Student Opportunities

Project on the effects of fires on stream ecology and water quality

Location: Canberra, ACT
Advertiser: Associate Professor Ben Kefford ( at the Centre for Applied Water Science, University of Canberra
Degree level: Honours but anyone interested in a Masters or PhD should get in contact

With the recent fires an opportunity has presented itself for an honours project on the effect of fires on stream macroinvertebrate and their subsequent recovery. (We are suggesting it as an honours project we would, however, consider students interested in expanding such a project to the Masters or PhD level.) Fires represent a significant disturbance to many Australian ecosystems and are predicted to become more important under climate change. Yet knowledge of their effects on stream communities (and recovery) is limited. In particular, what are the major mechanisms that cause stream community to be affected? For example, how important are: (1) heating up of the water as the fire burns the site, (2) local habitat disturbance at the site from the fire and (3) changes in water quality due to larger scale catchment scale disturbance?

As part of a larger study on climate variability, we have sample stream macroinvertebrates at sites in the Kosciusko National Park prior to the recent fires, and data from these sampling makes ideal reference or baseline to assess the subsequent effects of the fires. As part of this larger project, we have temperature dataloggers at all sites automatically measuring the water temperature continuously, so that we will know if the water was heated up by the fires and if so how hot the stream water got. We have also measured the minimum and maximum temperature tolerance of common species at our sites, so we know what temperatures species can tolerant and can compare these tolerances to the measured temperature of the stream water.

Following the fires, our sites fall into three categories.

  • The sites have been burnt and thus have local habitat disturbance as well as wide scale catchment changes in water quality.
  • Sites which did not burn but a significant proportion of their upstream catchment has been burnt, so there will be no site scale local habitat disturbance but still changes in water quality from catchment disturbance.
  • Sites which were neither burnt nor has their upstream catchment been burnt. These sites can be used as a baseline to show any temporal change in the absence of the fires.

These categories of sites and the other data we have collected (continuous measurements of water temperature, temperature tolerance of species) provide an excellent design to assess the effect (and subsequent recovery) from the fires. Importantly we will be able to disentangle the effects of physical heating of the water by the fire, local site scale habitat disturbance of fires at a site, catchment level effects on water quality.

The project would assess the effects of these three mechanisms (local habitat disturbance, increase in water temperature and catchment scale changes in water temperature) on stream macroinvertebrate populations and community structure. For a student interested in population genetics, there would also be the potential to assess the effect of the fires on population genetic structing of selected species. The project would be supervised by Ben Kefford, Ross Thompson with input from LeRoy Poff and potentially others.

If you are potentially interested in an honours project along the lines as that described here, then please contact Ben Kefford preferable via email We are ideally after a student that could start mid-year, i.e. July/August 2020, although there is the potential for a student to start this honours project in February 2021, if the field sampling is conducted in 2020.

We are suggesting this project at the level of an honours project but would consider approaches from students interested in expanding this project into a Masters or PhD project.

Please feel free to pass this message on to others who might be interested in this project.

PhD Project: Development of ecological indicators for assessing pollution risks in freshwater streams around Melbourne

Location: Bundoora West, VIC
Advertiser: AQUEST The Aquatic Environmental Stress Research Group @ RMIT University
Scholarship: Stipend to the value of $30K plus tech support. Additional fees occur for international students.

AQUEST is a multidisciplinary research team with expertise in environmental and water quality assessment, using a variety of technologies and approaches to identify priority pollution issues that affect aquatic ecosystems. Our research partnership with Melbourne Water has been formalised as the Aquatic Pollution Prevention Partnership (A3P).

This collaborative project between RMIT University and Melbourne Water will develop ecological tools for assessing pollution risks and impacts in freshwater streams around Melbourne. Pollutants in waterways that are impacted by untreated sewage and stormwater inputs will be screened and then tested in the laboratory using standardised ecotoxicological tests. Field microcosms and caging experiments will be used to assess in situ impacts. It is envisaged that this project will lead to the development of new biological tools for pollution assessment, including but not limited to microbial indicators, fish and macroinvertebrate indicators and plant function indicators.

The successful candidate will be provided with ample opportunities to make industry connections, work in a supportive team environment, have access to field equipment and laboratory facilities, with consumables covered.  

