PhD Projects avaialble in the Biodiversity Lab

If you are passionate about understanding and protecting biodiversity, you are invited to join our Biodiversity group as part of three key projects. We are looking for PhD students to lead three ecological studies focussing on climate change mitigation by vegetation and topography in Australian woodlands, the dieback of stringybark in the Mount Lofty Ranges and the long-term impacts of tropical cyclones on tropical and subtropical forests. Please note that none of these projects has a scholarship attached but you can apply for an RTP scholarship, if you are an Australian citizen.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity and biodiversity on our planet. Topography and vegetation can moderate prevalent weather conditions. For example, on a hot day south-facing slopes in the Southern Hemisphere and locations shaded by vegetation will experience cooler temperatures. However, vegetation cover is decreasing on a global scale, reducing the climate buffering potential of landscapes. Furthermore, landscapes are increasingly fragmented, meaning that the total proportion of habitat bordering to the edge of vegetation is increasing. Although it is therefore important to understand the buffering of prevalent weather condition by vegetation and topography, most of our knowledge is based on weather stations, which by definition exclude the effects of vegetation and topography. This project will focus on an existing dataset along the edges of five South Australian woodlands. For each of these woodlands we have temperature and humidity data for transects from the edge for a 12 months period, data on canopy cover and ground cover, and LiDAR and infra-red imagery from a sunny summer day in 2019/20. The data is therefore is ideal for investigating how habitat clearing and fragmentation are affecting available microclimates in South Australia. You can apply for this project here.

Fig 1: Temperature and humidity sensors in a linear transect from the edge of a remnant woodland in the Barossa Valley. Photo: Gunnar Keppel

Tropical cyclones are frequent, large-scale events that cause severe damage to nature and ecosystems, but there is limited evidence on their long-term impacts. It is predicted they will continue to increase in intensity and occur at higher latitudes due to anthropogenic climate change. This project is funded by the Hermon Slade Foundation investigates the impacts of tropical cyclones on the structure and functioning of rain forests, and how these are likely to change as a result of climate change. You will use published literature and available plot data to investigate the short- and long-term impacts of cyclones on forests using meta-analyses of data globally, including the South Pacific region (for which we have a good plot dataset available). Functional trait data will be related to cyclone intensity to infer how the functioning of forests is impacted by cyclone regimes, and how this is likely to change under ongoing climate change. You will also use multi-level analyses to predict the effects of climate change on forest structure and functioning. Depending on COVID-19 developments, funding and project details, there may be an option to travel to various Pacific countries for data collection. To apply for this project follow this link.

Fig. 2: Tree uprooted by Cyclone Winston at Colo-i-Suva in Fiji. Photo: Gunnar Keppel

Increasing drought and heat wave conditions linked to climate change are impacting stringybark forests and has resulted in dieback of the forest canopy. Stringybark forests have iconic status in South Australia, are important wildlife habitats and store considerable amounts of carbon. This project will investigate the extent, causes and the flow-on environmental and ecological impacts of stringybark dieback in the Mount Lofty Ranges using field surveys and/or remote sensing. Quantifying the extent of dieback in relation to seasonal climate and factors such as tree age, topography and grazing regime, will allow developing adaptive management approaches for these forests through climate-resilient stand management and reafforestation. Furthermore, determining the flow-on effects of dieback on species composition, vegetation structure and microclimate in these forests will identify ecosystem-level impacts of dieback. Therefore, the project will develop a holistic picture of the extent, causes, consequences and conservation of stringybark forests in the Mount Lofty Ranges. The successful candidate will therefore have the opportunity to apply ecological and remote sensing skills to a key conservation problem in South Australia with global applications. Furthermore, the project will provide exposure to the multi-institutional project team, involving stakeholders in government, local council, environmental groups and other universities. Please note that this project does not yet accept applications – please contact the author directly for any queries.

Fig. 3: Dead red stringy bark trees on a ridge of Spring Gully Conservation Park in the Clare Valley. Photo: Gunnar Keppel

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