Dr Susan Laurance, a senior lecturer at James Cook University in Cairns, has been elected president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the largest international society devoted to the study and wise use of tropical ecosystems.
Dr Laurance is the first Australian to be elected as president of the ATBC, which has more than 1200 members in over 80 nations.
“It’s a great honour to be elected ATBC president,” Dr Laurance said. “I want to use this opportunity to promote strong science in the tropics, and I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding congratulated Dr Laurance on her election.
“As a Tropical Leader at JCU, Susan is researching critical areas including the potential impact of climate change on rainforest,” Professor Harding said. “Her election as leader of this global scientific association reflects her own achievements in this important field, as well as JCU’s leadership in tropical research and conservation.”
Dr Laurance’s appointment will soon bring significant benefits to the far north – in July 2014 she will preside over the ATBC’s annual conference, and it will be held in Cairns.
“This conference promises to be a magnet for leading tropical ecologists and researchers from throughout the world, and will also attract attention from national and international media,” Dr Laurance said.
“It will be the largest meeting of rainforest biologists ever held in Australia, with around 800 delegates expected to attend. I can’t think of a better place for that many tropical biologists to get together.
“As well as presenting world-standard research, we’re looking forward to showing off the beauty and spectacular life of our rainforests and coral reefs to the delegates and their families,” she said.
Dr Susan Laurance’s fascination for rainforests began in Cairns, her childhood home. She spent 14 years working and living in South and Central America, where she completed her doctoral studies on the conservation of Amazonian birds and went on to lead further research on tropical tree communities and global climate change.
She returned to Cairns in 2009 to work at James Cook University, and was awarded a prestigious Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council to investigate how droughts affect rainforest plants.
As part of this project Dr Laurance and her team will create a temporary, artificial drought in an area of Daintree rainforest, and will use JCU’s canopy crane to study how trees respond to drought stress.
“With climate change, droughts are predicted to increase across the tropics, with possibly devastating effects on large trees,” she said.
“These trees not only store much of the forest’s carbon but also provide homes and food for an abundance of wildlife.
“By temporarily inducing drought conditions, we hope to gain insight into the likely impacts of climate change, and whether those might be mitigated in some way.”
Issued February 20, 2013
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