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Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods

Available postgraduate projects

We're looking for researchers
Kim Hunnam fieldwork Timor Leste

We are seeking students to undertake the exciting projects described below, so if you’re interested in a project please contact the supervisor listed.

You could also check out our postgraduate study page and the CDU prospective research students page. If you’d like to apply for a scholarship, please see our scholarships page.

If you don’t see the exact project for you but are interested in a particular topic, please contact a RIEL researcher with expertise in that topic.

Threatened Marine Species Bycatch Mitigation in Northern Australian Fisheries

Principal Supervisor: Dr Peter Kyne

Course: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Full time; based at CDU Casuarina Campus, Darwin, NT

Scholarship: Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship (Domestic) valued at $29,863 per annum (2023 value; indexed annually) + $5,000 per annum top-up, for a maximum of 3 years from commencement.

The University will also support Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students by providing RTP Scholarship recipients with a University Relocation Allowance. In 2021, this allowance is up to $2,000.

Commencement Date: No later than Monday, 31 July 2023.

The Project: This PhD Project will work across two large collaborative projects to (1) investigate bycatch mitigation measures for sharks and sawfish in gillnet fisheries and (2) assess sawfish movement patterns following release after capture. 

About You: The selection of applicants for the award of the RTP Stipend Scholarship involves consideration of your academic merit and research background. The following essential selection criteria apply:

  •  An Australian citizen or permanent resident, or New Zealand citizen
  • A first-class Honours degree or a Master’s degree containing a substantial research component in a relevant field
  • Ability to undertake extensive remote field work
  • Strong analytical skills (including experience in R)


  • Interested applicants should contact Dr Peter Kyne by email at
  • Please provide CV and a 1-page cover letter outlining your (a) research interests and (b) how you meet the above selection criteria

The closing date is 20 June 2023. The preferred applicant will be invited to apply for a PhD enrolment online.

Project advertisement (PDF, 120.39 KB)

Governance of global science

Supervisor: Stephen Garnett

Project suitable for: PhD

Project summary

The project is linked to a broader project funded by the Australian Research Council looking at the governance of taxonomic lists, but the PhD project is to consider the governance of science globally. How did scientists decide that Pluto is no longer a planet? Or whether to recognise the Anthropocene? Scientists have no power to enforce their judgements through international law so must negotiate agreements through to a consensus view. Yet these same decisions can have implications for real life if they are subsequently adopted by governments. As part of the research on how scientific organisations govern themselves, the research will consider not only how decisions are reached but also how different organisations resolve disputes and ensure inclusion of a wide range of opinions. When the research is complete, the student will have an understanding of organisational governance that can be applied widely around the world.

How to Apply

To submit an expression of interest, please send the following to Stephen Garnett at

  • A cover letter that includes a brief statement of the applicant’s suitability (max two pages)
  • A curriculum vitae, including a list of any peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations and relevant work and/or research experience
  • A brief statement not exceeding 500-words in length that explains why you are interested in this research project/area

How to assess your suitability:

Essential criteria

  1. Australian Citizen, Australian Permanent Resident; or a New Zealand Citizen
  2. First-Class Honours, Masters by Research, or equivalent from a university, or a discipline (“subject”), ranked in the top 500 globally
  3. If the university/discipline (“subject”) ranked in the top 500, the applicant: received a high distinction on an undergraduate honours/postgraduate research project, or graduated in the top 5-10% of their class (or achieved a GPA of more than 85%)

Desirable criteria

At least one publication equivalent to the top 25% of journals in the field

Diversity and Inclusion

At CDU we actively celebrate our diversity. We innovate, embrace new ideas, and act with courage and kindness. We’re about what we can give to the world rather than what we take, and we believe in the transformative power of education. We work hard to make sure every member of our university community feels that they truly belong.

Understanding that it is through our focus on our people and leveraging our differences that will make CDU the most connected university in Australia, we are striving to ensure that our culture and our community is inclusive of all our staff, students and visitors. We are committed to maintaining a culture where everyone feels respected, safe, encouraged to speak up and supported in achieving their professional goals.

Applications from First Nations people, women at all levels, culturally and linguistically diverse people, people with disability, neurotypical and neurodiverse people, LGBTIQ+ people, people with family and caring responsibilities and people at all stages of their careers are welcomed.

You make CDU. And we want you to be exactly who you are.

