Investigating the relationship between liana abundance and tropical forest recovery

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Investigating the relationship between liana abundance and tropical forest recovery



We are delighted to offer an exciting PhD opportunity in tropical forest ecology and conservation funded through the Australian Research Council. The PhD will be trained and working as part of an international team of researchers with more than 30 years of experience in measuring, monitoring and analysing dynamics and recovery of tropical forests and their structure.

The PhD’s overall aim is to identify and quantify the resilience and recovery of tropical forests following disturbance. The primary focus will be on the relationships and trade-offs between lianas (woody vines) and trees, and their interactions with climate and indicators of soil quality, including invertebrate detritivores. Liana growth following extensive forest clearance is slowing or reducing tree growth and productivity across the tropics, with potentially dire consequences for the global carbon sink, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. However, at the same time, lianas are an integral part of forest ecosystems, contributing to nutrient cycles, animal diets and protecting forests from damage.

The PhD is advertised as part of the new, long-term, pantropical, Forest Restoration and Climate Experiment (FoRCE). The student will conduct extensive plant and invertebrate fieldwork using an existing network of permanent forest monitoring plots in a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. New and existing data from these plots will be analysed using a range of empirical modelling techniques, testing for positive feedbacks and thresholds in the relationships between liana growth and tree growth. The project will interact with complementary projects located in other biogeographic regions contributing to the evidence base in this newly emerging field.

The position will be based at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Supervision and training will be provided by Associate Professor Andy Marshall, with co-supervision from Dr Marion Pfeifer at Newcastle University (UK). The student will also benefit from input and guidance provided by a world-leading team of collaborating scientists with expertise in tropical forest restoration and landscape ecology (Prof Robin Chazdon) and tropical forest management and socio-economics (Prof John Herbohn). Input from additional international partners (e.g. supporting botanical and invertebrate identification) will be provided by Missouri Botanical Garden, University of Copenhagen and the California Academy of Sciences. The student will have access to a 4wd vehicle, laptop computer, budget for fieldwork and attending conferences, and will receive other in-country support from our Tanzanian partners and Reforest Africa.

For more information contact A/Prof Andy Marshall - 

  • Successful application to the HDR program at USC
  • First Class Bachelors Honours Degree (or equivalent)
  • Not hold an equivalent qualification to the one being applied for
  • Not the recipient of an equivalent award providing greater than 75% of the current RTP rate* to undertake a PhD
  • *Current rate is $27,082 per year
Selection criteria
Essential Criteria
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Basic skills in the use of spatial analysis
  • Experience in working in remote areas under sometimes basic field conditions
  • Experience conducting fieldwork in a developing country
  • Proven ability to meet deadlines and complete independent work
Desirable Criteria
  • Masters degree in a relevant discipline
  • Knowledge in the use of R statistical software
  • Experience in measuring tree structure following standard protocols
  • Advanced spatial analysis skills using either R, Python or GIS software
  • Experience of working in disturbed tropical forests
  • Experience of invertebrate sampling
  • Previous involvement in the publication of scientific work in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Experience of living/working in East Africa
Eligible programs
Number available
  • Annual stipend (equivalent to RTP rate - 2018 rate is $27,082)
  • Operating funds
  • Tuition and Overseas Student Health Cover (single cover) for International students
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