PhD project: Does mammal reintroduction reconstruct arid zone food webs?

Opportunity Type: 
Student Opportunity
Closing Date: 
Friday, August 30, 2019

Australia has the unenviable distinction of having the highest rate of mammal extinctions globally in the past 200 years. Introduced predators (cats and foxes) are considered the main driver of Australia's mammal loss. Efforts to reintroduce native mammal populations have been most successful when introduced predators are removed, particularly through fencing. However, recent research suggests that reintroduced threatened mammals can have profound effects on ecosystems that are still being realized. Knowledge of how threatened mammals interact directly with their food resources, particularly invertebrates and fungi, and indirectly with other components of food webs is scarce. This limits our understanding of the sustainability of reintroductions.

The NSW government has recently invested $100 M over 5 years in the Saving Our Species program, which aims to secure threatened plants and animals in the wild in NSW. This includes three extensive projects to reintroduce locally extinct mammals into predator proof exclosures. These new reintroductions will face the problem of how to ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem that supports not only the reintroduced species, but a vast diversity of other animals and plants. By tracking how food webs change following reintroduction, we will be able to identify changes in the structure of food webs before they result in broader impacts on the sustainability of ecosystems. This information is critical in managing populations of reintroduced species to ensure that they do not exceed the carrying capacity of their environment. This new understanding will help us to better understand the cascading changes resulting from the ecological extinction of many mammal species. Therefore, we anticipate that targets for what we can achieve in conservation will be revised.

The PhD project/s will be supervised by Assoc. Prof. Heloise Gibb (invertebrate community ecology) and Dr Nick Murphy (ecological genetics) and possibly other team members based at UNSW, NSW OEH or UWA, depending on the project’s focus.

We are seeking expressions of interest (EOIs) from capable, first class Honours (or Masters equivalent) students with a passion for field-based ecological research and expertise in ecology, entomology, genetics and/or network analysis. The preferred date for commencement is early February 2020, but start dates can be negotiated. Funding is available to support the operating costs of up to two PhD students on this project. Following a successful EOI, candidates would need to acquire a PhD scholarship to conduct the PhD project at La Trobe University (e.g. Australian Postgraduate Award, La Trobe Postgraduate Award).

Closing date for EOI applications is August 23rd, 2019. Enquiries are welcome by email.

Your expression of interest should include a 1 page cover letter detailing your interest in the project, a CV (up to four pages) and contact details for two referees and should be sent by email to:

Assoc. Prof. Heloise Gibb