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Theme 3 - Ecosystem Science

By virtue of their equatorial location, tropical ecosystems experience high rates of insolation, often also being accompanied by high, but frequently strongly seasonal levels of precipitation.  In terms of global carbon, water and energy budgets, this makes the tropical land masses the 'engine room' of the planet, with any significant changes in surface energy balances  of consequence both regionally and for the earth system as a whole. As surface temperatures are usually close to those optimal for plant growth and with soil moisture regimes often non-limiting for large parts of the year, this means that both the natural and managed ecosystems of the tropics have potentially high rates of productivity. But also with a different suite of factors influencing the rates and patterns in the cycling of carbon, water and nutrients compared to the more extensively studied temperate zone.

Linking the carbon, nutrient and hydrological cycles both above and belowground, our work aims to improve our understanding of the major factors affecting tropical ecosystem function and resilience. To achieve this, our studies focus on an integration of plant and animal ecology, organismal biology, soil science, hydrology and atmospheric chemistry to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the ways climate and the mineral elements of life interact to mould observed patterns of ecosystem distribution and function in the tropical regions of the world.

To achieve these ends, our work encompasses the study of grassland, savanna and forest ecosystems and their anthropogenic derivatives in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. In particular, great advantage is taken of the 'living laboratory' that the complex landscapes of the Far North Queensland tropics provides:  This allowing reasonably complex experiments and ecosystem manipulation studies not possible in more remote localities of the tropics.

One main focus of our work is a better quantification of the role of tropical ecosystems in the global carbon budget. We are also interested in using this improved understanding to help us better predict how the ecosystems of the tropics are likely to respond to increased human pressures and  the changing climates predicted for the future.

Theme Leader

Dr Susan Laurance

Theme Members


Centre for Tropical Environmental & Sustainability Sciences

Twitter (@TESSJCU)