Stephen (Steve) Williams is a Professor specialising in Global Change Biology and Tropical Ecology. His research has focussed on field-based ecology, understanding biodiversity, the links between species ecology and thier extinction vulnerability, assessing the resilience of natural ecosystems to environmental change and using this knowledge to maximize the positive benefits of conservation management and adaptation.


Steve was one of the first to identify global climate change as a severe threatening process to biodiversity in the tropics, especially in mountain ecosystems. In 2006, he started the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University and was the inaugural Director for the first six years. He was lead author of the Australian National Adaptation Research Plan for Natural Ecosystems and was the Director of the Australian Adaptation Network for Natural Ecosystems (marine, terrestrial, freshwater) within the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF).  He has over 150 publications and, with more than 34000 peer review citations, he is one of the leading global change biologists in the world.



Over the last few years, Steve was the inaugural Chair of the IUCN Climate Change & Biodiversity Specialist Group and chaired the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area Science Advisory Committee. His research has focussed on Australian tropical rainforest, however he now has an emphasis on establishing an Asia-Pacific climate change research and monitoring network. His aim is to help foster international collaboration and information exchange in order to provide the resources needed by natural resource managers around the world to adapt to a changing climate. 



  • BS2460: Fundamentals of Ecology (Level 2; TSV)
  • BS5460: Fundamentals of Ecology (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ3220: Population and Community Ecology (Level 3; TSV)
  • BZ5215: Conservation Biology (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ5755: Climate Change and Biodiversity (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ5930: Conservation in a Changing World: Issues and Solutions (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • Global Change Biology
  • Tropical Ecology
  • Macroecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation Biology
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • Earthwatch Institute Principal Investigator of the year awarded for an “outstanding contribution to conservation research and public education”.
  • JCU Faculty of Science & Engineering Deans award for “Excellence in Research
  • The Wet Tropics Management Authority “Cassowary Award” for contributions to science

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 123+ research outputs authored by Prof Stephen Williams from 1993 onwards.

Current Funding

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

Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - National Environmental Science Program 2 (NESP 2) - Resilient Landscapes Hub

Mission Research ? Threatened and migratory species and threatened ecological communities

Indicative Funding
$300,000 over 6 years (administered by University of Western Australia)
This project will provide the research foundation for the `Threatened and Migratory Species and Threatened Ecological Communities? functional Mission to support policy development, program management and regulatory processes to protect Australia?s environmental assets in terrestrial, Ramsar and marine environments. It will also facilitate the Resilient Landscapes (RL)Hub?s contribution to the three other Missions. It will identify prospective research projects through scoping, reviews and workshops and will support the co-design process with research users and researchers. Outputs include a review and priority co-designed project proposals for submission in subsequent research plans of all four Hubs and an overall research plan for this Mission.
Helene Marsh, Stephen Williams, Andrew Krockenberger and Damien Burrows (TropWater, College of Science & Engineering and Research Infrastructure)
threatened species; threatened ecological communities; migratory species; extreme events; development concern

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

Enabling wider use of mechanistic models for biodiversity forecasts

Indicative Funding
$52,993 over 3 years (administered by University of Melbourne)
Forecasting species distributions is challenging yet necessary. The pattern-based models commonly used are error-prone. Mechanistic models, best equipped for the task, are limited by lack of data. This project aims to enable wider use of mechanistic models by developing new methods for dealing with incomplete trait data and uncertainty. It expects to generate new knowledge about how species? traits define the environments in which they persist. Anticipated outcomes include enhanced capacity to apply mechanistic models to conservation problems, methods for communicating uncertainties and models for tens of species of immediate conservation interest. This will enable more reliable biodiversity forecasts, supporting better decision-making.
Stephen Williams, Jane Elith, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Andrew Krockenberger and Michael McCarthy (College of Science & Engineering, The University of Melbourne and Research Infrastructure)
Biodiversity; Mechanistic Modeling; Conservation; Climate Change; Species distributions

Skyrail Rainforest Foundation - Rainforest Protection Grant

Determinants of spatial variation in population density in a tropical folivore community: conservation implications in a changing environment

Indicative Funding
$10,000 over 2 years
Climate change is the greatest threat to the preservation of global biodiversity. Our capacity to predict species? vulnerability and make informed conservation management decisions relies on understanding processes that control species population size. However, the factors that limit species populations are generally unknown due to the intrinsic difficulties of studying species across their entire range. This project will study the factors that limit the populations of ringtail possums in the Australian Wet Tropics at a landscape scale. The empirical knowledge gained will be used to forecast species response to a changing thermal, nutritional, and toxicological environment using mechanistic niche modelling.
Alejandro de la Fuente Pinero, Stephen Williams and Ben Hirsch (College of Science & Engineering)
Climate Change; Macroecology; Animal-plant interaction; Pseudocheiridae; conservatiion biology; Landscape ecology

Wet Tropics Management Authority - Climate Action Grants - 2021

Why are Ringtail Possums declining in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area?

