Laurel completed her Honours Thesis, entitled "Testing functional diversity indices to assess changes in coral community assemblages over time" in 2014 at the University of Queensland as part of CEED.
Traditionally, coral reef conservation priorities have been assessed using measures of coral cover, and species richness. Using a long term dataset, she demonstrated that coral community structure and function change over time. Her research showed that shifts in life history traits better explain community responses to stress events than metrics of coral cover or species richness alone. Results showed that coral communities tended to shift from competitive to stress-tolerant life histories over time. By altering their dominant life history characteristics, coral communities appeared to facilitate functional diversity regardless of whether or not they are maintaining species richness or diversity. Recognizing how functional traits are being maintained may provide managers with better criteria to prioritise reefs for conservation than more traditional metrics.