These projects will suit students with interest and knowledge in plant evolutionary ecology, environmental physiology and/or ecological and evolutionary genetics
1. Multi-trait plasticity in an Australian alpine herb in response to warming –epigenetic and ecophysiological underpinnings: Phenotypic plasticity, or the ability to change phenotype with environment, is the most important process determining the immediate response of natural populations to environmental change. However, studies of plasticity frequently rely on simplifying assumptions, and an understanding of the genomic and epigenomic mechanisms underlying plasticity is only just emerging. Using large-scale temperature-manipulation experiments an Australian alpine herb, the waxy bluebell (Wahlenbergia ceracea), these PhD projects will combine state-of- the-art ecophysiological and genomic techniques and multivariate statistical analyses to determine whether multi-trait phenotypic plasticity is adaptive, whether it can evolve, and particularly will aim to identify (epi)genomic mechanisms driving it. Supervisors Profs Adrienne Nicotra, Loeske Kruuk (ANU) and A. Prof Christina Richards (Uni South Florida, USA).
2. The adaptive potential of woody plants in the Australian Alps: Around the world, shrubs are invading ecosystems previously dominated by forbs and grasses. The mechanisms underpinning shrub expansion and subsequent consequences for alpine areas need to be unraveled. Plastic and adaptive changes in shrubs across alpine landscapes may result in new shrub invasions, leading to significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function. How do shrubs disperse and spread across the landscape and how is this reflected in their evolutionary genetic history? These projects combine cutting edge population genomic and classic plant ecology approaches and to assess patterns of genetic structure in several key alpine shrub species and assess how these patterns reflect underlying ecological processes. Projects will make use of next generation sequencing techniques and bioinformatics in the Genome Discovery Unit at the Biomolecular Resources Facility (ANU), as well as fieldwork in the Snowy Mountains, Kosciusko National Park. Supervisors: Dr Susanna Venn & Prof Adrienne Nicotra (ANU) and Prof Ary Hoffmann (Uni Melb).
Suitable applicants need to be highly motivated with strong academic and research backgrounds; skills in plant evolutionary ecology, environmental physiology and/or ecological and evolutionary genetics are required. Demonstrated ability to conduct fieldwork, and independent research experience are highly desirable. Interested students must apply for admission and scholarship online at ANU. Successful applicants will receive scholarship stipend, tuition fee waiver, research funds including computer and travel grants.
Location: We’re based in the Division of Ecology & Evolution in the Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. The facilities and intellectual environment are outstanding and the Nicotra and Kruuk labs are lively, hard-working and inquisitive places. We strive to do excellent, fundamental research that is relevant in the context of rapid global change.
Application deadline: Applications for international students are due by August 31 and for Australian citizens and permanent residents or New Zealand citizens are due October 31 for an early 2018 start. For further information, please contact Loeske.Kruuk@anu.edu.au or Adrienne.Nicotra@anu.edu.au (and for further information, go here and click the ‘Higher Degree by Research' button).