the hypothesis that collecting seed from populations in similar ecoclimatic settings to the planting site will result in superior seedling growth and survival. The results of the study will allow us to provide practical advice to reforestation practitioners about the importance of matching the provenance of seed source to planting sites, and opportunities for selecting provenances pre-adapted to predicted future climatic conditions at planting sites.
Lucas Cernusak, Martin Breed, Susan Laurance and Darren Crayn in collaboration with Alexander Cheesman, Maurizio Rossetto, Christopher Noune and Kenneth Chan (College of Science & Engineering, Flinders University, University of Exeter, Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust and Australian Genome Research Facility)
Restoration; Microbiome; Ecophysiology; Common garden; Adaptation; Rainforest

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

On the physiology of plant transpiration

Indicative Funding
$111,190 over 3 years (administered by Australian National University)
The aim is to better understand plant water use (transpiration): to determine the relative roles of the environment, both aerial [absorbed radiation, both long and short wave, humidity, windspeed and temperature] and below ground [e.g. soil moisture content and resistance to root penetration], and of the plant [stomata, water pathways inside the leaf, and root water status] in controlling transpiration rate. The project will improve formulae describing the environmental and biological aspects of transpiration. A novel technique will be developed to measure the water potential distribution within the leaf. Results will inform breeders of the abilities of different plants to transpire rapidly when demand is high, or to conserve water.
Graham Farquhar, Lucas Cernusak and Abraham Stroock (Australian National University, College of Science & Engineering and Cornell University)
Transpiration; Water cycle; Carbon Cycle; photosynthesis

Qld Department of Employment, Economic Development & Innovation - TERN EIF scheme

TERN Australia Supersite Network.

Indicative Funding
$13,042,150 over 13 years
The Australian Supersite Network will involve the establishment of a nationally consistent network of multidisciplinary and intensive ecosystem observatories "Supersites" to provide a comprehensive set of ecosystem measurements (vegetation dynamics/stocks, biodiversity, micrometeorology (climate, radiation, C and H2O fluxes), hydrology and biogeochemistry to serve the ecosystem dynamics, earth system science and modelling communities and ultimately provide information on how ecosystems will respond to future environmental change.
Will Edwards and Lucas Cernusak in collaboration with Peter Grace, Suzanne Prober, Tim Wardlaw, Wayne Meyer and Lindsay Hutley (College of Science & Engineering, Queensland University of Technology, Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, University of Adelaide and Charles Darwin University)
carbon fluxes; Environmental Monitoring; terrestrial ecosystem research network

Skyrail Rainforest Foundation - Rainforest Protection Grant

Integrating climate adaptation into rainforest restoration

Indicative Funding
$5,000 over 1 year
Rainforest restoration aims to develop self-sustaining ecosystems, resilient to the potential negative effects of climate change. Key to this is identifying the physiological limitations and adaptive capacity of woody tree species used in revegetation plantings. Recent, albeit limited, research suggests that across species higher leaf thermal tolerance could be an adaptation to leaf temperature extremes. To improve our understanding on how tropical tree species will respond to current and future warming we need accurate estimates of leaf temperature extremes, as well as research into within-species variation in leaf thermal tolerance. I will address these knowledge gaps by combining measurements of leaf thermal tolerance and functional traits across a species distribution, with leaf energy balance modelling paramaterised during glasshouse experiments and field campaigns. These findings will aid in identifying vulnerable populations to climate change which will inform conservation and restoration efforts.
Kali Middleby and Lucas Cernusak (College of Science & Engineering)
Leaf temperature; Climate Change; Thermal Tolerance; Adaptation potential; Rainforest Restoration; Tropical Forests

Natural Environment Research Council - Global Challenges Research Fund

Impacts of Air Pollution on Productivity of Natural and Cultivated Tropical C4 Grasses: Implications in the Face of Land Use Change in Brazil

Indicative Funding
$114,250 over 2 years (administered by University of Exeter)
The overall aim of this project is to assess the impact of currently observed, and more common future episodes of high ozone (O3) concentrations in the context of changing land-cover (from native C4 pasture to sugarcane) at the regional scale in southern Brazil. This information is of direct interest to governmental, non- governmental, private-sector, academic and community stakeholders with respect to the diverse benefits tropical grasses provide to society.
Alex Cheesman and Lucas Cernusak (College of Science & Engineering)
Ozone; Sugarcane; Air Pollution; Climate Change Impacts

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

How vulnerable are eucalypts to future droughts?

Indicative Funding
$15,000 over 3 years (administered by UNSW)
This project will examine how resilient Eucalyptus sp. are to future droughts by combining data synthesis, manipulative experiments and modelling. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency, magnitude and duration of future droughts, with major environmental and socio-economic consequences for Australia. Our predictive capacity is extremely limited: experiments are limited in scale and cannot capture important global change interactions, whilst models do not represent the functional characteristics and adaptions of eucalypts. We will develop a strong evidence- and process-based understanding to quantify the functional behaviour of droughtadapted Eucalyptus species and leverage this insight to make robust future model projections.
Martin De Kauwe, Patrick Meir, Lucas Cernusak and Andrew Pitman in collaboration with Vanessa Haverd (The University of New South Wales, Australian National University, College of Science & Engineering and Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation)
eucalypts; ecosystem model; Drought; biogeochemistry; land surface; Ecophysiology

Natural Environment Research Council - Standard Research Grant

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

Indicative Funding
$195,382 over 3 years (administered by University of Exeter)
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.
Alex Cheesman, Lucas Cernusak, Stephen Sitch, Timothy Hill, Lina Mercado, Nadine Unger, Gina Mills, Harry Harmens and Felicity Hayes in collaboration with 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)
Ozone; Global modelling; Climate change; Forest; Air pollution

QLD Department of Environment and Science - Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships

Environmentally responsive biocomposite fertilisers

Indicative Funding
$100,000 over 3 years (administered by University of Queensland)
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.
Lucas Cernusak, Bronwyn Laycock, Suzanne Schmidt, Paul Luckman, Damien Batstone, Steven Pratt and Matthew Reading (College of Science & Engineering, The University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries & Forestry)
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)
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.
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)
Tropical Forest; Drought; hydraulic failure; sapflow; Ecosystem Function; model development

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

Powerlink Queensland - Contract Research

Abrasive Blasting - Are There Any Environmental Concerns

Indicative Funding
$74,284 over 1 year
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.

  • The Gamba Grass (Andropogon gayanus) Invasion of Tropical Northern Australia (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Determinants of spatial variation in population density in a tropical folivore community: Conservation implications in a changing environment (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Attract and infect the Queensland fruit fly, Bactrocera tryoni, using entomopathogenic fungi (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Influence of Elevated Carbon Dioxide on the Defensive Chemistry of Tropical Tree Leaves (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Functional Variation of Plants along the Altitudinal Gradients in Tropical Forest Communities (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Are Mountain-Top Endemic Plants Constrained in their Distributions by Physiology? (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Carbon cycling in tropical rainforests (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Integrating Climate Adaptation into Rainforest Restoration Plantings (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Fruit development in Theobroma cacao: understanding the limitations to optimized cacao production. (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)

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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