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; TSV)
  • BZ2490: Toolkit for the Field Biologist (Level 2; CNS & TSV)
  • BZ2725: Australian Terrestrial 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)
  • BZ5061: Behavioural Ecology (Level 5; TSV)
  • BZ5225: Technological Applications in Ecology (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5230: Ecological Research Methods (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5620: Tropical Flora of Australia (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5925: Australian Terrestrial Diversity (Level 5; CNS)
  • BZ5990: Toolkit for the Field Biologist (Level 5; CNS)
  • 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
  • Salomão R, Hilário R, Prieto A, Dallmeier F, Silva R, Terborgh J, Torre E, Thomas R, Casas L, Vieira I, Araujo-Murakami A, Killeen T, Ramírez-Angulo H, Peñuela M, Ribeiro S, Marimon B, Arevalo F, Junior B, Vleminckx J, Barrantes O, Duivenvoorden J, de Sousa S, Arroyo L, Perdiz R, Carvalho F, Vela D, Malhi Y, Pardo G, Damasco G, Disney M, Vital M, Diaz P, Vicentini A, Higuchi N, Cravo J, Pitman N, Neill D, Alexiades M, Baccaro F, Céron C, Muelbert A, Rios J, Gutierrez G, Lloyd J, Huaymacari J, Gamarra L, Oroche C, Fuentes A, Palacios W, Patiño S, Torres-Lezama A, Baraloto C, Lima A, Nascimento H, Castro W, Cabrera D, Pipoly J, de Sousa T, Silvera M, Vos V, Aldana A, Vargas P, Jimenez-Rojas E, Aragão L, Umetsu R, Sierra R, Wang O, Young K, Prestes N, Massi K, Moscoso V, Fortunel C, Fine P, Ruokolainen K, Coronado E, Aymard G, Dávila N, Sáenz M, Pérez L, Engel J, Baker T, Paine C, Goret J, Dourdain A, Petronelli P, Allie E, Andino J, Brienen R, Paredes M, Schietti J, Draper F, Costa F, Arellano G, Phillips O, Duque A, Macía M, Ter Steege H, Monteagudo-Mendoza A, Berenguer E, Castilho C, Van Andel T, de Souza F, Pansonato M, Jørgensen P, Tello J, Magnusson W, Dexter K, Asner G, Arenas J, Camargo J, del Aguila Pasquel J, Laurance W, Lovejoy T, Comiskey J, Galbraith D, Gomez R, Aguilar G, Santana F, Guerra C, Flores M, Llampazo G, Montenegro L, Manzatto Â, Socolar J, Kalamandeen M, Réjou-Méchain M, Zambrana N, Molino J, Sabatier D, Chave J, Laurance S, Villacorta R, Andrade A, Berry P, Melgaço K, Sandoval E, Martinez R, de Toledo J, Mesones I, Roucoux K, Junqueira A, Feldpausch T and Fauset S (2021) Amazon tree dominance across forest strata. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 5, pp. 757-767, DOI:10.1038/s41559-021-01418-y.
  • ForestPlots.net et al. , [Bird M, [Laurance S, [Laurance W and [Ishida F (2021) Taking the pulse of Earth's tropical forests using networks of highly distributed plots. Biological Conservation, 260, Article: 108849, DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108849.
  • Gely C, Laurance S and Stork N (2021) The effect of drought on wood-boring in trees and saplings in a tropical forest. Forest Ecology and Management, 489, Article: 119078, DOI:10.1016/j.foreco.2021.119078.
  • Palma A, Goosem M, Fensham R, Goosem S, Preece N, Stevenson P and Laurance S (in press) Dispersal and recruitment limitations in secondary forests. Journal of Vegetation Science, , Article: e12975, DOI:10.1111/jvs.12975.
  • Choat B, Pivovaroff A, McDowell N, Rodrigues T, Chambers J, Cernusak L, Zhang P, Wang W, Souza D, de J. Sampaio Filho I, Peters J, Pacheco H, Mackay D, Brodribb T, Li W, Leff R, Laurance S, Jardine K, Ishida Y, Grossiord C and Liddell M (2021) Stability of tropical forest tree carbon-water relations in a rainfall exclusion treatment through shifts in effective water uptake depth. Global Change Biology, 27, pp. 6454-6466, DOI:10.1111/gcb.15869.
  • Addicott E, Laurance S, Bannink P and Thompson S (2020) The intertidal plant communities in north-eastern Australia, their carbon stores and vulnerability to extreme climate events. Aquatic Conservation: marine and freshwater ecosystems, 30 (12), pp. 2298-2312, DOI:10.1002/aqc.3376.
  • Engert J, Vogado N, Freebody K, Byrne B, Murphy J, Sheather G, Snodgrass P, Nugent L, lloyd D and Laurance S (2020) Functional trait representation differs between restoration plantings and mature tropical rainforest. Forest Ecology and Management, 473, Article: 118304, DOI:10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118304.
