2020 PhD scholarship in floodplain ecology and reptile conservation

Ecology and Conservation of Floodplain Reptile Communities in the Murrumbidgee Catchment of New South Wales.

Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury 2640 NSW.

Murrumbidgee Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Program.

The Murrumbidgee Monitoring, Evaluation and Research (MER) Program is the primary means by which the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office is monitoring and evaluating the ecological outcomes of Commonwealth environmental watering actions. The MER Program is a continuation of the Long Term Intervention Monitoring Project and is being implemented in the Murrumbidgee catchment, along with six other water catchment areas for a three year period (2019 to 2022) to inform environmental water management and demonstrate ecological outcomes.

The Murrumbidgee catchment in southern NSW, is one of the largest catchments in the Murray-Darling Basin. Wetlands make up over 4 per cent (370,000 ha) of the catchment, and with over 1000 wetlands identified, the mid-Murrumbidgee and Lowbidgee floodplain represent a region of nationally significant wetland environments. Flows within the Murrumbidgee River have undergone significant long-term changes since the construction of large headwater dams and in-channel weirs which allow the river flows to be regulated and water diverted to meet agricultural and consumptive needs. Commonwealth environmental watering actions are being delivered to restore natural flows and improve overall wetland vegetation condition, as well as enhance bird breeding habitat and threatened species populations.

PhD program

The Institute of Land, Water and Society, School of Environmental Science at Charles Sturt University is offering a unique and exciting PhD scholarship starting in 2020 to explore the ecology and conservation of floodplain reptile communities and quantify the response of reptiles to environmental watering actions in the Murrumbidgee catchment of New South Wales. This project has a strong community engagement and education focus, and has broad opportunities to engage with water managers, community groups, traditional owners and private landholders.

Purpose

Reptiles are a major component of floodplain biodiversity. They play a key role in aquatic and terrestrial food webs and have import cultural and societal values. To date there have been limited studies on the influence of managed environmental watering on the structure and function of floodplain reptile communities in Australia. Floodplain inundation can be both a disturbance and driver of productivity and long-term water management strategies are expected to have profound impacts on both local and regional reptile diversity, community composition and threatened species management. The Murrumbidgee region supports a diverse reptile community, including rare and endangered snake species (e.g. Grey Snake Hemiapsis damelii), yet the ecology, composition and population dynamics of floodplain reptile communities are poorly understood.

Candidate requirements

We are seeking a highly motivated, independent and adventurous PhD candidate to develop a research program to examine the response of reptile communities and habitat relationships within the context of historical and contemporary flow regimes in the Murrumbidgee catchment of NSW.

The successful candidate will:

- have Class 1 Honours or research Masters degree from a recognised university;
- have relevant work experience in environmental science, ecology or natural resource management;
- be interested in reptile conservation and freshwater ecology;
- have a demonstrated ability to independently plan and execute field-based research;
- have a basic level of physical fitness and be comfortable working in remote wetland environments;
- be willing to collect high quality data on invertebrates, snakes, lizards and plants;
- have basic skills and interests in statistics, GIS, scientific writing and communication;
- hold a current drivers licence.

Application process

Interested applicants are invited to discuss the project with Dr Damian Michael (dmichael@csu.edu.au) or Dr Skye Wassens (swassens@csu.edu.au) and must submit a CV and one page statement of possible research directions.

Background

This project will build on an extensive dataset on floodplain hydrology, vegetation metrics, and frog and fish diversity, and will provide complementary set of outcomes to guide water management in the Murray-Darling Basin. A space for time, natural experiment could be developed to quantify reptile diversity and community composition in relation to different vegetation types and flow regimes. A broad range of survey methods, including pitfall traps, artificial refuges and visual encounter surveys will be used to collect field data on invertebrates, snakes and lizards. Body condition metrics and mark-recapture data will be collected to determine population estimates and measures of productivity. This project will also focus on investigating the demographic and environmental characteristics of wetlands and will involve developing models that integrate spatial, demographic and community parameters to quantify effects of experimental flow regimes.