Subalpine grassland futures in Tasmania

Do historical drainage treatments spell the end of Tasmanian subalpine grasslands in a changing climate?

Degree type


Closing date

25 September 2023



Citizenship requirement

Domestic / International

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. The peaty nature of the soil also prevents the grasslands from being invaded by woody plants from surrounding communities. However, the highland peaty grasslands of Tasmania's Central Plateau are threatened by climate change, most importantly by projected changes in rainfall, which will increase peat decomposition, potentially leading to the invasion of these grassy systems by woody plants. Eventually, the grasslands could be converted to woodland and forest with immense environmental consequences. This fate could be made more likely by the widespread occurrence of drainage ditches, created historically to improve pasture conditions and replace marshes with grasslands.

This project will combine observational, experimental and modelling approaches to: assess the dependence of vegetation communities to hydrological patterns across Tasmania's peaty grasslands; link information from state of the art climate change manipulation experiments in highland areas in Tasmania to predict how grassland vegetation communities will respond to future climates; and use modelling approaches to investigate the impacts of hydrological amelioration works on the resilience of peaty grasslands to reductions in precipitation caused by climate change.  
The successful candidate will work with facilities established as part of the Australian Mountain Research Facility and will work closely with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy to assist with their efforts to preserve these unique ecosystems. The candidate will be based at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, supervised by Prof. Mark Hovenden (UTas) and Dr. Elizabeth Wandrag, joining a dynamic research group 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.

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:

  • Applications are open to applications from ecology, biology, plant science, soil science, agriculture or environmental science discipline backgrounds only
  • 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 or environmental science
  • 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:

  • Plant identification skills
  • 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 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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