  • De Oliveira E, Reis S, Ramírez-Angulo H, Quesada C, Pugh T, Prieto A, Pittman N, Pipoly J, Pickavance G, Peñuela-Mora M, Pena-Claros M, Peacock J, Pardo G, Laurance W, Gamarra L, Núñez Vargas P, Lima A, Neill D, Morandi P, Mendoza C, Meir P, Lovejoy T, Lopez-Gonzalez G, Ladvocat K, Lewis S, Levesley A, Rejou-Machain M, Pallqui Camacho N, Terborgh J, Laurance S, Galbraith D, Zuidema P, Zagt R, Vos V, Cayo J, Vieira S, Martinez R, van der Hout P, van der Meer P, van der Heijden G, Herrera R, Toledo M, Thomas R, Restrepo Correa Z, ter Steege H, Talbot J, Swamy V, Stropp J, Stahl C, Singh J, Silva N, Silva Espejo J, Serrano J, Salomão R, Rudas A, Rodriguez Bayona L, Torres-lezama A, Liu H, Araujo-Murakami A, Aragão L, Andrade A, Alvarez Loayza P, Almeida E, del Aguila Pasquel J, Alvarez Davila E, Vilanova Torre E, Silveira M, Poorter L, Monteagudo-Mendoza A, Marimon Junior B, Arets E, Malhi Y, Brienen R, Lloyd J, Houwing-Duistermaat J, Higuchi N, Gloor E, Feldpausch T, Chao K, Baker T, Sullivan M, Fauset S, Phillips O, Esquivel-Muelbert A, Killeen T, Huamantupa-Chuquimaco I, Marimon B, Cardozo N, Honorio Coronado E, Jimenez-Rojas E, Guimaraes Veira I, Llampazo G, Erwin T, Arroyo L, Di Fiore A, Lola da Costa A, Valverde F, Comiskey J, Chave J, Moscoso V, Barroso J, Aymard C. G, Baisie M, Dourdain A, Castro W, Camargo P, Blanc L, Bonal D, Bongers F, Boot R, Brown F, Burban B, Camargo J and Baraloto C (2020) Tree mode of death and mortality risk factors across Amazon forests. Nature Communications, 11, Article: 5515, DOI:10.1038/s41467-020-18996-3.
  • Gely C, Laurance S and Stork N (2020) How do herbivorous insects respond to drought stress in trees? Biological Reviews, 95, pp. 434-448, DOI:10.1111/brv.12571.
  • Guerra A, Reis L, Gomes Borges F, Alves Ojeda P, Manrique Pineda D, Miranda C, Furtado de Lima Maidana D, Rocha dos Santos T, Shibuya P, Marques M, Laurance S and Garcia L (2020) Ecological restoration in Brazilian biomes: Identifying advances and gaps. Forest Ecology and Management, 458, Article: 117802, DOI:10.1016/j.foreco.2019.117802.
  • Rama Chandra Prasad P, Palacios?Ramos S, Pitman N, Poulsen J, Poorter L, Poedjirahajoe E, Pipoly J, Pickavance G, Pennington R, Morandi P, Parren M, Rozak A, Paudel E, Prieto A, Puyravaud J, Qie L, Quesada C, Ramírez?Angulo H, Razafimahaimodison J, Reitsma J, Requena?Rojas E, Correa Z, Rodriguez C, Rovero F, Mendoza A, Lleras A, Roopsind A, Mugerwa B, Torres?Lezama A, Magnusson W, Rutishauser E, Malhi Y, Mansor A, Peña J, Marimon?Junior B, Marshall A, Melgaco K, Bautista C, Mihindou V, Millet J, Nagamasu H, Mohandass D, Palacios W, Mahayani N, Nagy L, Seuaturien N, Nascimento M, Neill D, Neto L, Nilus R, Vargas M, Nurtjahya E, Araújo R, Onrizal O, Lykke A, Milliken W, McGeoch M, Theilade I, Gamarra L, Bult M, Hout P, Martinez R, Vieira I, Vieira S, Vilanova E, Cayo J, Wang O, Webb C, Umunay P, White L, Timberlake J, Whitfeld T, Wich S, Willcock S, Wiser S, Young K, Zakaria R, Zang R, Zartman C, Zo?Bi I, Balslev H, Affum?Baffoe K, Lu X, Webb E, Silveira M, Punchi?Manage R, Salomão R, Van Sam H, Sarker S, Satdichanh M, Schietti J, Schmitt C, Marimon B, Senbeta F, Nath Sharma L, Sheil D, Uriarte M, Silva?Espejo J, Rutten G, Sonké B, Steininger M, Steinmetz R, Stévart T, Sukumar R, Sultana A, Sunderland T, Suresh H, Tang J, Tanner E, Steege H, Terborgh J, Sierra R, Lovett J, David?Higuita H, Berry N, Blanc L, Böhning?Gaese K, Bonal D, Bongers F, Bradford M, Brambach F, Brearley F, Brewer S, Camargo J, Bengone N, Castilho C, Bastin J, Catchpole D, Cerón Martínez C, Chen S, Chhang P, Cho P, Chutipong W, Clark C, Collins M, Comiskey J, Medina M, Costa F, Culmsee H, Almeida E, Alves L, Muscarella R, Emilio T, Phillips O, Lewis S, Slik F, Baker W, Couvreur T, Eiserhardt W, Svenning J, Aiba S, Almeida S, Berenguer E, Álvarez?Dávila E, Castro W, Alvez?Valles C, Carvalho F, Guarin F, Andrade A, Aragão L, Murakami A, Arroyo L, Ashton P, Corredor G, Baker T, Camargo P, Barlow J, Oliveira E, Killeen T, Hemp A, Herault B, Pizango C, Coronado E, Hubau W, Hussain M, Ibrahim F, Imai N, Joly C, Joseph S, K A, Hector A, Davidar P, Kassi J, Campbell D, Klitgård B, Kooyman R, Labrière N, Larney E, Laumonier Y, Laurance S, Laurance W, Lawes M, Levesley A, Lisingo J, Lovejoy T, Kartawinata K, Fauset S, Kitayama K, Harrison R, Aguila?Pasquel J, Derroire G, Di Fiore A, Van Do T, Doucet J, Dourdain A, Drake D, Ensslin A, Erwin T, Ewers R, Feldpausch T, Gilpin M, Harris D, Hamer K, Hall J, Hakeem K, Ewango C, Gonmadje C, Ferreira J, Gillespie T, Fredriksson G, Franklin J, Fischer M, Ferreira L and Gunatilleke A (2020) The global abundance of tree palms. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 29 (9), pp. 1495-1514, DOI:10.1111/geb.13123.
  • O. Vogado N, Liddell M, Laurance S, Campbell M, Cheesman A, Engert J, Palma A, Ishida F and Cernusak L (2020) The effects of an experimental drought on the ecophysiology and fruiting phenology of a tropical rainforest palm. Journal of Plant Ecology, 13 (6), pp. 744-753, DOI:10.1093/jpe/rtaa069.

