PhD opportunity: Understanding the evolution of mammal pollination in the south-west Australian biodiversity hotspot and its vulnerability to landscape modification

Opportunity Type: 
Student Opportunity
Closing Date: 
Sunday, July 7, 2019

While Australia is a global centre for bird pollination, there is comparatively little evidence for pollination systems specialised on mammal pollination. The honey possum is a specialist nectarivore, endemic to the south-west Australian biodiversity hotspot, where they were originally common in sandplain habitats dominated by Proteaceae and Myrtaceae. While it has long been speculated that plants may be adapted specifically to pollination by honey possums, this hypothesis has never been rigorously tested. The initial aim of this project is to test for specialisation on pollination by honey possums in members of Dryandra, a clade of Banksia that exhibits multiple evolutions of the unusual prostrate flowers thought to be associated with mammal pollination. Secondly, we aim to investigate how resilient this pollination strategy is to anthropogenic landscape modification, given that many prostrate Dryandra are rare local endemics, including in remnant sandplain within the agricultural region. Finally, we aim to test the role of specific floral traits such as floral odour, inflorescence position, and rigid floral structure in pollination by honey possums.

A PhD student is being sought to research the ecology of potential honey possum pollination systems in Dryandra, with the flexibility to investigate issues of either conservation or floral adaptation depending on interest. A PhD scholarship for the project is available through La Trobe University. Suitable PhD students will have:

  1. a Masters or strong first class honours
  2. a driver’s license
  3. an ability to undertake fieldwork in remote areas
  4. a willingness to undertake fieldwork interstate

This project is a collaboration between Dr Ryan Phillips (La Trobe University, Melbourne), Dr Susan Hoebee (La Trobe University, Melbourne), and Dr Rob Davis (Edith Cowan University, Perth).

Contact Ryan Phillips for further information