Doctor Laura Williams

Laura WilliamsI am a plant ecologist interested in integrating across biological scales and testing ecological theory with data.

Like many, my fascination with nature began as a child: standing beneath tree ferns, peering up at mountain ash trees, and exploring bushland with its camouflaged insects and orchids. As an undergraduate student, I had the chance to work on research projects in ecosystems ranging from riparian zones to tropical rain forest – and my interest in ecological research grew. These experiences led me to undertake a PhD at the University of Minnesota, USA. There I used field experiments to examine how diversity gradients shape interactions among trees with consequences that manifest across scales from leaf trait expression to ecosystem productivity.

Now at HIE, I have joined a multidisciplinary team led by Professor Belinda Medlyn working on developing DAVE – a dynamic vegetation model for Australia – and I am excited to be back thinking about Australian plants and ecosystems.

I am also part of ASCEND, an NSF-funded Biology Integration Institute, where we use spectral biology and predictive models to understand the causes and consequences of plant biodiversity across scales in an era of rapid global change.

Areas of research/teaching expertise

My research focuses on plant ecology and spans topics of spectral biology, trait-based ecology, biodiversity-ecosystem function, community assembly, forest dynamics, and global change. I aim to understand the cross-scale implications of interactions among plants in the context of global environmental change.

Awards and recognition

  • Hamm Scholarship in Plant Sciences, University of Minnesota (2017)
  • Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, University of Minnesota (2015)
  • Fulbright Science and Technology Award (2011)

Selected publications

Desie E, Zuo J, Verheyen K, Djukic I, Van Meerbeek K, Auge H, Barsoum N, Baum C, Bruelheide H, Eisenhauer N, Feldhaar H, Ferlian O, Gravel D, Jactel H, Schmidt IK, Kepfer-Rojas S, Meredieu C, Mereu S, Messier C, Morillas L, Nock C, Paquette A, Ponette Q, Reich PB, Roales J, Scherer-Lorenzen M, Seitz S, Schmidt A, Stefanski A, Trogisch S, Halder I, Weih M, Williams LJ, Yang B, Muys B, (2023) 'Disentangling drivers of litter decomposition in a multi-continent network of tree diversity experiments', The Science of the total environment, vol.857, pp 159717

Isbell, F. et al. (incl. Williams, L.J.) (2022) Expert estimates of biodiversity loss and its drivers and consequences. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Schuster MJ, Williams LJ, Stefanski A, Bermudez R, Belluau M, Messier C, Paquette A, Gravel D, Reich PB, (2022) 'Patterns of belowground overyielding and fine root biomass in native and exotic angiosperms and gymnosperms', Oikos, Article e08877

Barry KE, Pinter GA, Strini JW, Yang K, Lauko IG, Schnitzer SA, Clark AT, Cowles J, Mori AS, Williams L Reich PB, Wright AJ, (2021) 'A graphical null model for scaling biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships', Journal of Ecology, vol.109, pp 1549 - 1560

Cavender-Bares J, Reich PB, Townsend PA, Banerjee A, Butler E, Desai A, Gevens A, Hobbie SE, Isbell F, Laliberté E, Meireles JE, Menninger H, Pavlick RP, Pinto-Ledezma J, Potter C, Schuman MC, Springer N, Stefanski A, Trivedi P, Trowbridge A, Williams L, Willis CG, Yang Y, (2021) 'BII-Implementation: The causes and consequences of plant biodiversity across scales in a rapidly changing world', Research Ideas and Outcomes, vol.7, e63850

Kwon T, et al. (incl. Williams, L.) (2021) 'Effects of climate and atmospheric nitrogen deposition on early to mid-term stage litter decomposition across biomes', Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, vol.4, article 678480

O’Connor MI, Mori A, Gonzalez A, Loreau M, Avolio M, Byrnes JEK, Cheung W, Cowles J, Clark A, Dee LE, Hautier Y, Hector A, Komatsu K, Newbold T, Outhwaite C, Reich P, Seabloom E, Williams L, Wright A, Isbell F, (2021) 'Grand challenges in biodiversity–ecosystem functioning research in the era of science–policy platforms require explicit consideration of feedbacks', Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol.288, no.1960, article 20210783

Williams LJ, Butler EE, Cavender-Bares J, Stefanski A, Rice KE, Messier C, Paquette A, Reich PB, (2021) 'Enhanced light interception and light use efficiency explain overyielding in young tree communities', Ecology Letters, vol.24, no.5, pp 996-1006

