Mechanisms of stability for degraded reefs

Mechanisms of stability for degraded turf-dominated reef states

Degree type


Closing date

18 July 2022



Citizenship requirement


About the research project


The collapse of reef ecosystems represents one of the greatest threats for biodiversity and seafood production worldwide. Concerningly, the recovery potential of collapsed reefs is largely unknown due to a lack of understanding of feedback mechanisms which can act to lock reefs into a collapsed state. This project will address recovery potential of Australian reefs by quantifying mechanisms promoting persistence of degraded turf-dominated reef states, which are an ultimate manifestation of collapse for temperate to tropical reefs (Fig. 1).

The project will involve extensive SCUBA fieldwork to survey and conduct experiments to understand the stability of collapsed turf-dominated communities on temperate and tropical reefs. An explicit aim will be to determine unifying drivers, or idiosyncratic responses, of turf persistence stability across biogeographical scales. Fieldwork will be complimented with laboratory experiments in select locations.

Temperate and tropical comparison of degrading reefs from healthy to collapsed states

Fig. 1. Conceptual ‘ball-and-cup’ schematic of phase-shift between serially degrading reefs from healthy to collapsed states in (a) temperate, and (b) tropical systems.


The project aims to perform global meta-analysis to examine drivers of turf-cover on temperate and tropical reefs, plus take new field and laboratory measurements of feedback processes across healthy, collapsing, collapsed, and recovering reefs by deploying settlement panels. Collectively, results from (1) meta-analyses, plus (2) field and (3) laboratory experiments will inform the mechanisms of stability/ instability of turfing communities for temperate and tropical reefs. As such, the project will contribute to the broader understanding of processes that lock reefs into degraded states, or those processes involved in facilitating recovery of healthy reefs.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Scott Ling


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.

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 or equivalent in biology, ecology or a related field of research
  • Demonstrated proficiency in written and verbal English language
  • Scientific diver qualification or the equivalent thereof
  • Experience in quantitative methods with proficiency in statistical software programs such as R and PRIMER

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First-author publication in international peer-reviewed journal
  • Knowledge of temperate and tropical reef species
  • Experience in manipulative experiments in field and laboratory
  • Coxswains certificate, or ability to obtain one

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, A/Prof Scott Ling 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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