Thirty years of understorey change in the lowland savannas of Kakadu National Park

Supervisor(s): Brett Murphy, Patricia Werner (ANU)

Project suitable for: Honours

Project summary

Northern Australian savannas are experiencing a rapid loss of biodiversity, and altered fire regimes may be to blame.

It has been suggested that highly flammable annual native grasses, especially Sorghum spp. (spear-grasses), have increased in abundance and fuelling high frequencies of intense fires. This hypothesised phenomenon is an example of a grass–fire cycle.

This project will evaluate this hypothesis, by re-visiting a number of sites in the lowland savannas of Kakadu National Park, that were previously surveyed in the late 1980s.

The dataset from the 1980s includes measurements of grass biomass and assessment of the dominant grass species, and similar measurements will be made now. This data will allow us to evaluate whether grass biomass and grass layer diversity have changed over 30 years, and in particular whether Sorghum has become more dominant.

Funding info: Funded. No top-up.

Closing date: Open

More information:

Area of Research Strength: Savanna & Arid Ecology

Project opportunities in conservation biology, landscape ecology and molecular ecology

Supervisor(s): Professor Sam Banks, Molecular Ecology group (

Project suitable for: PhD, Masters or Honours

Project summary

Molecular ecology uses methods in genomics and ecology to understand biodiversity and how it responds to environmental change.

My group is seeking students to work on projects that use laboratory genomics, computer simulation modelling and field-based ecology to contribute to the knowledge and conservation of northern Australian vertebrates.

We are interested in broad-scale patterns of biogeography of native mammals across this region, as well as understanding impacts of major ecological processes (such as fire regimes, climate and refugia) on the ecology and persistence of species across this region.

Funding info: tbc

Closing date: Open

More information:

Area of Research Strength:Biodiversity Conservation, Savanna & Arid Ecology

Project opportunities in tropical savanna ecology

Supervisor(s): A/Professor Brett Murphy

Project suitable for: PhD, Masters or Honours

Project summary:

Our research investigates the sustainable management of tropical savanna landscapes. We are seeking passionate and skilled students to work on projects that explore how fire has shaped and maintains the biota of tropical savannas, and how contemporary fire regimes can best be managed for biodiversity conservation, especially in relation to declining small mammals and fire-sensitive vegetation communities.

Funding info: tbc

Closing date: Open

More information:

Research Group: Tropical Savanna Ecology

Area of Research Strength:Biodiversity Conservation, Savanna & Arid Ecology

Distribution of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in seawater and sediment

Supervisor(s) Anna Padovan

Project suitable for: Honours

Project summary

We have detected Vibrio parahaemolyticus in shellfish in Darwin Harbour. 

To understand the ecology of this potentially human pathogenic bacterium, the student will measure the concentration of total V. parahaemolyticus and virulent strains in seawater and sediment from different times and locations with varied physicochemical parameters, in particular, seawater temperature, salinity, rainfall events and nutrients.

Multivariate analysis will be performed to determine if there are conditions likely to lead to the proliferation of V. parahaemolyticus, particularly virulent strains.

Funding: n/a

Specific requirements: Experience working in a PC2 lab; microbiological techniques (culturing, plating); molecular techniques (DNA extractions, gel electrophoresis, PCR, qPCR); understanding of and ability to work with biohazards; well-organised

Closing date: Open

More information  ph 8946 6555

Area of Research Strength: Water & Catchments

Vibrio ecology and associations with algal blooms

Project supervisor(s): Anna Padovan and Karen Gibb

Project suitable for: PhD

Project summary

Vibrio spp. are common in biota, water and sediment in estuarine and coastal environments including Darwin Harbour.

Several vibrio species have human pathogenic strains and globally, are the major cause of bacterial gastroenteritis following the ingestion of uncooked seafood.

This research provides an opportunity to study the abundance and distribution of Vibrio species in seawater over different seasons, and their association with environmental factors.

An additional focus could be an analysis of the annual Trichodesmium bloom holobiont and whether this has an association with Vibrio ecology prior during and after the bloom event. The results will have implications for public health and to inform further research on aquaculture and seafood harvest in tropical coastal areas.

The study will initially focus on Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory, Australia, where blooms regularly develop in the months of September and October.

Closing date: Open

Specific requirements: Experience in microbiology and DNA analysis

Funding: tbd

More information: