Current opportunities

Water, elevated CO2 and growth: plant ecophysiological responses in a Free Air CO2 Enrichment experiment

Closing Date

22nd March 2019

Applicants should contact the primary supervisor, and submit their Expression of Interest (EOI) and Application as soon as possible.

The Research Project

This project presents a rare opportunity to work in one of the world’s few Free Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experiments, a cutting-edge global change manipulation experiment, located in southern Tasmania, Australia. The rising concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere should stimulate plant growth but often doesn’t and our inability to explain the reasons for this lack of response prevents us from predicting global carbon balances and future agricultural productivity. This project will involve measurements in a cutting-edge global change field experiment to close this knowledge gap by examining plant growth responses to elevated CO2 during repeated drought cycles. In particular, the candidate will aim to identify the mechanisms and timescales over which past water and nutrient availability affect photosynthesis and growth responses to CO2 in grasslands, which is crucial for improving models of future plant growth and land-atmosphere interactions.

This project is fully funded by the Australian Research Council. The successful candidate will be based in the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania and jointly supervised by A/Prof. Mark Hovenden (University of Tasmania) and Dr Martin De Kauwe (University of New South Wales).


The following eligibility criteria apply to this scholarship:

* The scholarship is open to Australian and New Zealand (domestic) candidates and to International candidates.
* Research must be undertaken on a full-time basis.
* Applicants must already have been awarded a first-class Honours degree in plant science, ecology or agricultural science or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector.
* Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills.
* Current vehicle drivers license.

Candidates from the following disciplinary backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Knowledge and skills that will be ranked highly include:
* Degree-level undergraduate education in biology, plant science, agricultural science, ecology or a related subject.
* Experience with plant physiological measurements such as gas exchange, water or nutrient relations.
* Experience in making repetitive measurements in a field setting

Application Process

Applicants who require more information or are interested in this specific project should first contact the listed Supervisor. Information and guidance on the application process can be found on the Apply Now website.

Information about scholarships is available on the Scholarships webpage.

More Information

Please contact the Primary Supervisor, Mark Hovenden, School of Natural Sciences (Biological Sciences), for further information.

Email:; Phone: +61 (3) 6226 7874.

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Honours projects

How does seasonal water availability change the growth response to elevated CO2? Our recent research has shown that the way that water availability affects the impacts of high CO2 concentrations on plant growth depends on the season. More water in summer stimulates growth but more water in spring and autumn actually reduces growth. This presents a physiological conundrum. Is nitrogen availability the key? Only careful, detailed experiments will be able to figure this out.

Interactions among tree saplings and shrubs in dry sclerophyll forest. We have an experiment in which we have manipulated the density of tree saplings by sowing different amounts of tree seeds into plots of a regenerating dry sclerophyll forest. This is an excellent opportunity to study how the growth, diversity and reproduction of the rich shrub community is affected by the density of tree saplings. Are more trees good or bad for biodiversity? Do tree saplings compete or facilitate other species?

How does plant competition actually occur and why does it matter? Plants interact with other plants of their own species as well as with those of other species and understanding how these interactions differ will help us to understand how ecosystems work. Projects addressing this topic will combine experimental work in the field and glasshouse as well as observations in natural forests and laboratory analyses and will help us to understand what exactly controls the way that plants compete and how these interactions affect ecosystem function.

How does plant community diversity affect ecosystem processes? The productivity and resilience of ecosystems is dependent upon which plants are present and how many of each species there are. Importantly, it seems that the diversity of plant characters or traits is just as important as the diversity of species. Projects addressing this topic will combine experimental work in the field and glasshouse as well as observations in natural forests and laboratory analyses and will help us to understand what exactly controls the way that ecosystems function and the role of species and trait diversity.

How do competition and facilitation occur together in regenerating populations? Plants growing together necessarily compete for limiting resources like water, light, nutrients and space. However, plants also benefit from the presence of other plants through amelioration of harsh conditions and spreading the load of herbivores and pathogens. So how do the two fundamental processes interact and when is one more important than the other? Projects addressing this topic will combine experimental work in the field and glasshouse as well as observations in natural forests and will help us to understand what exactly controls ecosystem productivity.

How can spatial patterns in plant populations and communities help us to understand fundamental ecological processes? Patterns exist in nature as a result of interactions among plants, interactions between plants and the abiotic environment and from chance events. If we can understand patterns better, we can understand the processes operation in plant populations and communities better. Projects addressing this topic will use extensive field work and computer analyses to help us understand how processes lead to patterns in nature.

Using individual based models to understand plant-plant interactions. The growth in computing power means that we are now able to model each individual plant in an ecosystem using simple ecological rules. If we get the rules right, then the patterns produced on a computer should reflect natural patterns that we find in nature. By doing this we can test whether or not our understanding of plant and ecosystem ecological processes are correct. Projects addressing this topic will use non-mathematical computer models to simulate plants growing and interacting in natural environments. Computing skills are beneficial for this type of project.

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