Photo: Richard Wylie

PhD Opportunity: Assessing the resilience and sensitivity of temperate rainforest communities to historic disturbance, climate variability and wildfire (Parkville, Victoria)

Closes: 20 October

A long-term perspective using 70 years of plot measurements and three centuries of tree ring records.

The project would entail characterising the resilience and sensitivity of temperate rainforest communities to historic disturbance, climate variability and wildfire using a combination of long term stand dynamic observations, dendrochronology and landscape spatial analysis. It will examine the consequences of recent unprecedented landscape scale wildfires in northern NSW on a world heritage listed ecosystem renowned for its diversity of ancient plant lineages which exhibit few obvious adaptations to increasing fire activity.

The occurrence of a long-term plot network established 70 years ago measuring rainforest recruitment, growth and mortality within the world heritage Gondwana property provides a opportunity for a talented student to explore over-arching ecological processes involved in the persistence of fire-sensitive rainforest communities in a landscape of increasing fire activity.

The project would have a strong field component and would entail building a compilation of a variety of long-term plot data-sources, including data on tree growth, fuel equilibrium, micro-climate and tree-ring derived growth time series. Integral to unravelling the changing relationship between fire-sensitive temperate rainforest communities and climate variability and wildfire is exploring the adaptive management framework of how land managers and fire-fighting authorities should respond to new research insights and modify their fire management strategies.

There is significant scope to diversify the project including investigating the relationships of the dendrochronological record to climate variability and a calibrated tree diameter growth model, incorporating physiological data on seedling responses to increased temperature and CO2, and undertaking further field based manipulative experiments under controlled fire conditions. These methods will be employed in combination to understand the entire resilience and sensitivity profile of temperate rainforest communities across the world heritage estate in northern NSW and SE QLD.

The project will utilise an established partnership between the Bush Fire and Natural Hazards CRC, the NSW NPWS, the NSW Rural Fire Service and a strong component of citizen science volunteering.

This project is based in the beautiful north coast forests of NSW and has access to a field-based laboratory and accommodation facility.

The project will be jointly supervised by Prof Patrick Baker (Uni of Mel) and Dr Ross Peacock (Macquarie University).

The candidate will be based in Parkville Victoria.

We are looking for a candidate with an Honours or Master’s degree in plant, forest, or environmental sciences. A strong interest to work in the field and undertake systematic ecological measurements and work with land managers is preferred. The candidate would also benefit from a background in laboratory analysis of plant specimens, plant identification, forest inventory, statistical modelling of long-term experiments, or spatial analysis. The project would involve remote area fieldwork in NSW State Forests and National Parks. There is enough scope of work to tailor this project to a suitable candidate. 

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