Potential Student Projects

The Physiological and Ecosystem Ecology Group currently offers new student projects in the following themes and topics. These can be at the Masters project, Honours project or PhD level.

For more information about the projects and how to obtain scholarships (if available) please contact Stefan Arndt under sarndt@unimelb.edu.au.

Vulnerability of eucalypts to tree drought mortality
Climatic changes lead to more prolonged droughts in south-eastern Australia and we already observe significant tree death in many forest ecosystems. Eucalyptus is a very diverse tree genus that occurs in every environment in Australia but many eucalypt species have very narrow climatic ranges. This project will investigate if eucalypts with narrow climatic ranges are more vulnerable to tree mortality than eucalypts with broader climatic ranges and assess the potential plant physiological mechanisms for the vulnerability or resilience of the species. The project will focus on plant water relation traits but other methods or traits can be included as the project progresses.

Mechanisms of drought tolerance in trees
Tree species have different mechanisms to tolerate drought events. Some species can adjust their water potential and withstand very long periods of drought by a continued water use. Other species close their stomata very early in a drought event in order to conserve water. However, it is still unknown how these different strategies are related to the aridity of the environment and how the different mechanisms are interlinked. This project will investigate if tree species that have a high plasticity in regulating water use have different fundamental mechanisms of drought tolerance compared to species that have a low plasticity of regulating water use.

Adaptation of urban trees to environmental stresses
Urban trees provide a large range of important ecosystem services but live in an environment that exposes them to multiple environmental stresses. The many impervious surfaces in cities and recent droughts put many tree species in Melbourne under extreme stress and led to extensive mortality. This project will investigate how different urban tree species adapt to drought and assess their drought tolerance and potential to survive in a drier climate. The project will possibly also assess ways how we can best alleviate drought stress for certain species based on their adaptive mechanisms.

Plant selection for future climates
Plants have multiple adaptations to resist or tolerate environmental stresses. However, it is not always clear to what degree their responses are genetically controlled and fixed or influenced by the environment and flexible. Under a rapidly changing climate it would be beneficial if plants can adjust their responses to stresses in a flexible way. This project will investigate the expression of plant functional traits to determine which traits are under strong genetic control and which ones are influenced by environmental variables. This information is critical for selecting the right plants for the right places in natural or urban environments under a future climate.

Carbon balance and growth dynamics of forest ecosystems
Forest ecosystems can sequester large amounts of carbon but it is not always clear when forests grow and how the growth processes of a forest are influenced by environmental parameters such as temperature or rainfall. This project will investigate the growth dynamics of a temperate eucalypt forest to assess, which parts of the forest are growing when, and how the growth is linked to environmental variables.

Blue carbon
Vegetated coastal ecosystems, such as seagrasses, salt marshes and mangroves are thought to be very strong carbon sinks. However, it is not clear if their are carbon sinks because they have a high carbon sequestration rates by the vegetation of the ecosystem or if they are very efficient of burying carbon from outside the system (effective sedimentation of allochthonous carbon). This project will investigate the dynamics of “blue carbon” ecosystems in more detail to understand how and when carbon is sequestered by these ecosystems.

Methane uptake of soils
Oxidation of the greenhouse gas methane by methanotorphic bacteria is the only biological sink for this potent greenhouse gas and methane oxidation in forest soils is the largest terrestrial sink. However, we still know very little about this important process. This project will investigate the methane uptake potential of forest soils with different soil properties in order to get a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that control methane uptake. This project involves measurements of methane flux in different forest ecosystems around Melbourne and Victoria using greenhouse gas measurement systems.



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