Analysing Ecological Change in the Southern Ocean

Applications of species distribution models in detecting changes in species community structure and abundance in the Southern Ocean

Degree type


Closing date

18 July 2022



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

The Southern Ocean represents 20% of the world’s oceans. It is unquestionable that the Southern Ocean has changed over the past 30 years with warming waters, changing currents, changes in fisheries management and illegal fishing. Furthermore, climate predictions suggest further drastic changes into the future. How these historical changes have influenced the ecology of the Southern Ocean is relatively unknown and research to date has focused on a few well-known species. Future predictions also tend to be limited to a few select species. Understanding how a species assemblage has changed through time and space is important to improving ecosystem and fisheries management.

Species distribution models (SDM) are often used model changes, historical or future predictions, in a species distribution or abundance through time. There are many SDM modelling approaches including single species and mutli-species models. Developments in statistical modelling and increased access and knowledge of coding as increased our abilities to run complex models. However, there is a lack of knowledge of what approach is best at detecting different types of change. This is particularly important as very small changes in variables such as water temperatures could have a significant influence of the distribution and abundance of an assemblage. It is likely that some modelling approaches will be more sensitive in detecting small changes while minimizing model uncertainty.

Model uncertainty is often overlooked in the presentation of SDMs. Model uncertainty is also difficult to explain to stakeholders and managers as it difficult to incorporate levels of uncertainty into management actions. Yet, in sensitive ecosystems such as the Southern Ocean reporting and understanding model uncertainty is crucial.

This project will provide an opportunity to better understand how different approaches to SDMs can detect changes in the Southern Ocean and better understand the uncertainty associated with these approaches. It will also look at ways to communicate complex model results and uncertainty to managers. This provides stakeholder and managers with the best available information to make management decisions. This knowledge will be highly beneficial to researchers around the world when deciding what approach is needed for detecting change in an ecosystem of interest.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Nicole Hill


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 $28,854 per annum (2022 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:

  • First-class honours or equivalent in ecology, quantitative ecology or a related field of research.

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:

  • Proficient in R or other coding platforms
  • Demonstrated proficiency in written and verbal English language.

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First-author publication in international peer-reviewed journal
  • Skills in GIS (preferably using R)
  • Knowledge of Southern Ocean ecology
  • Experience in monitoring program design or implementation

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 Nicole Hill 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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