PhD project: Connecting biodiversity risk assessment, human well-being and natural capital accounting

Closing Date: 8 September 2020

Deakin University, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Integrative Ecology

Supervisors (Deakin): A/Prof Emily Nicholson, Dr Chloe Sato and Dr Hui Xiao.

External co-supervisor/collaborator: Carl Obst (Institute for Development of Environmental- Economic Accounting)

Background: The global biodiversity crisis is causing ecosystem collapses and species extinctions at an unprecedented rate, eroding the capacity of the environment to provide essential services that sustain human well-being, economies and social fabrics. Multiple approaches have been developed to assess risks to biodiversity (for example the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the Red List of Ecosystems), to value the benefits it supports, and to account for stocks and flows of the benefits from natural capital to human well-being. These approaches remain largely disparate, with limited exchanges between extensive ecological and economic knowledge bases and data.

In this trans-disciplinary project, the PhD student will bring together different knowledge types and theory to improve the monitoring and management of natural ecosystems. Specifically, the student will: 1) review the theory and empirical evidence supporting the relationships between ecosystems, benefits they provide and human well-being ; and 2) use novel modelling and statistical approaches, together with several case studies, to bring together the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems approach and the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting (UN SEEA EEA) approach. Both are seeing rapid uptake around the world, with great scope for informing and supporting one another, but integration is in its infancy. By working with leading authors in both the RLE and SEEA approaches, this exciting PhD project will influence global and national policy approaches and measurement standards. This project provides an excellent opportunity for the student to work with scientists and practitioners across the world, and investigate and work on the compilation of models and data for a set of Australian and international case studies.

Selection criteria: The student should have:

  • an honours degree in environmental science, ecology/conservation, environmental economics
    or similar, with a research component (e.g. thesis/dissertation) and an excellent academic
    track record
  • experience and quantitative skills for data analysis and modeling, ideally in R (or a willingness
    to develop such skills)
  • demonstrated skills in written research outputs (thesis, and preferably a scientific publication)
  • capacity to work in a team environment, particularly an inter-disciplinary team.
    The project forms part of an ARC Linkage grant on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems (LP170101143).

​Please send a cover letter, a statement addressing the selection criteria, CV and completed expression-of-interest form (from the Deakin HDR website) to Emily Nicholson ( by 8th of September 2019, to apply for this position. International or domestic students can apply; there is a scholarship associated with this position (please refer to the Deakin HDR website for conditions).

Supervision team: A/Prof Emily Nicholson is a conservation scientist at Deakin University, whose research interests include measuring change in biodiversity, and predicting the impacts of change on biodiversity and the benefits ecosystems provide for people. Emily is also the co-leader of the Red List of Ecosystems theme within the IUCN. Dr Chloe Sato is a postdoctoral research fellow involved in IUCN Red List of Ecosystem assessments in Australia, with experience in alpine ecology, ecosystems science, and biodiversity indicators. Dr Hui Xiao is a postdoctoral researcher at Deakin, working at the interface of quantitative ecology and economics. Carl Obst is the Director of the Institute for Development of Environmental-Economic Accounting (IDEEA Group), with extensive expertise in national accounts. Carl was the lead author and editor of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) – the international standard for this area of work.