How to Apply:
Interested individuals are invited to discuss the project with supervisors: Dr Kathryn Hassell: 03)  9925 4647 or Professor Vincent Pettigrove: 03) 9925 7608 , please include DR/MR231 in the subject heading.

Application is made by going to: ; using Google Chrome to search by supervisor

Applications Close: when the position is filled

PhD Project: Rivers as vectors of microplastic pollution, University of Canterbury

A fully funded PhD position is available in the College of Science, University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand). The student will be part of larger NZ MBIE Endeavour funded project which addresses the role of rivers as dynamic transport vectors of plastic pollution. This PhD project will focus on microplastic pollution by examining the sources and fate of microplastics in an urban catchment.

The successful PhD candidate will be responsible for determining the relationship between different microplastic sources and the types and sizes of microplastics in an urban river. The candidate will also investigate the fragmentation potential of different plastic polymers and increase our understanding of microplastic formation. This will involve microplastic analysis using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), analysis of plastic degradation, and genetic analysis of biofilm communities using Next Generation Sequencing.

The ideal candidate will have experience working in freshwater or marine environments, skills in spectroscopy or bioinformatics, and strong experimental/laboratory skills. There will be travel between Christchurch and Wellington for field work. The position begins in July 2019 and includes funds covering a stipend, tuition and operating costs. There will be opportunities to seek additional funding and the student should be comfortable with grant applications. Domestic and international students are encouraged to apply. Applicants must meet the University of Canterbury entrance requirements.

Amount: $27,500 per annum & fees to $7,500 per annum
Tenure: 3 years
Closing Dates: Always open

To apply, please send a cover letter stating your interests and experience relevant to the project and a CV to Dr. Sally Gaw apply on-line via:

PhD Project: NORM scale in the ocean: Assessing radiological and ecotoxicological effects on aquatic organisms, ANSTO

A PhD top up scholarship is available at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in southern Sydney for a potential PhD student affiliated with a partner university.

Successful decommissioning of subsea oil and gas infrastructure requires an effective and safe approach of assessing and managing radiological residues. Scale residues frequently accumulate on the interior surfaces of pipes and other structures, and may persist long after extraction operations have ceased. Within such scale materials are a range of metal contaminants, as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), dominated by the U-238 and Th-232 decay series. On older, uncleaned pipes, the resulting accumulation of scale can be substantial enough to reduce the internal diameter of a typical pipe by >20%.

The project will provide for a more valid assessment of the risk posed by NORM scale to aquatic organisms as compared with current methods which rely on default/reference parameters which may greatly misinterpret the risk. It is intended that this will enable improved strategies to be developed and potentially implemented, creating large cost-saving for both industry and government, whilst demonstrating environmental protection (stakeholder acceptance). Specifically, the project will address a critical step in achieving this goal: developing a data set of bioaccumulation (transfer) and organ distribution of NORM within pipe scale to bottom-dwelling (benthic) organisms from oil and gas distribution lines under several scenarios of pipe usage.

Please see the project outline for more details of the project.

For further information, please contact Dr. Tom Cresswell (; (02) 9717 9412.

PhD Project: Antimicrobial resistance burden in migratory and resident bird species in the northern Adelaide coastal zone, University of South Australia

A scholarship opportunity exists for a PhD student to undertake research into the microbiome and resistance profiles of resident and migratory bird species in the northern Adelaide coastal zone. 

The Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary National Park provides a key feeding and roosting site for tens of thousands of birds who migrate annually along the East-Asian Australasian flyway. Data will be collected to investigate correlations between local habitat and water quality and bird health. The role of birds in harboring and transporting antimicrobial resistant bacteria and genes to/from natural wetlands and human impacted habitats such as wastewater treatment lagoons will also be assessed. The project will have close links with SA Water and SA EPA.

This scholarship is a thematically-badged living stipend for domestic students valued at $27,596 per annum.

Further information can be found here or at

For all enquiries please contact: Assoc. Prof. Erica Donner Email:
Phone: (08) 8302 3624

International PhD Opportunities

Under the European Research Council grant “Monitoring Biodiversity from Space”, ITC and University Twente have opened three PhD positions which are fully funded for 4 years in the area of environmental DNA and remote sensing. These include:

  1. Connecting biodiversity estimated with eDNA point samples with hyperspectral imaging
  2. Identifying impact of vegetation structure and function on microbial phyllosphere communities
  3. Linking biodiversity policy with science