CSIRO Atherton research centre located amongst tropical landscape with four-wheel drive parked in front.

CSIRO Atherton research centre.

Atherton, Qld (Atherton laboratory)

Using science to understand the complex natural relationships within tropical rainforests and landscapes.

  • 31 May 2005 | Updated 23 January 2013

CSIRO Atherton is located in the heart the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, 80 km south-west of Cairns in far north Queensland.

Established in 1971, the site is a well-known hub for tropical environmental research and attracts rainforest scientists from around the world. It is close to internationally-significant scientific sites in the region while still having easy access to the facilities of Cairns (such as the domestic and international airports). The site is sometimes also referred to as the Tropical Forest Research Centre.


CSIRO's research in Atherton is aimed at increasing our understanding of the complex natural relationships within tropical rainforests and landscapes, to provide communities and land managers with the information they need to make sound decisions, and preserve the region’s outstanding natural diversity.

The Atherton laboratory provides a research base for scientists engaged in projects studying various aspects of the tropical environment, including:

  • ecosystem goods and services
  • biodiversity
  • climate change
  • rainforest dynamics
  • sustainable futures
  • conservation planning.

Our staff

Most staff in Atherton are part CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.

Our scientists have a wealth of knowledge and experience in tropical ecology and natural resource management, including skills in:

  • botany
  • ecology
  • zoology
  • spatial analysis
  • complex systems modelling
  • genetics.


Most of our research is done in close collaboration with other research institutions, land managers, industry associations and communities. Our major partners include:

  • The Reef to Rainforest Research Centre
  • The Tropical Landscapes Joint Venture
  • Conservation International’s Melanesian Centre for Biodiversity
  • Earthwatch
  • The Wet Tropics Management Authority
  • Far North Queensland Natural Resource Management Ltd.


CSIRO's Atherton laboratory site covers 3.7 hectares, and includes a botanical garden of rainforest plants of tropical Australia. The Arboretum features around 1 300 species, and was established in 1971.

Tours of the Arboretum can be arranged by contacting reception on 07 4091 8800 (+61 7 4091 8800 from outside Australia). For more information visit the Atherton rainforest arboretum and herbarium reference collection page.

Atherton public reference herbarium

The Atherton Public Reference Herbarium houses samples of rainforest plant specimens from the main collection at the Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns. The Atherton collection includes specimens that represent most rainforest species of north Queensland. It is open to the public and special interest groups for reference, identification and research purposes. A CSIRO technical assistant is available to provide assistance.

The main collection of around 135 000 specimens has been transferred to the new Australian Tropical Herbarium in Cairns. For more information visit ATFI@JCU: The Australian Tropical Forest Institute [external link].


The CSIRO Atherton Library is staffed 8.30 am-12.30 pm Monday to Friday (except public holidays).

Access for non-CSIRO staff can be arranged by appointment. Please contact the Librarian via reception on 07 4091 8800 (+61 7 4091 8800 from outside Australia).

Student accommodation

The Atherton student house is located adjacent to the site and has four bedrooms with bunk beds, along with a common kitchen and bathroom. The house is available for use by visiting research and student groups, by prior arrangement.

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