Paul Nelson is an agricultural/environmental scientist with research, education and leadership experience in industry, government and university sectors. His research focuses on land management in the tropics. He coordinates the Sustainable Tropical Agriculture Flagship of James Cook University’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science. Since 2008 he has led research projects valued at over $7 million.

Paul's research has focussed mostly on how natural processes and management influence the sustainability of agricultural systems, including productivity, soil condition, water quality, nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in tropical tree crop systems.

Prior to joining James Cook University, Paul led the Soil Science and Agronomy program of the Papua New Guinea Oil Palm Research Association. He has also worked with CSIRO, the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines, the Australian Centre for Water Treatment and Water Quality Research, the French National Agricultural Research Institute (INRA) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.



  • EA2007: Soil Properties and Processes for Management (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • EA3007: Field Studies in Tropical Land and Water Science (Level 3; CNS)
  • EA3207: Soil Properties and Processes (Level 3; CNS & TSV)
  • EA5017: Soil Properties and Processes (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • EA5018: Field Studies in Tropical Land and Water (Level 5; CNS)
  • EA5026: Special Studies (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • EV1005: Environmental Processes and Global Change (Level 1; CNS)
  • EV2401: Australian Landscape Processes and Evolution (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • SC5900: Special Topic (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5901: Special Topic 1 (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5902: Special Topic 2 (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5903: Literature Review (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5909: Minor Project and Seminar (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5912: Minor Project, Seminar and Literature Review (1 of 2) (Level 5; CNS)
  • SC5913: Minor Project, Seminar and Literature Review (2 of 2) (Level 5; CNS)
  • Soil amendments and enhanced efficiency fertilisers for optimising production and environmental impact in tropical cropping systems
  • Reducing nutrient and contaminant export from agricultural catchments using novel techniques such as in-drain denitrification bioreactors
  • Understanding and managing effects of soil physicochemical conditions on soil biological health, particularly suppressiveness/ conduciveness to Panama disease in bananas
  • Modelling and managing water and nutrient cycling in tropical tree crops
  • Soil matters: it is the most biologically diverse and active part of the earth, where minerals, water, air and living things interact in complex and fascinating ways that are critical for human well-being and ecosystem functioning. Having a good grasp of soil properties and processes is invaluable for graduates in environmental science and management.
  • 2015 to present - Associate Professor, James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2010 to 2014 - Senior Lecturer, James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2004 to 2009 - Lecturer/Senior Lecturer (50%), James Cook University (Cairns, Australia)
  • 2004 to 2009 - Senior Scientist (50%), Department of Natural Resources and Mines (Mareeba, Australia)
  • 2001 to 2003 - Senior Agronomist, PNG Oil Palm Research Association (Papua New Guinea)
  • 1999 to 2001 - Research Scientist, CSIRO (Townsville, Australia)
  • 1997 to 1999 - Research Officer, BSES/CRC Sugar (Ayr, Australia)
  • 1993 to 1996 - PhD candidate, University of Adelaide (Adelaide, Australia)
  • 1991 to 1992 - Research Officer, INRA (Dijon, France)
  • 1991 - Technical Officer, Swedish Uni of Agricultural Sciences (Uppsala, Sweden)
  • 1987 to 1990 - Research Officer, Australian Centre for Water Treatment and Water Quality Research (Adelaide, Australia)
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2012 - Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (Australian Office for Learning & Teaching and JCU)
  • 2015 - Fellow, The Cairns Institute

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
Book Chapters

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 130+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Paul Nelson from 1990 onwards.

Current Funding

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

Leverhulme Trust - Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation

Sequestering carbon and improving sugarcane productivity by enhanced weathering of basalt

Indicative Funding
$479,169 over 5 years (administered by University of Sheffield)
Arresting the build-up of atmospheric CO2 is one of humanity's biggest challenges. In geological time, the weathering of rocks consumes CO2, which is then sequestered as limestone in the ocean, but the natural rate of this process is very slow. In this project we will determine the feasibility of accelerating weathering by introducing crushed basalt (a common and easily weathered rock) into the place on earth with highest CO2 production and potential weathering rates - topsoil in the humid tropics. We will also examine the effects on soil condition and crop growth, which are likely to be beneficial.
Paul Nelson, Michael Bird and David J Beerling (College of Science & Engineering and University of Sheffield)
Carbon sequestration; Soil Fertility; Sugarcane; Water Quality; Great Barrier Reef; Agricultural Sustainability

