I study how human activities impact tropical rainforest plant and wildlife communities.  I am especially interested in how vulnerable wildlife and plant species are affected by major land-use and climate change.  My work spans much of the tropical world, including the Amazon and tropical Australia.

I have maintained a long-term involvement at the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in Brazil, which is the largest, longest-running experimental study into how human land-use impacts rainforest communities. This dataset has also contributed significantly to our current understanding of forest dynamics, floristic diversity and carbon stock and pulses in tropical rainforests.  

In Australia, I have developed an extensive research program that continues my work in global change and tropical forests at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory (DRO), where we have initiated an ambitious experiment to induce an artificial drought in order to study its effects on rainforest biodiversity.  My other research programs include understanding the biotic and abiotic drivers of secondary forest composition and carbon sequestration, and how fragmentation and human land-use influences disease vectors. I am the lead investigator on >$2 million in research grants and have authored/coauthored more than 130 peer-reviewed research articles. 

You can see the Daintree Drought Experiment on JCU’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5386WYkyWwhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtFDZ_LNn00. See researchers from my lab Dr David Tng and Dr Deborah Apgaua:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCa9WfSQXGk

  • BZ2450: Biodiversity of Tropical Australia (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ2490: Toolkit for the Field Biologist (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ2880: Ecology: Distribution, Abundance and Diversity (Level 2; CNS)
  • BZ3225: Technological Applications in Ecology (Level 3; CNS)
  • BZ3230: Ecological Research Methods (Level 3; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ3620: Tropical Flora of Australia (Level 3; CNS)
  • BZ5225: Technological Applications in Ecology (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5230: Ecological Research Methods (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5620: Tropical Flora of Australia (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5755: Biodiversity and Climate Change: Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ5880: Ecology: Distribution, Abundance and Diversity (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5990: Toolkit for the Field Biologist (Level 5; CNS & TSV)
  • SC3008: Professional Placement (Level 3; CNS & TSV)
  • Ecology Conservation Biology Restoration Ecology Climate Change Rainforest Ecology
  • A short youtube video can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5386WYkyWw
  • Research Seminar on the Daintree Drought Experiment Can be seen here https://mediasite.jcu.edu.au/Mediasite/Play/67d312078b274f768eaff24df7e02e861d
  • TEDX talk can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtFDZ_LNn00
  • 2010 to 2015 - Tropical Leader, James Cook University (Cairns)
  • 2001 to 2009 - Post-doctoral researcher, STRI (Brazil & Panama)
  • 1996 to 2001 - Herbarium manager, BDFFP (Brazil)
  • 1990 to 1995 - Conservation officer, QNPWS (Cairns)
Research Disciplines
  • 2018 to 2023 - European Research Council Advanced Grant 2018, ($2.4 million Euros). Role: collaborator, Lead Investigator: Dr Lourens Poorter
  • 2020 to 2022 - Lead Investigator, ARC Discovery Grant ($395,000) Drought effects and insect attack on rainforests
  • 2014 to 2017 - ARC Future Fellow ($680,000), Global Change: Rainforest responses to experimental drought
  • 2012 to 2015 - Lead Investigator, ARC Discovery Grant ($365,000), Response and vulnerability of tropical rainforest plants to experimental drought
  • 2011 to 2014 - Lead Investigator, NERP/RRRC Grant ($102,000), Land use and disease dynamics across the Torres Straits
  • 2011 to 2014 - Lead investigator, ARC Linkage Grant ($460,000), Accelerating species and biomass gains in tropical secondary forests
  • 2015 to 2050 - Fellow of the Royal Society of Quensland
  • 2007 to 2009 - NSF Post-doctoral Fellow, STRI Panama
  • 2004 to 2006 - Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, STRI Panama
  • 2002 to 2004 - NASA LBA Post-doctoral Fellow, INPA Brazil & STRI Panama
  • 2020 to 2021 - ERC Expert Panel
  • 2011 to 2019 - Deputy Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee of the Wet Tropics Management Authority, Cairns
  • 2009 to 2016 - Research Associate, Smithsonian Tropical Reseach Institute
  • 1996 to 2016 - Research Associate, Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, Brazil
  • 2013 to 2015 - President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC)
  • 2009 to 2011 - Councilor of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation

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 102+ research outputs authored by A/Prof Susan Laurance from 1999 onwards.

Current Funding

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

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Projects

The role of drought-stress and insect attack on rainforest plant health

Indicative Funding
$395,000 over 3 years
This project aims to examine the vulnerability of tropical plants to drought and insect attack in a large-scale field experiment. We will pioneer a new research approach that focuses on the causes and stages of decline in plant health prior to death, in order to identify the characteristics of plant species that make them more susceptible to drought and insect attack. Expected outcomes of this project include an improved capacity to predict the function and composition of future forests. This project will provide significant benefits to communities concerned with the direct and indirect effects of droughts in protected areas, forestry reserves and agriculture.
Susan Laurance, Lori Lach and Nigel Stork (College of Science & Engineering and Griffith University)
Drought-stressed plants; plant-insect interactions; Rainforest; inswect attack; bottom-up & top-down processes; Daintree

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships

Global Change: Rainforest responses to experimental drought

Indicative Funding
$680,065 over 5 years
How will rainforests respond if droughts increase in the future? In a globally unique experiment, I will examine how Australian tropical rainforests are affected by a large-scale experimental drought, using a canopy crane to assess plant responses at all vertical forest levels. I will contrast demographic and physiological responses of an array of plant species and functional groups between experimental and control plots where tree growth, composition, soil water and atmospheric exchange have been monitored since 1999. Drought responses of key species and functional groups will be compared with their distributions across regional rainfall gradients to yield crucial insights into the potential impacts of future climate change on rainforests.
Susan Laurance (College of Science & Engineering)
rainforest ecology; climate change adaptations; Ecophysiology

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.

  • Diversity, Habitat Use and Movements of Small Mammals in Fragmented Landscapes (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The effects of rainforest fragmentation on parasite infections in terrestrial mammals (PhD , Primary Advisor/AM/Adv)

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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