Reef ecosystem functions and phase-shifts

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

From temperate to tropical seas, the collapse of reef ecosystems represents one of the greatest threats for biodiversity and wild fisheries production worldwide. Concerningly, the recovery potential of collapsed reefs is poorly understood due to a lack of understanding of feedback mechanisms that can act to lock reefs into collapsed states (Fig. 1). This project will address recovery potential for Australian reefs by quantifying rates of predation and herbivory on healthy to collapsed reefs. The project will involve extensive SCUBA fieldwork to conduct standardised surveys and experimental assays to quantify rates of predation and herbivory for temperate and tropical reef communities. An explicit aim will be to identify the existence of unifying drivers of predation and herbivory, or idiosyncratic responses, across healthy to collapsed temperate and tropical reefs.

Australian examples of phase-shift between healthy and collapsed reef states

Fig. 1. Australian examples of phase-shift between healthy and collapsed reef states (S.D. Ling, unpub. review): a-b) Ningaloo and Great Barrier Reef - bleaching/cyclone death of coral and shift to algae; c) Western and Southern Australia – loss of kelp beds due to heatwave, or urban-driven shift to low-lying filamentous algal turf; d) New South Wales, Victoria & Tasmania – extensive sea urchin overgrazing of kelp beds and shift to urchin barren grounds.


This project will explore mechanisms of resilience for reef ecosystems by quantifying the processes of herbivory and predation across the transition from healthy to collapsed reef states using standardised assay protocols for temperate to tropical reefs. Herbivory and predation will be quantified by conducting standard 1hr and 24hr assays at reef sites classified as healthy, collapsing, collapsed, and recovering. The emergent trends in reef community structure and function determined by this project will contribute to the broader understanding of processes locking reefs into degraded states, and conversely identify the nature of processes involved in facilitating recovery of healthy reefs.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Scott Ling


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australia and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from International applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded. Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First-class honours or equivalent in biology, ecology or a related field of research
  • Demonstrated proficiency in written and verbal English language
  • Scientific diver qualification or the equivalent thereof
  • Experience in quantitative methods with proficiency in statistical software programs such as R and PRIMER

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First-author publication in international peer-reviewed journal
  • Knowledge of temperate and tropical reef species
  • Experience in manipulative experiments in field and/or laboratory
  • Coxswains certificate, or ability to obtain one

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, A/Prof Scott Ling, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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