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science - Innovations Connections

Improving the quality of water for release from land-based aquaculture in northern Australia

Indicative Funding
$50,000 over 2 years, in partnership with Mainstream Aquaculture ($52,594 over 2 yrs)
Effluent from land-based aquaculture farms is problematic because of its nutrient content. This project will be the first in Australia and the tropics to assess the ability of 'denitrification bioreactors' (woodchip-filled trenches) to remove suspended solids and nitrogen from effluent leaving an aquaculture farm. It will be carried out on a barramundi farm the Great Barrier Reef catchment in North Queensland. Changes in quality of water flowing through bioreactors will be measured under a range of likely operating conditions, including differences in salinity and effluent retention rate. The results will be applicable to aquaculture farms throughout the tropics, enabling a reduction in negative environmental impacts, and facilitating intensification and expansion of fish production without increasing nutrient export.
Paul Nelson and Alex Cheesman in collaboration with Shannon Todd (College of Science & Engineering)
fish farming; Barramundi (Lates calcarifer); Water Quality; Wet Tropics; Nitrate; Great Barrier Reef

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - Tender

Denitrification bioreactor trial in the Russell catchment of the Wet Tropics

Indicative Funding
$235,087 over 4 years (administered by Jaragun Pty Ltd)
This project will establish the effectiveness of denitrification bioreactors as an on-farm technology for removing dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in waters draining the Babinda Swamp Drainage Area. The region has been identified as a hotspot for DIN in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. This will be the first trial of denitrification bioreactors in the Wet Tropics. Denitrifying bioreactors route water through a high-carbon substrate under anaerobic conditions to encourage denitrification (the conversion of DIN to atmospheric N2). Two bioreactor configurations will be tested at two sites, and the potential for broader adoption will be assessed.
Paul Nelson, Alex Cheesman, HanShe Lim, Bithin Datta, Colin MacGregor, Ian Layden, Nathan Waltham, Bart Dryden and Mark Bayley (College of Science & Engineering, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, TropWATER, Terrain Natural Resource Management (Wet Tropics) and Australian Wetland Consulting)
sugarcane; Water quality; nitrate; runoff; Wet Tropics; Great Barrier Reef

Horticulture Innovation Australia - Research Grant

Activity 2.6 (Banana soil physico-chemical properties) of 'Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 Research program (BA14014)'

Indicative Funding
$350,000 over 5 years (administered by DAF)
The project will determine the influence of soil physiocochemical conditions on growth and infectivity of the banana disease-causing fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense (Foc. Foc is one of the world's most destructive banana diseases and Tropical Race 4, which attacks the Cavendish variety, was recently detected in the Tully valley in the heart of the North Queensland banana production region. This project is part of a larger program aimed at providing new information and practices to address key areas of need with a medium to long-term view of developing management practices for banana growers affected by Tropical Race 4.
Paul Nelson and Rosalie Hocking in collaboration with Tony Pattison and Anna McBean (College of Science & Engineering, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Forestry)
Soil Chemistry; banana disease; sil physics; Fusarium oxysporum (Netriaceae); soil biology; agricultural soil management

Terrain Natural Resource Management - Contract Research

WTMIP Johnstone Catchment Bioreactor Site-01 Piezo Survey

Indicative Funding
In the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (WTMIP), bioreactor 'walls' are being trialled for their ability to remove nitrate from shallow groundwater leaving sugarcane fields. Bioreactor walls consist of a woodchip-filled trench, approximately 20m long x 2m deep x 0.6m wide, perpendicular to groundwater flow direction. To determine their effectiveness, the removal of nitrate from water flowing through them must be measured. That involves continuous measurements of water table height and nitrate concentration in piezometers (shallow wells) around the bioreactor, and one-off a) measurements of hydraulic conductivity and b) accurate survey of piezometer locations (ie. this project).
Paul Nelson, Alex Cheesman and Shannon Todd (College of Science & Engineering)
Water Quality; Nitrate; bioreactor; Groundwater; Sugarcane; Hydrology

Department of Industry, Innovation and Science - Innovations Connections

Black soldier fly production to convert food waste into protein-rich animal feed

Indicative Funding
$17,659 , in partnership with Murray Farming Pty Ltd ($17,659)
We will evaluate methods of black soldier fly production that have been successful elsewhere and adapt them to the tropical conditions of northern Australia; and evaluate the effects of food source on the growth rates of black soldier fly populations.
Lori Lach, Paul Nelson and Stuart Biggs (College of Science & Engineering)
black soldier fly Hermetia illucens; Food Waste; Nutrition; insect protein; sustainable food production; Growth Rate