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 120+ research outputs authored by Prof Susan Laurance from 1997 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

Bush Heritage Australia - Paul Hackett Memorial Scholarship

A temperature and humidity analysis of the Golden-shouldered parrot (Psepholus chrsoterygius) nest chambers: implications in a changing climate?

Indicative Funding
$5,000 over 1 year
The Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psepholus chrsoterysius) is an endangered species endemic to Cape York, Queensland. This bird has particular significance to the Olkola People, an important totem, called Alwal in language. Bush heritage have been working in partnership with Olkola rangers for the last 5 years to protect and recover this endangered species. Alwal has particular nesting habits; it nests in specific chronical termite mounds constructed by Amitermes scolpulus. The Parrot is very particular in mound choice, only selecting those of certain size and width (170cm height to 70 cm width). This is believed to provide optimum incubation temperatures. Nest success is also thought to be reliant upon a symbiotic relationship with an Australian mallee motth (Trisyntopa scatophaga) which feeds on the parrots droppings and therefore keeps the nest clean, preventing risk of infections. This study eill assess nest chamber and ambient temperatures and humidity across the breeding season of 2021, using Hydrochron humidity and temperature loggers (DS1923), which will be placed inside and outside selected nests. FLIR heat sensing cameras will also be used to take pictures of all active and non active nests and their nearest neighbours. The data will be compared to early nest research carried out by Weaver (1986) who assessed nest temperatures in the 1970s. This study will provide insight into nest chamber thermal changes, and create a more reliable baseline longer term, due to the technnological constrictions when this study was first carried out in the 1970s.
Katy huett and Susan Laurance (College of Science & Engineering)
Threatened Species; golden shouldered parrot; Climate Change

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

Skyrail Rainforest Foundation - Research Funding

Shoot flammability of various native and invasive tropical rainforest species and lifeforms: An experimental study

Indicative Funding
$2,489 over 1 year
This project will assess the shoot-level flammability of tropical forest species across different lifeforms, such as trees, shrubs and vines. The expected outcomes of this research will include be a greater understanding species flammability and the functional features of plants that contribute to this. The project aims to inform environmental managers on how to reduce wildfire into rainforests by managing the flammability of species on forest edges and restoration plantings.
Ebony Potts and Susan Laurance (College of Science & Engineering)
Flammability; Tropical forest; Native; Invasive; Phylogeny; Plant BBQ

Ecological Society of Australia - Applied Forestry Scholarship

Shoot flammability of various native and invasive tropical rainforest species and lifeforms: An experimental study.

Indicative Funding
$2,000 over 1 year
This project will compare the shoot level flammability of native and invasive tropical forest species. More the 100 plant species from the Wet Tropics will be evaluated for their flammability in order to understand how fires carry into and through rainforests. The overall significance of this research is to understand for the first time if and how rainforest species develop flammability and provide experimental data that may eventually be used in larger scale flammability modelling.
Ebony Potts and Susan Laurance (College of Science & Engineering)
Flammability; Tropical Forestry; Native; Invasive; Phylogeny; Plant BBQ

Australian Research Council - Discovery - Future Fellowships

Global Change: Rainforest responses to experimental drought

Indicative Funding
$680,065 over 7 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.

  • 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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