PHD SCHOLARSHIP: The response of rehabilitated vegetation to fire in Kosciuszko National Park

Background

Australia’s high country presents an iconic landscape of great and diverse value, be it biodiversity, environmental, economic and cultural. In the face of rapid global change, understanding what drives growth and establishment of native species is crucial to managing this system to maximise those values. This is particularly important in sites that have been subject to disturbance.

Construction for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme between 1949 and 1974 led to considerable disturbance and impact within the boundaries of Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). Some 400 disturbed sites have been documented and assessed within KNP.  One of the most significant disturbances was the removal and dumping of large quantities of rock (spoil) in river and stream valleys. 

In the 50 years since the completion of the Snowy Hydro scheme there had been little natural native vegetation establishment on many areas disturbed by the scheme.  In 2003 NPWS began restoration and rehabilitation works on many of the former Snowy Hydro sites.  The rehabilitation works have been intensive and typically involved earthworks, introduction of organic matter and direct planting. Despite this many rehabilitated sites remain highly exposed and lack soil development and surface organic matter. A number of the rehabilitated sites were burnt in the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

Thus, there are fundamental questions about what drives establishment success, growth and survival and variation therein for montane species.  These questions are particularly timely and relevant to management of KNP.

Proposed project

We are seeking a PhD student to join a collaborative project to develop an understanding of drivers of variation of growth and establishment of the dominant montane species, particularly those targeted in revegetation and rehabilitation efforts, in burnt and unburnt rehabilitated sites. Plant functional traits relevant to growth and establishment under water and heat stress will be of particular interest. We will investigate how variation among treatments partitions among individuals, populations and species, to better inform rehabilitation efforts and improve outcomes on these sites. The project will be tailored depending on the successful applicant’s background and interests, for example, opportunities for extension to genetic, physiological, and hydrological investigations exist.

The project will be undertaken in close collaboration with the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment Science Division and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and in addition to yielding fundamental insights into the biology of Australian high-country plant species, will have significant potential to inform restoration practice through improved species and provenance selection. Results will also guide NPWS assessment of those rehabilitation sites that may be most vulnerable to future fire and drought.

Eligibility: Suitable applicants need to be highly motivated with strong academic and research backgrounds; skills in field biology, plant evolution or ecology, environmental physiology and/or ecological and evolutionary genetics are ideal. Demonstrated ability to conduct fieldwork and independent research experience are highly desirable. Interested students must apply and secure 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 labs are lively, hard-working and inquisitive places. We strive to do excellent, fundamental research that is of applied relevance for managing natural systems in the context of rapid global change.

Application deadline: Applications for Australian citizens and permanent residents or New Zealand citizens are due October 31 for an early 2021 start. For further information, please contact Adrienne.Nicotra@anu.edu.au (For more information on how to apply, go here and click the ‘Higher Degree by Research’ button. For more on the Nicotra group see: http://biology.anu.edu.au/adrienne_nicotra/)