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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.

  • Supervisor(s): Brett Murphy, Sarah Legge (UQ/ANU)

    Project suitable for: Honours

    Project summary

     The monsoon vine thickets of the Dampier Peninsula, just north of Broome, Western Australia, are an Endangered ecological community. They are thought to be threatened by frequent high-intensity fires, which kill trees and damage the canopy.

    This project will analyse historical and recent satellite records of the extent of the vine thickets, in order to evaluate whether the thickets are contracting, and whether thicket contraction is related to the frequency of late dry season fires. There will be field surveys to ground-truth and validate satellite-derived observations.

    The project is fully funded through the National Environmental Science Programme's Threatened Species Recovery Hub – a partnership between the Department of the Environment and multiple research partners across Australia.

    Charles Darwin University (CDU) is a lead partner in the Hub. The project will commence in early 2020 and involve collaboration with local Traditional Owners and land management groups.

    The student would be based at CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, in Darwin.

    Funding info: Funded by the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub. No top-up.

    Closing date: Open

    More information: brett.murphy@cdu.edu.au

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

  • 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: brett.murphy@cdu.edu.au

    Area of Research Strength: Savanna & Arid Ecology

  • Supervisors A/Prof Hamish Campbell, Movement & Landscape Ecology Laboratory (www.mlelab.com) and Professor Sam Banks, Molecular Ecology group (https://sambanks.weebly.com/)

    Project suitable for: PhD

    Project summary

    Grass finches have decreased in abundance and distribution in recent decades. These declines are perplexing because they have occurred in apparently intact savanna ecosystems over vast spatial scales.

    This project will use an autonomous biotelemetry network deployed throughout the East Kimberley to detect and monitor the individual movement and habitat usage of grass finches. This data will be integrated with diet selection and genomic data to better understand the connection between individual-based movements, landscapes, and meta-population dynamics.

    Options to delve further into landscape genetics or movement ecology, depending on student’s interest.

    Funding: The project has a large operation budget through the Australian Research Council with Save The Gouldian Fund, WWF-Australia, National Drones Institute and Kimberley Land Council.

    Specific requirements: The successful applicant will be required to spend prolonged periods of time in remote northern Australia alongside our skilled field team S/he must be willing to learn bird capture and biotelemetry tagging techniques, landscape genomic methods, and spatial data analysis in R.

    Closing date: Open

    More information: hamish.campbell @cdu.edu.au

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

  • Supervisor(s): Professor Sam Banks, Molecular Ecology group (https://sambanks.weebly.com/)

    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

  • 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: brett.murphy@cdu.edu.au

    Research Group: Tropical Savanna Ecology

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

  • 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-organized

    Closing date: Open

    More information anna.padovan@cdu.edu.au  ph 8946 6555

    Area of Research Strength: Water & Catchments

  • 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: anna.padovan@cdu.edu.au