Opportunities

Rutherford Discovery Fellowship-funded PhD project in forest drought impacts

Working with Cate Macinnis-Ng

The problem: Widespread drought-induced forest mortality is a global issue arising from climate change as alterations to rainfall patterns affect water-use and productivity of trees across the world. In much of Aotearoa New Zealand, climate change will result in longer, drier summers, more frequent extreme events such as droughts, rising temperatures and associated increased concentrations of atmospheric CO2.

More than 80% of NZ’s plant species are endemic so the conservation value of our native flora is globally significant. However, many tree species are under threat due to climate change and this risk has been poorly investigated in this country. Of particular concern are kauri (Agathis australis) forests. These iconic ecosystems confined to the north of the country now cover only 5% of their pre-human distribution. Kauri trees have an integral role in species-rich lowland forests and tree-ring analysis shows kauri are sensitive to climate fluctuations. Furthermore, climate predictions indicate the north of the North Island will be heavily impacted by summer droughts and forecasted droughts are unprecedented in the last 2 million years in New Zealand so plants are not well prepared for dry periods.

The project: We will explore the threat of seasonal drought to kauri and associated southern conifers using a field-based drought experiment. There are two scholarships on offer. The first involves measurement of sap flow and other plant water relations parameters. This PhD project will concentrate on native tree species including kauri at the University of Auckland Huapai scientific reserve where the drought experiment will be established. The other project will explore drought mortality mechanisms in southern conifers using field and glasshouse studies. There will be opportunity to work with a mechanistic model of the soil-plant-atmosphere pathway subject to student interest. The full scope of each project is negotiable for the right candidates, subject to fitting into the theme of drought in native forest.

The candidate(s): A keen interest in native plant ecosystems, a willingness to learn new skills, ability to work in remote areas and self-motivation are required attributes for the student. A high honours or masters degree in biology, environmental science, geography or related science or engineering discipline is essential. Students with degrees in physics and chemistry will also be considered. Some experience in plant ecophysiology techniques is preferred but not required as training will be provided. The student must be available to start as soon as possible. The student must meet the University of Auckland selection criteria https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/for/future-postgraduates/how-to-apply-pg/apply-for-a-doctorate/phd-entry-requirements.html

The monies: The scholarship includes a stipend of $NZ27,000 for three years (tax free) and all tuition fees throughout the candidature of the student. The position is open to domestic and international students but there are no funds available for relocation of overseas applicants. For international students, compulsory health insurance will also be covered by the grant.

For further information, please see the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship website http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/2015/09/17/rutherford-discovery-fellowships-for-2015-announced/#details-of-the-fellows-research-programmes and for details on the selection process, please contact Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng. c.macinnis-ng@auckland.ac.nz. Dr Macinnis-Ng will be the principal supervisor for the student(s). Collaborators on this project include Prof George Perry (University of Auckland), Dr Mike Clearwater (University of Waikato) and Prof Derek Eamus (University of Technology Sydney, Australia). More details about the proposed project are also available from Dr Macinnis-Ng.

The university: The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s largest university. Situated in central Auckland, UoA has a fine tradition of high quality research of global significance. The School of Biological Sciences is ranked in the top 70 biological departments in the world and offers a vibrant and exciting research environment. Further information can be found on the university website: www.auckland.ac.nz.

Application documents:

Please provide the following documents in your application:

  1. University transcript of previous grades
  2. Curriculum vitae (max 2 pages), especially outlining previous research experience and any publications (including websites, blogs)
  3. Short statement (<300 word) about your ‘research interests & career goals’
  4. Contact details for two referees who can comment on previous research experience.

Please apply through the University of Auckland scholarships website https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/for/current-students/cs-scholarships-and-awards/cs-search-for-scholarships-and-awards/kauri-drought-doctoral-scholarships-864-sci.html

Closing date: 19th August 2016.

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