Prospective students

We have funding from the Australian Research Council, the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation and various international research councils and partners to investigate the implications of climate change and climate variability for temperate reef ecosystems in Australia (The Great Southern Reef, video) and internationally. We are seeking motivated and enthusiastic students to participate in research projects within(or across) the topics outlined below.

NEW PhD OPPORTUNITY: Novel solutions to combat loss of marine forests and turf expansion. [UWA link].

Prospective candidates should send a CV and cover letter, briefly outlining their motivations for pursuing PhD research and their interests, to Dr Thomas Wernberg.

Australian and New Zealand candidates are expected to apply for and secure an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA/UPA). International candidates are also welcome; they would need to full-fill all requirements for admission into the UWA PhD Program and apply for, and secure, an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS), Endeavour Award or similar. Please visit the UWA Scholarships web page for more information.

NOTE: UWA Scholarships are currently open for domestic students (deadline 30 October 2020). All successful applicants MUST be present in Perth to take up the award by the 31 Mat 2021).

All students will be based in the School of Biological Sciences & the UWA Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia (Crawley Campus or Watermans Bay Marine Laboratory, Perth), where they will work as part of a diverse team of researchers, post-graduate and under-graduate students. A strong academic record, quantitative skills and experience with marine ecology will be necessary for all projects. Most projects are likely to involve a combination of database, laboratory and/or field work. Some time spent away on field trips and research visits must be anticipated for most projects.

1. Resilience of underwater marine forests

A PhD project is available to undertake research to determine if population connectivity and thermal stress limits the ecological performance and capacity for biological adaptation of seaweed forests to environmental change and climate variability (e.g., marine heatwaves). The project can develop along  (or across) three lines: 1) Population genetics of seaweeds, and the use novel genetic markers (SNPs) to characterise patterns of genetic diversity and structure in Australian seaweed forests. 2) Seaweed adaptation to environmental stress, and the use of unique breeding experiments to test adaptive responses of Australian seaweed forests to increasing temperatures and marine heatwaves. 3) Ecology and ecophysiology of seaweed forests, and combining laboratory and field experiments to test the performance of seaweed forests under different environmental conditions. This research is undertaken in collaboration with Dr Melinda Coleman (NSW DPI). [UWA link].

2. Drivers and feedbacks of regime-shifts on temperate reefs

A PhD project is available to undertake research on the community ecology and population biology of organisms living in warm marginal temperate reef ecosystems, and the consequences of a severe marine heatwave that impacted the coast in 2011. During the 2011 heatwave, ocean temperatures reached an unprecedented 2 – 4 oC above the long term summer maximums along the WA coast. As a result, dramatic changes to reef ecosystems were observed with large declines in habitat forming temperate seaweeds and changes to fish and invertebrate communities, driven by an increased abundance and diversity of tropical species. This project will investigate the evidence of recovery of these marginal ecosystems since the heatwave and aim to understand the ecological processes that are either driving its recovery or reinforcing a transition away from a kelp dominated ecosystem state.  This project will require experience with field-based research and qualifications commensurable with UWA requirements for boat and scuba activities. [UWA link].

3. Kelp forests and blue carbon 

A PhD project is available to undertake research on the flux and fate of kelp detritus in the context of globally changing kelp forests. Understanding the ways in which organic carbon is produced, transformed and transported to be consumed or sequestered is critical in the Anthropocene as we scramble to understand and increase carbon sinks. Recently it has been suggested that kelp forests may contribute substantially to the amount of carbon sequestered globally. The importance of this ‘blue carbon’ is contentious and the current inability to account for the fate of the large flux of carbon from coastal habitats has been identified as a major unknown in the global carbon budget. The project will involve field research, and can develop along three lines: 1) quantifying the flux of kelp carbon to offshore habitats, 2) measuring turnover rates of carbon in nearshore habitats, and 3) investigating the impacts of climate on altering standing kelp-carbon stocks. The project will link in with several international partners, including ‘BLUECONNECT’, a 4-year research collaboration between University of Western Australia, University of Western Cape, South Africa, and the Institute of Marine Research, Norway. To this end, international collaboration and field work is anticipated. This PhD project will be based at the University of Western Australia and supervised by Dr Thomas Wernberg and Dr Karen Filbee-Dexter. [UWA link].

4. Marine heatwaves as agents of change in marine communities

A PhD project is available to undertake research into the ecophysiological and ecological impacts of marine heatwaves. These thermally extreme events have been increasing globally over the past decades and will continue to do so into the future. However, we are only now starting to understand their profound impacts in marine ecosystems. This project will investigate the role of different intrinsic (i.e. associated with the marine heatwave, such as its duration,  maximum intensity and cumulative intensity) and extrinsic  (i.e. associated with the system, such as species complementarity, community temperature index) properties in determining impacts of marine heatwaves.

5. Environmental control of seaweed phenology and reproduction

A PhD project is available to undertake research on the influence of temperature and other environmental factors, on seaweed phenology and reproduction. One of the most pervasive manifestations of global warming on land has been a shift in the timing of life-cycle events such as reproduction. The candidate will develop a project to test the effects of temperature and other environmental factors (e.g. light, water motion, nutrients, pH) on the phenology and reproduction of Australian seaweeds. The project provides an exciting opportunity to combine seaweed culture experiments and unique analyses of historical herbarium collections, to test the possible effects of increasing ocean temperature on the reproductive phenology of seaweeds in the world’s most diverse seaweed flora. This project will greatly benefit from experience with aquarium and culture experiments and/or work with herbarium collections. Field work is possible but not required.