Call for PhD candidates: Investigating the relationship between lianas and Australian rainforest recovery

DEADLINE: August 12th, midday AEST

We are delighted to offer an exciting PhD opportunity in tropical forest ecology and conservation funded through the Australian Research Council. The PhD will be trained and working as part of an international team of researchers with more than 30 years of experience in measuring, monitoring and analysing dynamics and recovery of tropical forests and their structure.

The PhD’s overall aim is to identify and quantify the resilience and recovery of tropical forests following disturbance. The primary focus will be on the relationships and trade-offs between lianas (woody vines) and trees, and their interactions with climate and indicators of soil quality, including invertebrate detritivores. Liana growth following extensive forest clearance is slowing or reducing tree growth and productivity across the tropics, with potentially dire consequences for the global carbon sink, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. However, at the same time, lianas are an integral part of forest ecosystems, contributing to nutrient cycles, animal diets and protecting forests from damage.

The PhD is advertised as part of the new, long-term, pantropical, Forest Restoration and Climate Experiment (FoRCE). The student will conduct extensive plant and invertebrate fieldwork, extending an existing network of permanent rainforest monitoring plots to include the Australian Wet Tropics and other rainforest sites all along the eastern coast of Australia, from far North Queensland to southern New South Wales. New and existing data from these plots will be analysed using a range of empirical modelling techniques, testing for positive feedbacks and thresholds in the relationships between liana growth and tree growth. The findings will be further used to project expected regional change and economic impacts through use of Geographical Information Systems. The project will interact with complementary projects located in other biogeographic regions, especially East Africa, contributing to the evidence base in this newly emerging field.

The position will be based at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Supervision and training will be provided by Associate Professor Andy Marshall, with co-supervision from Dr Marion Pfeifer at Newcastle University (UK). The student will also benefit from input and guidance provided by a world-leading team of collaborating scientists with expertise in tropical forest restoration and landscape ecology (Prof Robin Chazdon) and tropical forest management and socio-economics (Prof John Herbohn). The student will also work closely with the Wet Tropics Management Authority, Queensland Herbarium, conservation volunteer groups and CSIRO, through fieldwork, planning and workshops to discuss project aims/findings. The student will have access to a 4wd vehicle, laptop computer, budget for fieldwork and attending conferences.

Essential Criteria

  • Satisfaction of PhD entry requirements of the University of the Sunshine Coast
  • Upper second class BSc degree in a relevant discipline, with honours
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Basic skills in the use of spatial analysis
  • Proven ability to meet deadlines and complete independent work
  • Experience in working in remote areas under sometimes basic field conditions, including camping
  • Determination and composure for successful data gathering in a hospitable environment (dense, thorny vine thickets)
  • Ability to work with and motivate volunteer groups
  • Full driving licence

Desirable Criteria

  • First class BSc degree in a relevant discipline, with honours
  • Masters degree in a relevant discipline
  • Knowledge in the use of R statistical software
  • Experience in measuring and identifying trees following standard protocols
  • Advanced spatial analysis skills using either R, Python or GIS software
  • Experience of working in disturbed tropical forests
  • Experience of invertebrate sampling
  • Previous involvement in the publication of scientific work in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Experience in presenting to a public or professional audience
  • Experience of living/working in Australia
  • Experience in off-road driving

How to Apply

In the first instance, interested applicants are requested to submit a cv and a cover letter, including itemised responses to the essential and desirable selection criteria, to Dr. Andy Marshall, Shortlisted candidates will then be asked to submit an application to the university before interview.

Both female and male applicants are equally encouraged to apply.