Climate impacts on sky island reptiles

Climate change impacts on sky island reptiles

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

About the research project

Climate change is impacting organisms across the globe. At most risk are species whose habitat availability is rapidly shrinking either because the habitat itself is changing or because it is becoming more suitable for competitors. Tasmania is home to a unique group of cold adapted reptiles, the snow skinks. Some species of snow skinks are restricted to mountain tops above 1000m meters, where they exhibit several unique adaptations to these cold climates. This effectively confines these snow skinks to sky islands whose connectivity is limited by lowland habitat. Crucially, the areas suitable for highland snow skinks are shrinking in the face of climate change and through the movement of lowland congeners into previously uninhabitable highland areas. Combined this has the potential to significantly threaten a unique component of Tasmania's fauna. Despite this, we have limited understanding of i) how quickly highland areas are becoming unsuitable, ii) how vulnerable the highland snow skink species are to this change or even iii) how much competition there is between highland and lowland species. This PhD project will collect valuable information that will address each of these challenges. It will involve field work across the alpine areas of Tasmania which will characterise the distribution of highland species, the zone of sympatry between highland and lowland species and the extent that this is changing. It will combine this with detailed genetic approaches that will allow us to understand the connectivity of highland snow skink populations and the extent to which other process, such as inbreeding risk in the face of restricted gene flow, may exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Finally, it will combine this understanding with targeted modelling approaches to predict how the distribution of these species will change over the coming centuries. Combined this will provide crucial information for the management and conservation of these unique areas and the species that occur within them.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Prof Erik Wapstra


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.

Other funding opportunities and fees

For further information regarding other scholarships on offer, and the various fees of undertaking a research degree, please visit our Scholarships and fees on research degrees page.


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:

  • 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:

  • First class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant field with evidence of strong skills in research

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • We are looking for candidates with a deep interest in projects that integrate field and laboratory techniques. The ideal candidate will have experience conducting field work, preferably with reptile systems, laboratory skills such as DNA extraction and/or genetic analysis. The candidate will have strong analytical skills using r or similar software and a keen interest in developing those skills. Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong research background in evolutionary biology, ecology or similar fields through a publication record or a high-quality thesis

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Prof Erik Wapstra 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 25 September 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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