Available Projects

Available PhD Projects


We are currently looking for PhD candidates to conduct the following reseach projects. Please read the brief and contact prospective supervisors if interested.

Scientia PhD Scholarship - Identifying healthy burning practices for Australia’s threatened plant species

Bushfires command a powerful presence in the Australian psyche as a threat to human life and property, as a core part of indigenous culture and as one of the primary drivers of ecosystem dynamics. Plants are adapted to the fire regime, and changes to any aspect of this regime, including frequency, season and severity, could mediate whether a species persists or becomes locally extinct. Indigenous people have carried out a range of different traditional burning practices to care for country across contrasting Australian landscapes for thousands of years. Today, hazard reduction burning is often seen as a panacea to mitigate threats that wildfires pose to life and property. Although fire is widely recognised as a key tool for land management, identifying fire regimes that meet the needs of biodiversity conservation, cultural well-being and human safety presents a major challenge for fire researchers and managers.

Historical fire regimes that resulted from traditional indigenous management are poorly understood especially in southern Australia, but are likely to have been compatible with conservation of native flora which persisted through millennia of aboriginal occupation. In the absence of information on traditional fire regimes in southern Australia, it is sometimes assumed that conservation and cultural objectives can best be served by transposing contemporary traditional burning practices from tropical northern Australia into the south. Some commentators also suggest that contemporary hazard reduction practices could replicate traditional burning practices. These propositions can be tested by examining the sensitivity of plant life-history responses to fire frequency, severity and season to identify the fire regimes that could and could not have been implemented historically, given that extant plant species must have persisted through the historical aboriginal fire regimes.

The key challenge is to incorporate the substantial wealth of existing traditional knowledge, with scientific data on species fire responses to identify the fire regimes that are consistent with cultural objectives as well as the conservation of threatened species.

The results will help indigenous communities by resolving some of the uncertainties about the nature of traditional indigenous fire management in southern Australia.

The project will be supported by the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Threatened Species Recovery Hub based within the Centre for Ecosystem Science.  The student will learn field- and lab-based skills such as plant population monitoring, on-ground vegetation surveys, assessment of fire severity and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for post-fire monitoring. The student will also learn technical skills including experimental design, statistical analyses of field data and processing of UAV imagery.

This project is aimed at individuals who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

This project comes with $40,000 per year stipend and $10,000 of research funding per year for 4 years. It is open to both Australian and international applicants. Australian applicants can start early in 2017, the expected start date for international applicants is August 2017. Follow the link to more information about the Scientia program and our search for world changers at UNSW. Further information on the reintroduction project can be found on the NESP threatened species website.

For additional information contact Professor David Keith on david.keith@unsw.edu.au. Deadline is November 11

Scientia PhD Scholarship - Ecosystem restoration through rewilding

Australia has the world's worst record of mammal extinctions, with many of the mid- range mammals impacted by exotic species, particularly foxes and cats. In arid ecosystems, the extinction of native mammals and loss of ecological services they provide has been accompanied by severe soil erosion and shifts in vegetation composition.

The Centre for Ecosystem Science (CES), through its Wild Deserts project, has attracted significant government support (over the next 10 years), to embark on one of the nation's most significant "rewilding" initiatives to redress the problem of mammal extinctions and land degradation in arid Australia. The Wild Deserts project will bridge the gap between the disciplines of reintroduction biology and restoration ecology by using reintroductions of locally extinct mammals into two, large (20km2) predator-proof exclosures to restore ecosystems in Sturt National Park.

Key questions for research relate to understanding the effects that reintroduced mammals (7 locally extinct mammals to be reintroduced) have on ecosystem structure and function. This Phd project would focus on measuring changes in the soils, vegetation and fauna within and outside the exclosures to determine how the removal of exotic species and subsequent reintroduction of native mammals affects ecosystem structure and function. The findings will reveal how innovative “rewilding” strategies incorporating the ecological functions of mammals can be used by land-managers, within an adaptive management framework, to restore Australian ecosystems. The project will be directly supported by the Wild Deserts project in partnership with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, including the NSW National Parks and Wildlife.  The successful applicant will learn skills in restoration ecology, reintroduction biology, experimental design, remote fieldwork, adaptive management and statistical analysis. The project aligns with the 2025 Strategies for the theme Research quality: delivering impact from research excellence and addressing grand challenges. The student will be working with multiple institutions, state and federal governments, private industry and community groups addressing Australia's declining native mammal populations as part of a interdisciplinary research team.   The project also relates directly to UNSW’s areas of research strength in “Water, Climate, Environment and Sustainability” and “Fundamental and Enabling Sciences”.

