Opportunity: Scientia PhD Scholarship - the Short and Long-term Effects of Climate Change on Vegetation

There is an exciting opportunity to join my lab as a Scientia PhD student, comparing the short and long-term effects of climate change on vegetation.

The challenge: Climatic change is set to reconfigure ecological systems, as key drivers of vegetation composition and function - such as rainfall and temperature - shift away from their historical norms. Vegetation will respond over a range of time-scales, from short-term acclimation, to medium-term adjustments in the abundance of current species, to long-term adaptation and/ or replacement of species. Much of current research (both modelling and experiments) emphasises short-term physiological responses of vegetation to environmental change, e.g. in outcomes such as productivity, biomass storage, or leaf area coverage. But how big will these impacts be compared to the longer-term changes that will arise through adjusting abundance or through shifts in trait species or species mixtures at a site? In this project, the student will compare the pace and impact of these different responses, using process-based models (such as GDAY, and plant); and then outline scenarios of alternative future states. Insight gained will underpin effective ecosystem management.

Location: The project is based in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Your 3 supervisors are located across two UNSW centres within the school: the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, and the Climate Change Research Centre.

Support: The Scientia PhD program offers unprecedented support for PhD students in Australia, including a $40k AUD p.a. tax-free stipend, a full 4 years of funding, and up to $10k AUD p.a. for career development activities (including conferences and courses). More information about the Scientia scheme is available at https://www.2025.unsw.edu.au/apply/

Supervisory team: UNSW’s Scientia PhD projects have 3 supervisors. Lead supervisor Dr Daniel Falster studies the mechanisms of trait-based community assembly, and is working to predict the distributions of traits and species from first principles (e.g. see Falster et al 2017). Joint supervisor A/Prof Will Cornwell’s research spans plant eco-physiology, community ecology and ecosystem ecology, and also includes work on decomposition and nutrient cycles. Dr Matin De Kauwe focuses on improving our understanding of land-atmosphere interactions, with an emphasis on forest ecosystems and their responses to global change (increasing CO2, temperature and changing water availability.

Who should apply: This project suits students with strong quantitative skills, combined with a deep passion for understanding ecosystems. Graduates with a strong academic background or professional experience outside academia in biology, mathematics, physics, atmospheric science, engineering, data science, or a similar quantitative science are encouraged to apply. Demonstrated experience with programming (e.g. in R, C, fortran 90, Python) is essential.

The application process: The application process for Scientia PhD scholarships involves several stages, with formal offers being made in early November.

  • Stage 1: Prospective students submit expressions of interest for a specific Scientia project (due by July 20, 2018)
  • Stage 2: Supervisors select top their top 2 candidates for each project (due July 27, 2018)
  • Stage 3: The top 2 candidates for each project develop a short research proposal (due 3 Sep, 2018)
  • Stage 4: The University reviews proposals and makes offers to leading candidates (due 5 Nov)

If you are interested in applying you MUST Register an Expression of Interest for this project here. In addition, you can email to the lead supervisor Dr Daniel Falster at daniel.falster@unsw.edu.au, with any additional materials (CV, papers, other) to support your EOI, plus any questions.

After we have reviewed the expressions of interest, we may ask to meet with you over Skype, phone or in person.