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Four PhD projects available in fauna conservation at The University of Queensland

Updated: Feb 26

Four PhD opportunities available for domestic applicants to join the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the University of Queensland. Research is fully funded but applications for a scholarship close 24th March 2024, for study commencing in the second half of 2024. Details available here. If you are interested and meet the eligibility requirements contact the primary supervisor listed by 8th March, 2024.

1.     Evaluating the impact of major threats to Endangered reptiles in an intensive agricultural landscape

Half of the Australian reptiles most at risk of extinction occur in Queensland; and five are grassland earless dragons. Critical knowledge gaps forestalling recovery of threatened reptiles include the impact and mitigation of key threats: habitat loss and degradation, and invasive species; and how these threats interact. The southern Brigalow Belt of Queensland is home to threatened reptile species such as Condamine earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis), Roma earless dragon (T. wilsoni), Grey snake (Hemiaspis damelii) and Five-clawed Worm-skink (Anomalopus mackayi). Like many species of grassland and floodplain ecosystems, the habitat of these reptile species has been subject to degradation, fragmentation and loss resulting from agricultural intensification, road upgrades and maintenance, and weed and pasture species that change soil structure and functioning. Land management that creates and maintains habitat for these species is crucial to their persistence.

This project will investigate the impact of the major threatening processes by surveying the species via traditional and innovative survey methods, and measure habitat features at multiple scales to capture the species’ associations with different land use and management. It will also assess the threat posed by introduced predators (cats and red foxes) on the Endangered reptiles, and identify the key recovery actions required.

Primary supervisor: Dr April Reside

2.     Social and ecological determinants of persistence of threatened reptiles in an intensive agricultural landscape

Land management practices play a critical role in the suitability of habitat for species across over half of the Australian continent that is under agricultural production. Yet details of practices that support the threatened species specialised to each region are largely unknown, particularly across the vast landscapes of Queensland. Furthermore, the social and ecological factors that influence landholders’ decisions to adopt reptile-friendly management practices is insufficiently understood. Identifying key enablers or constraints of reptile-friendly land management will inform strategies to promote greater adoption across the species’ range.

This project will work with the landholders that are the custodians of threatened reptile species, focussing on the Endangered, narrow-ranged Condamine earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis), to understand the land management histories associated with reptile presence, landholders’ perceptions of reptile-friendly land management practices, and factors influencing the willingness to adopt these practices. Applicants to this project will require a strong background in social science.


Primary supervisor: Dr April Reside co-supervisor: Dr Angela Dean 

3.     Ecological and conservation impacts of noisy miner control in subtropical woodlands

The noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala) is a native honeyeater which is widespread in eucalypt woodlands across eastern Australia.  Land use changes have benefited the noisy miner leading to increases in occupancy and abundance.  Their aggressive behaviour and excludes almost all smaller woodland bird species from within their territories which contributes to the decline of woodlands birds, resulting in noisy miner overabundance being listed nationally as a Key Threatening Process under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.  However, their broader effects on ecosystem health are poorly understood.

This project aims to develop a greater understanding of the effects of noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala) on the health of subtropical woodland ecosystems, and test an experimental approach to reducing negative impacts. The fieldwork will be based in the woodland landscapes around the UQ Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre in south-east Queensland, about 1.5 hours from the St Lucia campus. We are seeking students with experience in Australian bird and/or plant identification and survey methods, and an enthusiasm for field-based work.

Primary supervisor: Prof Martine Maron co-supervisor: Dr April Reside


4.     The FaunaHealth Index: Developing fauna community condition metrics for Australia

This PhD project is part of an ARC Linkage-funded research program aiming to develop new indicators of the health of fauna communities. This project aims to improve how biodiversity is measured by developing a system to describe the condition of animal communities, analogous to those used for plant communities. It is currently developing and testing a system for Australia’s terrestrial birds, before extending the approach to wetland and coastal birds, and to mammal and frog communities. Collectively, these metrics will enable holistic and relevant measures of the biodiversity value of sites, improve evaluation of restoration actions, reveal trends in community condition, and inform monitoring and evaluation tools for emerging biodiversity markets.

The specific focus of the PhD is flexible, and prospective students with an interest in community ecology and conservation of any vertebrate fauna group are welcome to apply. We are seeking students with skills in managing large databases and spatial data analysis, and who enjoy working with diverse stakeholders and in collaborative research teams.

Primary supervisor: Prof Martine Maron 

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