Williams LJ, Cavender-Bares J, Townsend PA, Couture JJ, Wang Z, Stefanski A, Messier C, Reich PB, (2021) 'Remote spectral detection of biodiversity effects on forest biomass', Nature Ecology and Evolution, vol.5, no.1, pp 46-54

Allen KJ, Freund MB, Palmer JG, Simkin R, Williams L, Brookhouse M, Cook ER, Stewart S, Baker PJ, (2020) 'Hydroclimate extremes in a north Australian drought reconstruction asymmetrically linked with Central Pacific Sea surface temperatures', Global and Planetary Change, p 103329

Schuster MJ, Wragg PD, Williams LJ, Butler EE, Stefanski A, Reich PB, (2020) 'Phenology matters: Extended spring and autumn canopy cover increases biotic resistance of forests to invasion by common buckhorn (Rhamnus cathartica)', Forest Ecology and Management, vol.464, article 118067

Williams LJ, Cavender-Bares J, Paquette A, Messier C, Reich PB, (2020) 'Light mediates the reciprocal relationship between community diversity and trait plasticity in functionally and phylogenetically diverse tree mixtures', Journal of Ecology, vol.108, no.4, pp 1617-1634

Djukic, Ika, et al. (incl. Williams, L.J.) (2018) 'Early stage litter decomposition across biomes', Science of the Total Environment , vol.28, pp 1369-1394

Funk J, Larson JE, Ames G, Butterfield B, Cavender-Bares J, Firn J, Laughlin D, Sutton-Grier A, Williams L, Wright J, (2017) 'Revisiting the Holy Grail: Using plant functional traits to predict ecological processes', Biological Reviews, vol.92, pp 1156-1173

Williams LJ, Paquette A, Cavender-Bares J, Messier C, Reich PB, (2017) 'Spatial complementarity in tree crowns explains overyielding in species mixtures', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol.1, article 0063

Nguyen N, Williams LJ, Stefanski A,Vincent J, Cavender-Bares J, Messier C, Paquette A, Gravel D, Reich P, Kennedy P, (2016) 'Ectomycorrhizal and saprotrophic fungal diversity are linked to different tree community attributes in a field-based tree experiment', Molecular Ecology, vol.25, pp 4032-4046

Reich P, Williams L, Cavagnaro TR, Lake PS, (2016) 'The ongoing challenge of restoring Australia’s riparian zones'. In 'Vegetation of Australian Riverine Landscapes: Biology, Ecology and Management' (eds. Capon, S., James, C. and Reid, M.) CSIRO Publishing, Australia

Tobner CM, Paquette A, Gravel D, Reich PB, Williams LJ, Messier C, (2016) 'Functional identity and complementarity drive overyielding in young tree communities', Ecology Letters, vol.19, pp 638-647

Reich P, Lake PS, Williams L, Hale R, (2011) 'On improving the science and practice of riparian restoration (Guest Editorial)', Ecological Management and Restoration, vol.12, pp 4-5

Williams L, Hale R, Cavagnaro TR, Reich P, Lake PS, (2011) 'Developing a vision for improved monitoring and reporting of riparian restoration projects', Ecological Management and Restoration, vol.12, e11-16

Capon SJ, James CS, Williams LJ, Quinn GP, (2009) 'Responses to flooding and drying in seedlings of a common Australian desert floodplain shrub: Muehlenbeckia florulenta Meisn. (tangled lignum)', Environmental and Experimental Botany, vol.66, pp 178–185

Gleason SM, Williams LJ, Read J, Metcalfe DJ, Baker PJ, (2008) 'Cyclone effects on the structure and production of a tropical upland rainforest: implications for life history tradeoffs', Ecosystems, vol.11, pp 1277-1290

Williams LJ, Bunyavejchewin S, Baker PJ, (2008) 'Deciduousness in a seasonal tropical forest in western Thailand: interannual and intraspecific variation in timing, duration and environmental cues', Oecologia, vol.155, pp 571-582

Williams LJ, Reich P, Capon SJ, Raulings E, (2008) 'Soil seed banks of degraded riparian zones in south-eastern Australia and their potential contribution to the restoration of understorey vegetation', River Research and Applications, vol.24, pp 1002-1017