Nitrogen transformation in Dairy Pasture

Effect of changing nitrogen applications on microbial communities and nitrogen balances in dairy pastures

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Managing the nitrogen nutrition of pastures is a crucial issue for grazing-based dairy systems from both cost and environmental perspectives. It is thought that it may be possible to reduce applications of synthetic sources of nitrogen to pasture by changing the mixture of pasture species. One example is increasing biological nitrogen fixation by including leguminous clovers (Trifolium spp.) in pastures and another is using forage-type plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.) to reduce nitrification.

Dairy Australia have recently funded a project to investigate whether the productivity of grazing-based dairy systems can be sustained by decreasing synthetic nitrogen applications at the same time as increasing the functional diversity of pastures. As part of this research, they have funded a postgraduate project with two main aims: (i) to explore the role of symbiotic and free-living nitrogen-fixing microorganisms in supplying nitrogen to soils in dairy pastures and (ii) to determine how changes to nitrogen applications and pasture mixtures alters the soil microbiome. The project will measure biological nitrogen fixation in different pasture systems and will explore changes in the overall soil microbiome and the free-living and symbiotic nitrogen fixing microbial communities.

This work will be carried out using field trials on the Tasmanian Dairy Research Facility (TDRF) at Elliott in north-western Tasmania. This project will collaborate with supervisors here at the University of Tasmania and at Massey University (New Zealand) and the University of Melbourne.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Shane Powell


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 $31,500 per annum (2023 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.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

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:

  • A relevant science undergraduate degree for example agricultural science, soil science, microbiology, molecular biology or plant science.
  • Australian driver's licence or the ability to gain one within 3 months of commencement
  • Ability to work safely in laboratory and / or field sites

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience in aseptic technique
  • Experience with basic molecular biology methods such as DNA extractions and PCR
  • Experience with basic chemical analyses
  • Knowledge of grazing-based livestock systems

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, Dr Shane Powell to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. 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 by the advertised outcome date.

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