ABRS - Reef Trust Phase III

Australian Banana Growers Council: Denitrifying Bioreactors

Indicative Funding
$30,000 over 2 years (administered by Australian Banana Growers Council)
This project in conjunction with Australian Banana Growers Council seeks to establish the effectiveness of denitrification bioreactors as an on-farm technology to remove excess dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) leaving farms in the Wet Tropics bioregion. The Russell River catchment has been identified as a hotspot for DIN loading to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, and this work represents a novel approach to curb DIN loading to natural systems. Denitrifying bioreactors route drainage water through a high carbon substrate under anaerobic conditions to encourage denitrification (the conversion of DIN to atmospheric N2). This project will involved detailed site monitoring, installation and scientific evaluation of a bioreactor wall in the headwaters of the Russell River catchment.
Paul Nelson and Alex Cheesman (College of Science & Engineering)
Banana; Water Quality; Nitrate; Runoff; Wet Tropics; Great Barrier Reef

ACIAR - Research Grant

Strengthening Livelihoods for Food Security Amongst Cocoa and Oil Palm Farming Communities in Papua New Guinea

Indicative Funding
$63,963 over 4 years (administered by Curtin University of Technology)
This project addresses rising food insecurity amongst smallholder cocoa and oil palm households in Papua New Guinea. The capacity of these households to grow or buy food is declining due to increasing populations and decreasing per-capita income in oil palm-growing communities and the spread of coco pod borer in cocoa-growing areas. The project objectives are to i) assess food security status in these communities, ii) determine the key factors influencing food security, iii) enhance food and livelihood security through strengthening food production and diversifying incomes, and iv) strengthen household and institutional capacity to address food and livelihood security.
Gina Koczberski, George Curry, Paul Nelson, Eric Omuru and Douglas Roger (Curtin University of Technology, College of Science & Engineering, Cocoa and Coconut Institute and Oil Palm Industry Corporation)
Mixed Cropping; Agroforestry; Farming System; Food Security; Livelihoods; Tropical Agriculture

FNQ NRM Ltd (Terrain Natural Resource Management) - Tender

Soil/landscape assessment and monitoring design for WTMIP `Catchment Repair and Treatment Systems Design Phase?

Indicative Funding
$35,511 (administered by Australian Wetlands Consulting Pty Ltd)
This project contributes to the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (WTMIP) in the Johnstone and Tully catchments. The `Catchment repair and treatment systems? activity area of the WTMIP aims to reduce nitrogen loads in runoff by installing and restoring wetlands and installing `denitrification bioreactors?. As part of the design phase of that activity we will assess soil and landscape features at the proposed sites and design the monitoring program to assess their effectiveness. This assessment and monitoring design will be done in collaboration with Australian Wetland Consulting and Alluvium, who will design the installations themselves.
Paul Nelson, Alex Cheesman and Nathan Waltham (College of Science & Engineering and TropWATER)
Sugarcane; Water Quality; Nitrate; Runoff; Wet Tropics; Great Barrier Reef

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources - Carbon Farming Initiative

Validation of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Methods in Banana and Mango Tree Crops Across Tropical Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia

Indicative Funding
$126,200 over 4 years (administered by Northern Gulf Resource Management Group)
Banana and mango are the most intensive horticultural crops in tropical Australia. Conventional management practices have depleted soil organic C and produced high N20 emissions. This project will trial soil management innovations in Qld precision agriculture and new forms of N fertiliser.
T Hoogwerf, Geoff Dickinson, John Armour, Paul Nelson, Gavin Kay and Melissa Fraser (Northern Gulf Resource Management Group, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Department of Natural Resources and Mines, College of Science & Engineering, Terrain Natural Resource Management (Wet Tropics), NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and Mines)
Mango; Banana; Fertiliser management; Carbon Sequestration; Greenhouse gas emissions; Mulch

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 Impacts of Soil Physicochemicol Properties on Suppression of Fusorium wilt of Bananas in North Queensland, Australia. (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM)
  • Automatic Generation of Geometry for Simulation and Games (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Nitrous oxide emissions from soil in mango and banana fields: effects of nitrogen rate, fertiliser type, and ground cover practices (Masters , Primary Advisor/AM)

These are the most recent metadata records associated with this researcher. To see a detailed description of all dataset records, visit the JCU Research Data Catalogue.


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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