William Laurance’s work is driven by his desire to protect tropical ecosystems and to conduct painstaking, multidisciplinary research into the complex factors that threaten such systems. This combination has made Laurance one of the world’s leading experts when it comes to humankind’s impact on vulnerable rainforests and tropical biodiversity.
What distinguishes Laurance’s scientific work is its breadth. He studies habitat fragmentation, climate change, deforestation and surface fires, but he has also turned his attention to contagious diseases, government environmental protection policy, the effects of road building, corruption, logging and hunting, nature reserve design, and publication bias in the sciences. His research has taken him to Australia, the Amazon, the Congo, Central America and South-east Asia.
This broad vision has led Laurance to develop many new concepts and hypotheses. For example, he drew attention to the fact that many ecological threats are mutually reinforcing when they occur simultaneously.
Laurance is also highly prolific. He has published more than three hundred articles since receiving his doctorate in 1989, averaging more than one a month. Dozens of these have appeared in such prestigious journals as Science and Nature, and many more in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the most influential of all ecology journals. He has also been closely involved in writing a number of classic nature conservation and environmental science textbooks.
In addition to its scientific rigor, Laurance’s research is of enormous social relevance. “If we biologists don’t strive to slow rampant forest destruction, who will?” he once wondered. In his lectures and op-ed articles, Laurance frequently draws on his scientific expertise and background to persuade the general public and governments of the need for nature conservation and environmental protection. It is this combination of research and engagement that makes his work unique and influential.
William Laurance was born in 1957 in the United States. He studied at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, and the University of California in Berkeley. His passion for tropical animals and ecosystems was awakened when he spent several summers working at zoos, and in 1989 he was awarded his doctorate at Berkeley for studying the ecological impact of habitat fragmentation on tropical forests and their mammalian wildlife.
He then went to Australia, first to the CSIRO Tropical Forest Research Centre and then to the SFS Centre for Rainforest Studies in Queensland.
In 1996, Laurance joined the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and was based in Brazil and Panama. Fourteen years later, he returned to Australia to accept an appointment at James Cook University in Cairns, where he still leads an active research team.
Laurance has received various awards, including an Australian Laureate Fellowship. He is a research associate at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA, and holds the Prince Bernhard Chair in International Nature Conservation at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. He is also closely involved in the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative, a partnership project set up by Yale University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which focuses on training environmental policymakers in South America and South-east Asia.
He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the former president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the world’s largest scientific organisation devoted to the study and preservation of tropical ecosystems.