This project comes with $40,000 per year stipend and $10,000 of research funding per year for 4 years. It is open to both Australian and international applicants. Australian applicants can start early in 2017, the expected start date for international applicants is August 2017. Follow the link to more information about the Scientia program and our search for world changers at UNSW. Further information on the reintroduction project can be found on the CES project website.

Potential advisors: For additional information contact Associate Professor Mike Letnic on m.letnic@unsw.edu.au  Deadline is November 11


Platypus population health and dynaimcs-UPDATE - CANDIDATE CHOSEN

We are seeking a PhD student to start in 2016. The research project is funded for three years and will investigate the life history, behaviour and population dynamics of the platypus. Over three years we are planning to collect data using trapping and tracking of platypus across a number of river systems in New South Wales and Victoria. The project incorporates several ecological approaches with a number of partners on this project including population genetics and epidemiological assessments. The successful PhD student will be encouraged to explore her\his own ecological and methodological interests.Students will need to successfully obtain a PhD scholarship. More information is available at: http://research.unsw.edu.au/postgraduate-research-scholarships.

Please email your CV along with your research interests, details of two academic referees, and academic record to Prof Richard Kingsford (richard.kingsford@unsw.edu.au) and Dr Gilad Bino (gilad.bino@unsw.edu.au) by end of 2015.

Project website: https://www.ecosystem.unsw.edu.au/list-program-projects/platypus-conservation-initiative

For any further information please email Dr Gilad Bino (gilad.bino@unsw.edu.au)

Testate amoebae: a new biomarker of climate change and human impact in peatlands. UPDATE - CANDIDATE CHOSEN

 A PhD project is offered to develop testate soil amoebae to provide a new measure of the hydrological status of peatlands through time. Changes over time in the resting spores in peat sections can provide a history of wetting and drying phases which can be used to understand ecological responses, test climate models and determine the impact of different management of peatlands. 

Funding will provide a three year stipend (currently A$25,406 per annum tax free), and field and analytic expenses. The work will involve field sampling, laboratory preparation and microscopy in well-equipped laboratories in either the Department of Archaeology and Natural History, at ANU or in the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW. A good Honours result (or equivalent) with a background in biology , geography or environmental monitoring is required.

 Further information about this project is available from Dr Scott Mooney (UNSW) s.mooney@unsw.edu.au or Prof. Geoff Hope (ANU) Geoffrey.Hope@anu.edu.au

Predation by cats and foxes is the chief cause of reintroduction failure in Australian mammals. Australian mammals are vulnerable to predation because they have not evolved effective defences against these introduced predators. This project will determine if predator training and selective screening of individuals for predator avoidance traits can improve reintroduction success. The results will be used to improve re-introduction protocols for threatened mammals and re-establish populations of endangered wildlife.

There is an opportunity for a PhD student with $5000 annual top-up to participate in an ARC funded project in partnership with Arid Recovery investigating ways to improve the anti-predator behaviour of endangered marsupials and rodents in arid South Australia.

Supervised by: Dr Mike Letnic

Surface water dynamics as a function of climate and river flow data. - UPDATE - CANDIDATE CHOSEN

An exciting opportunity exists for a PhD student interested in integrating spatially explicit data on climate, flow and inundation to model flooded areas as a function of flow using spatially explicit datasets in the MurrayDarling Basin.

Supervised by: Dr Mirela Tulbure

Multisensor integration for environmental flows. - UPDATE - CANDIDATE CHOSEN

An exciting opportunity exists for a PhD student interested in modelling the response of vegetation to flooding integrating multisensor satellite data (very high resolution multi-/hyperspectral and LiDAR data). The work will focus on the largest contiguous area of river red gum in the world and a key site for the management of environmental flows in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Supervised by: Dr Mirela Tulbure

Response of Northern Australian Mangroves to Climatic Variability  - UPDATE - CANDIDATE CHOSEN

Mangroves along Australia’s northern coastline have remained relatively undisturbed from human activities but are nevertheless expanding both seaward and landward expansion, particularly along the Gulf of Carpentaria. This project seeks to use remote sensing data acquired by airborne (e.g., lidar, aerial photography) and spaceborne C- and L-band radar and optical sensors to quantify decadal changes in the extent, species composition, structure and biomass of these mangroves and b) to understand the relative contributions of changes in sea level, hydrological regimes, weather patterns and ocean circulation and whether these have been exacerbated by human-driven climate-change.

Supervised by: Professor Richard Lucas


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