Computer Vision for Plant Hydraulics

Computer Vision Pipelines for Plant Hydraulic Phenotyping: Using quantitative imaging to evaluate the developmental coordination of xylem and stomatal traits in response to drought

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

About the research project

The increasing severity of drought events represents a global challenge for agriculture and natural systems. Understanding how plants adapt to water stress requires knowledge of the developmental pathways invoked under drought conditions. Specifically, coordination between xylem and stomata allows plants to modulate the supply-demand function of water transport, and is therefore crucial for adjusting physiological tolerances to climatic stressors while maintaining hydraulic function. Despite this, studies tracking the developmental coordination of xylem and stomata in response to water stress are currently lacking.

Combining experimental drought trials with advanced computer vision techniques, this project will study the coordination of hydraulic traits during development in model species studied within the Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture (e.g. Eucalyptus, Senecio, Arabidopsis). Different ecotypes and/or genetic provenances of the chosen species will be subject to controlled drought trials, in which they undergo regular physiological measurements to monitor water status and are harvested at key time points to quantify xylem and stomatal traits. This will allow us to disentangle the relative contribution of genetics and developmental plasticity to vascular traits in response to water stress. Furthermore, the project will leverage the computer vision pipeline developed to conduct a large-scale phylogenetic comparative analysis of vascular anatomy by compiling microscopy images of diverse plants available from public datasets.

This project will take advantage of a new cryostat microtome that has recently come online in Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania, allowing accurate serial sectioning for quantification of xylem anatomical traits. The project also involves collaboration with other CoE members with expertise in complementary areas such as plant physiology and quantitative genetics. Through the CoE, the candidate will have many opportunities to interact with leading researchers from allied universities within Australia and overseas.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Benjamin Halliwell


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 already have been awarded a first-class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills
  • 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:

  • Research experience in the fields of plant physiology, ecology or comparative biology
  • Excellent written and verbal scientific communication skills
  • Experience in computer programming and data analytics

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience in using or developing artificial intelligence or machine learning models
  • Experience in microscopy
  • Experience in plant husbandry

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact Dr Benjamin Halliwell 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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