ARC Discovery Research Scholarship: Do Plants Hedge Their Bets? Modelling Optimal Plant Behaviour

Scholarships and Grants

University of Western Sydney, Graduate Research School

The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE) is one of four institutes within Western Sydney University. HIE has rapidly become a research leader in ecosystem function and environmental responses to changing climate, with a strong reputation for delivering research outcomes of the highest quality. HIE houses a team of over 50 scientists with access to a unique suite of world-class research facilities. The ecosystem modelling group at HIE is widely recognised for their work in using experimental data to inform models of plant ecosystem function.

We are now seeking a highly motivated PhD student to contribute to a new Australian Research Council Discovery project that aims to resolve one of the most long-standing questions about the functioning of plants: how much of the carbon that they take up in photosynthesis do they use immediately for growth, and how much do they keep in reserve as insurance for the future? The answer to this question is urgently needed to understand how plants respond to environmental change, and how vulnerable they are to stresses such as drought.

The aim of the PhD project is to use experimental data and optimization approaches to develop models of how plants – and trees in particular – ‘should’ behave in risky or stressful environments. What is the optimal growth schedule for a tree that maximizes its fitness?

In the project, the student will first quantify how much carbon is kept in reserve in trees growing in a wide range of experimental conditions, capitalizing on a wealth of data from climate change experiments conducted at the HIE, including whole-tree warming experiments and EucFACE, the world’s only Free Air CO2 Enrichment experiment in mature native forest (
The student will then help develop and apply models of tree survival, and compare estimates of optimal storage from these models to the experimental data.

The student will be based at HIE but will also collaborate with Professor Roderick Dewar at The Australian National University and Professor Mat Williams at Edinburgh University (UK).WHAT DOES THE SCHOLARSHIP PROVIDE?
» Domestic students will receive a tax free stipend of $30,406 per annum and a funded place in the doctoral degree.
» International students will receive a tax free stipend of $30,406 per annum. Those with a strong track record may receive a fee waiver.
» Funding is available for project costs and conference travel.


  • We welcome applicants from a wide range of backgrounds, especially those with a strong grounding in mathematics, physics or computing who are keen to apply their quantitative skills to key questions in current biology. The successful applicant should:
  • Hold qualifications and experience equal to an Australian First Class Bachelor Honours degree or equivalent overseas qualifications
  • Demonstrate strong academic performance in mathematics
  • Have an interest in, or be willing to learn, plant biology and ecosystem ecology
  • Be enthusiastic and highly motivated to undertake further study at an advanced level
  • International applicants must also demonstrate a high level of proficiency in the English language. Please refer to the English language requirements at


Closing date: 17 June 2016.

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