Impact of environmental variability on mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari) on the Kerguelen Plateau

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project


Climate change is already impacting marine ecosystems around the world, and this trend is likely to increase in the future. The effects of climate change are exacerbated by extreme events such as marine heatwaves, which have become increasingly common in recent years. The Southern Ocean is projected to exhibit significant environmental changes due to anthropogenic climate change over the course of this century and such physical changes are expected to flow through to impact upon the marine ecosystems in the region.

One area of the Southern Ocean that has experienced significant heatwaves in recent years is the Kerguelen Plateau. The Plateau is located in the Indian sector of the Southern Ocean and rises steeply from abyssal depths forming an oceanographically complex region. It also harbours a diverse and productive ecosystem. Mackerel icefish are a key component of this ecosystem; they mostly found in relatively shallow waters (<250 m), are an important link in the food chain and are the target of a small commercial fishery.


This project will draw upon and extend recently completed work that characterises marine heat waves on the Kerguelen Plateau. It will explore the relationship between environmental variability and variability in the abundance of Mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari) and the related unicorn icefish (Channichthys rhinoceratus) in the region. It seeks to understand how heatwaves and other environmental factors have affected icefish in recent decades and what the likely impacts of future environmental conditions will be.


The estimates for icefish abundance and population structure will be derived from annual stock assessments which are based on a Random Stratified Trawl Survey (RSTS) and have been conducted by the Australian Antarctic Division since 1997. The RSTS records counts of icefish as well as biological parameters such as length, weight and condition. Spatio-temporal models will be used to understand how past variability in abundances and other biological parameters relates to environmental variability. The statistical relationships developed by this approach will then be used to inform the development of quantitative or qualitative models that links icefish population with changing environmental conditions and other components of the ecosystem. Depending on the student’s interests there is also scope to delve more deeply into the biology and ecology of icefish in the region.

The final step in this project will be to link an understanding of the statistical and conceptual relationships between icefish population and environmental changes with the best available estimates of likely future environmental conditions (for example using global earth system models made available through the CMIP5 or CMIP6 project and assessed in IPCC assessment reports) in order to provide a long-term estimate of projected trajectory of this common Southern Ocean species.

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 $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.

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:

  • Strong analytical skills, including expertise with analysis software packages (eg Matlab or R)
  • Understanding of the functioning and drivers of marine ecosystems

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Knowledge of Southern Ocean marine ecosystems
  • Experience in statistical modelling
  • Knowledge of the impact of marine heat waves on ecosystems

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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