PhD Project: Planning for sustainable development and biodiversity on Indigenous lands

Opportunity Type: 
Student Opportunity
Closing Date: 
Monday, June 1, 2020

Primary supervisor: A/Prof Emily Nicholson (

Project Team: Emily Nicholson (Deakin), Brett Murphy (Charles Darwin University, CDU), Margaret Ayre (University of Melbourne, UM), Jane Elith (UM), Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita (UM), Alan Andersen (CDU), Brett Bryan (Deakin), Tom Kompas (UM) 

Funding: Australian Research Council Linkage grant LP170100305

Sustainable development is critical to reconciling economic growth, human well-being and biodiversity conservation across the globe. The complexity of planning for sustainable development is exemplified in the Tiwi Islands, 60km north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Australia. The Tiwi Land Council, the primary decision-making body for land use on the Islands, is seeking to expand economic opportunities for Tiwi communities and to improve social, economic and health outcomes for the Tiwi people, while sustaining the Islands’ unique cultural and biodiversity values. This project aims to support decision-making on the Tiwi islands, through new methods for collaborative land-use planning that advance knowledge about trade-offs between sustainable economic development and biodiversity conservation on Indigenous lands. Our approach is trans-disciplinary and participatory, integrating Indigenous and scientific knowledge and methods.

Effective management requires information on the distribution, dynamics and values of species and ecosystems of high importance to biodiversity conservation and Indigenous cultural values. The Tiwi Islands support unique biodiversity. Extensive data and knowledge on biodiversity are found across disparate sources, including Indigenous and western scientific knowledges, and remotely sensed and field data. This project will 1) map past and current distributions of key species, drawing on these different sources, working with Tiwi communities and research assistants, and scientists across Australia, and 2) develop models of potential future dynamics under scenarios of climate and land-use change, and different management strategies.

Skills and qualifications required:

  • Undergraduate degree with honours and/or masters degree in ecology, environmental science
    or a related discipline, with a research component (e.g. thesis/dissertation) and an excellent
    academic track record
  • Demonstrated high-level skills in written and verbal communication (e.g., scientific
  • Quantitative skills in statistics, data analysis and/or process-based modelling
  • Skills in programming in languages such as R (or similar), spatial analysis such as species
    distribution modelling (in R and/or GIS), and/or experience working with remotely sensed data
  • Willingness to travel to remote Tiwi Islands and stay for periods of field work
  • Current driver’s license
  • Desirable: experience working with indigenous people.

This project will be funded by and primarily based at Deakin University, but the student will be a member of both the Conservation Science Research Group at Deakin and Qaeco at the University of Melbourne.

This project is largely desk-based (ideal at the moment), but will have strong international and national collaboration networks. Start date is ASAP – ideally by August, but with some flexibility. The project will be funded by Deakin University scholarships, and are open to Australia and international students. Closing date 1st of June 2020. Please send applications (cover letter, addressing the selection criteria listed, and CV) to Emily Nicholson (