School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Website: (best place to get more information)

Key Areas of Interest

    • Biological scaling

    • Plant functional traits and how they are linked to environmental variability

    • Ecological community organization

    • Plant biomass partitioning (leaves, stems, roots)

    • Structure of plant and animal distribution networks

    • Size distributions in ecological communities

    • Plant optimization models

    • General approaches to modeling in ecology

    • Conservation/restoration ecology

    • Making the world a better place

I find student projects are most successful when we identify projects that are of interest to us both. Biological scaling is a very broad field, and many types of projects fit within its domain. I have a lot of student projects already outlined or I am always happy to kick around ideas. Send me a note if you’d like to learn more.


Botany Building; Ph 6488 1959 Email:
As a plant modeller, I am interested in using computer, mathematical and statistical models to help understand all aspects of how plants grow and interact with their environments. This can be at the scale of genes, physiology, structural development, environmental interactions, ecological interactions, or the long- term processes of evolution. I am fascinated by the way models can give us insight into the relationships between plant processes occurring at different scales eg. how the ways that different species compete for resources in different ways lead to varying degrees of productivity in a field of crops or a forest; or how the interaction between genetics, management, seed ecology, inter-species competition and environment can increase or decrease the risk of developing herbicide resistance; or how the interaction between environmental effects and physiological processes lead to the intricate structure of a tree. I also think models can play a very important role in experimental design, in identifying which areas of enquiry need to be focused on.
Honours scholarships of up to $6000 may be available for these projects, from organisations including CSIRO, GRDC, DAFWA, the Centre of Excellence for Climate Change, Woodland and Forest and Health and several CRCs. I have listed some possible projects below, and encourage you to talk to me about any other projects you might be interested in, especially if you have some background or interest in modelling, maths or computer science. I also encourage you to talk with me about including some modelling work in any other plant biology Honours project you are developing with another supervisor, especially if you are interested in adding invaluable and sought-after modelling skills to your repertoire!
Tactical and Strategic Decisions in Agro-ecological Systems Dealing with Risk, Variability, Uncertainty and Tradeoffs in a Changing Climate (in conjunction with CSIRO)

This project will investigate the tradeoffs, risk, variability and uncertainty in agro-ecological systems with the aim of identifying strategies for dealing with them most effectively. The project will use existing models and possibly develop these models further. These issues are of particular relevance in a time of conflicting demands (between agricultural production, carbon sequestration and conservation for example) changing climate and increasing climate variability.
Biosecurity and Biological Invasion (with Plant Biosecurity CRC)

Invasive weeds, insects and diseases can have huge negative impacts on both natural environments and agricultural industries. Models of how these spread and colonise new environments can help us predict their impact, design efficient surveillance strategies and make decisions about effective management and response to new incursions.
Modelling the Evolution of Resistance (in conjunction with AHRI, CRC Plant Biosecurity and/or DAFWA) Understanding what factors lead to the evolution of resistance in weeds, pathogens and insect pests, and how this resistance can be delayed or avoided is one of the most important challenges facing agriculture, and computer models are an essential tool in gaining this understanding. This project will involve using existing simulation models of population dynamics and the development of resistance. The models will be used to simulate previously conducted field trials and experiments in order to validate the models and/or prioritise areas for future improvement and/or to investigate and evaluate possible management strategies for avoiding and/or delaying the development of resistance.
Modelling Weed Seedbank Dynamics and/or Crop-Weed Competition (in conjunction with DAFWA, GRDC) This project will involve using existing simulation models of weed seedbank dynamics, such as the Weed Seed Wizard and RIM. The models will be used to simulate field trials that have been conducted around Australia, in order to validate the models and prioritise areas for future improvement. The focus of the project will depend on the background and interest of the applicant no prior expertise in modelling is required.
Modelling the Interactions between Physiology, Structure and Environment

The beautiful and intricate structures of plants (from seagrass, to wheat, to frangipanis) are a result of complex and dynamic interactions between inbuilt rules of morphogenesis, physiological processes and environmental influences. Can models give us insight into how these structures emerge, how they are optimised to take advantage of their environments, and how we can make use of them in agriculture and restoration?

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