Carbon in alpine grasslands

The impacts of global warming on carbon cycling in Australia's highland grasslands

Degree type


Closing date

1 July 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Highland grasslands are a dominant and crucially important component of Australia’s alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems. These communities support unique biodiversity and have enormous aesthetic and emotional appeal. What is perhaps less obvious, however, is that these communities also support soils that are extremely dense stores of carbon, due to their peaty nature caused by the accumulation of undecomposed plant material. These peaty soils are crucial to Australia’s prosperity - capturing, storing, filtering and releasing water worth $A10 billion p.a. to the Australian economy. By absorbing and then later releasing vast amounts of water, these soils help prevent floods during wet periods and keep rivers flowing during drought and their ability to do so is entirely dependent upon their peaty nature. However, highland peatlands are potentially threatened by climate change, most importantly by global warming, which could lead to increased loss of soil carbon through higher rates of decomposition and reduced carbon inputs.

This project will make use of state of the art experiments that artificially warm grassland plots in highland areas in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland to predict how grassland soil carbon stocks and fluxes will respond to future climates. The project will combine measurement of carbon pools and fluxes in several highland sites with modern process-based modelling to determine the level of threat future climates pose to this crucial aspect of a largely-overlooked ecosystem.

The successful candidate will work in the Australian Mountain Research Facility and will be jointly based in the University of Tasmania in Hobart and the Australian National University in Canberra, supervised by Prof. Mark Hovenden (UTas) and Prof. Adrienne Nicotra (ANU), both of whom lead dynamic research groups investigating the impacts of the changing climate on Australia’ high altitude areas and ways that adaptive management can ensure long term sustainability of these ecosystems.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Prof Mark Hovenden


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.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • This project is open to graduates in the fields of ecology, biology, plant science, soil science, agriculture, environmental science or mathematics
  • 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:

  • An honours degree or equivalent in ecology, biology, plant science, soil science, agriculture, environmental science or mathematics
  • A current drivers licence
  • The ability to work in the field in remote locations under adverse climatic conditions
  • Good physical fitness and mobility

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience in the study of plant-soil interactions
  • Experience with gas exchange measurement
  • Proven fieldwork experience, especially in remote areas
  • Experience with high altitude/alpine/high latitude ecosystems
  • Ability to code in R or Python

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Prof Mark Hovenden to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • 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.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 1 July 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the 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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