Indicative Funding
$7,502 over 1 year
The endemic ringtail possums of the Australian Wet Tropics are in danger of extinction. Recent analyses of long-term population trends showed that central populations in the Atherton Uplands, a stronghold for the species, have sharply declined in the past decade, with up to 60% population loss since 2010. The severity of the observed population losses surpasses the worst-case scenario` predictions derived from climate change studies two decades ago, suggesting that other factors may be interacting with global warming, accelerating the impacts of climate change on these endemic vertebrates. The cause of these observed declines is likely related to climate change and the associated increase in temperature. The reason for this belief is well-founded. Physiological experiments on ringtail possums have highlighted their thermal intolerance, reporting that temperatures above 30?C for more than a few hours would be lethal for these species. In addition to the direct impacts of increasing temperature on the physiological fitness of the possums, there is a further indirect impact that could be more severe. That is, the interaction of temperature, soil fertility, browse plants quality and the digestive physiology of the possums. Although global warming, particularly heat waves, is likely the main direct contributor to population losses across the species range, habitat quality for folivores, defined by soil quality, could be playing an essential role in the species fate, interacting with, and exacerbating the direct impact of climate change. Identifying the factors that limit population size in ringtails has been urged, as conservation plans, and management decisions rely on this information for implementing targeted and practical adaptation policy and management measures. Additionally, we are training local rangers from QPWS and Abriculture, so the knowledge resulted from this project will be directly transferred to in situ conservation.
Alejandro de la Fuente Pinero and Stephen Williams (College of Science & Engineering)
Climate Change; Macroecology; Animal-plant interaction; Pseudocheiridae; Conservation Biology; Landscape ecology

Abriculture - Contract Research

Terrestrial refugia health surveillance of Dinden and Little Mulgrave National Parks by Abriculture Indigenous Rangers.

Indicative Funding
$80,000 over 1 year (administered by Abriculture)
Work with Abriculture and Wet Tropics Management Authority to assist traditional owners and rangers to monitor biodiversity, set up collection and data management in Dinden and Little Mulgrave National Parks. Field based training on biodiversity surveys will be conducted with indigenous rangers for spotlighting, camera trapping, bird surveys, frog survey and climate data. Provide qualified staff, provide training to indigenous rangers, help create monitoring forms, reporting templates. Assist in the development of future project proposals for on-the-ground ecological management for climate change in Dinden and Little Mulgrave National Parks.
Stephen Williams in collaboration with Alejandro De La Fuentes Pinero (College of Science & Engineering)
Indigenous management; Climate Change; Biodiversity; Rainforest; Global change

Queensland Department of Environment and Science - Contract Research

Possum monitoring in the Wet Tropics

Indicative Funding
$42,474 over 1 year
Long term monitoring by Williams demonstrates that possum and bird populations have been seriously declining in response to changing climate in the Australian Wet Tropics. There is currently no field-based monitoring of these trends. Discussions with the Wet Tropics Management Authority and Queensland Parks and Wildlife have resulted in a collaborative project with funds from QPWS to conduct monitoring and extend the network of sites by training rangers in the techniques. Funding will potentially extend over coming years especially to support a phd project by Alejandro de la Fuente Pinero.
Stephen Williams in collaboration with Alejandro De La Fuentes Pinero (College of Science & Engineering)
Rainforest; Climate Change; Biodiversity; Tropical Ecology; Global Change Biology; Vertebrates

Wet Tropics Management Authority - Student Research Grant Scheme

Feral cats in the North Queensland Wet Tropics region: understanding the behavioural and ecological interactions that affect conservation outcomes.

Indicative Funding
$3,945 over 2 years
The project aims to determine how feral cats, as an invasive pest species, are influencing native biodiversity and trophic interactions within the wet tropics landscape. This project will address the knowledge gap surrounding the ecosystem level impacts of feral cats and whether they pose a major threat to native species in the region. We will investigate how cats are distributed throughout the habitat and test if human development e.g. roads are facilitating access into protected areas. If significant cat populations are found within the region, we will identify their likely ecological effects, which will lead to evidenced based mitigation strategies.
Thomas Bruce, Ben Hirsch and Stephen Williams (College of Science & Engineering)
Feral Cat; Camera-trapping; Occupancy; Habitat Preference; Population Ecology; Species Interactions

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.

  • Climatic seasonality in the Australian Wet Tropics: birds, insects and dry season bottlenecks. (PhD , Associate Advisor)
  • Determinants of spatial variation in population density in a tropical folivore community: Conservation implications in a changing environment (PhD , Primary Advisor)

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


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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