‘Royal’ job for JCU professor


Professor Bill Laurance

James Cook University biologist and tropical forest expert Professor William F. Laurance has been elected to a prestigious endowed chair at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Professor Laurance will occupy the Prince Bernhard Chair for International Nature Conservation for a period of five years, spending one month a year in Europe.

One of 42 applicants for the Chair, which is co-funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Professor Laurance will carry out research on tropical conservation and share his knowledge with European conservationists, students, researchers and policy-makers.

He is leaving today to take up the Chair for the first time.

Professor Laurance is a world-leading researcher and Distinguished Research Professor at James Cook University in Cairns.

He is also a research associate with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and has spent a quarter of a century living and working in the Amazon, the Congo Basin in Africa, New Guinea and Southeast Asia.

Professor Laurance said he was delighted by the appointment and was looking forward to working with European researchers on the theme of nature conservation in the tropics.

“Tropical rainforests all over the world are under extreme pressure,” he said. “As scientists, we cannot permit ourselves to stand by and watch the devastation continue.

“Researchers and scientists also have a duty to try to persuade governments, policy-makers and the wider public to take steps to halt the destruction of these forests. If we do nothing, my fear is that our children will turn round to us one day and say: why did you do nothing to stop deforestation?”

One of the possibilities Professor Laurance has identified for preserving tropical forests is to harness these ecosystems in the fight against climate change.

Deforestation is the biggest source of CO2 emissions after charcoal burning and oil consumption. The clearing and degradation of tropical rainforests releases huge quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the capacity of these ecosystems to absorb CO2.

“Deforestation and poor forestry management therefore have a direct impact on the climate. For that reason, international organisations are now working on the REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative, a policy instrument that adds value to the preservation and sustainable management of forests worldwide,” he said.

“If REDD is applied effectively, it may be more profitable for countries to leave tropical forests intact than to fell them,’ Professor Laurance said.

The Prince Bernhard Chair for Nature Conservation was established in 1986 to honour the late Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands for his contribution to international nature conservation on the occasion of his 75th birthday.

Prince Bernhard was a founder and the first president of WWF.

The purpose of the Chair is to raise awareness of nature conservation among students, strengthen the research base for nature conservation and consolidate the links between scientific theory and practice.

JCU Media liaison Jim O’Brien 07 4781 4822.

Issued: June 4, 2010