School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Projects suitable for Level 4 and 5 students are given in the following pages, broadly grouped into the School’s three Strategic Research Areas and with the names of academic staff and post-doctoral research staff who would supervise the projects. Each student is expected to have at least two supervisors. The School encourages you to bring your own ideas for topics other than those listed. In this case you should approach an appropriate supervisor, including staff in the School who may not have projects listed below. For further guidance in the selection of topics, see:

Agricultural Science Horticulture

Landscape Management

Assistant Professor Michael Considine Telephone: 08 6488 1783


Genetics or Genetics and Breeding

Associate Professor Susan Barker Telephone: 08 6488 2435



Natural Resource Management

Dr Pauline Grierson Telephone: 08 6488 7926


Climate Studies Conservation Biology

Conservation Biology & Management

Assistant Professor Pieter Poot Telephone: 08 6488 2491 Email:

Marine Biology

Marine and Coastal Management Marine Science

Winthrop Professor Gary Kendrick Telephone: 08 6488 3998


For further information on the structures of the 4th year, Honours, Graduate Diploma and MSc programmes contact the 4th and 5th year programme coordinator, Associate Professor Patrick Finnegan; Telephone: 08 6488 8546; email:
The research areas given in this handbook may be of interest to students enrolling in a PhD degree. Students intending to enrol at this higher level should contact one of the School of Plant Biology Postgraduate Co- ordinators:
Professor Erik Veneklaas Telephone: 08 6488 3584



The Plant Production Systems focus includes broadscale agricultural and the horticultural areas of research. Agriculture and horticulture apply and integrate the disciplines that form the foundation of modern plant sciences genetics & plant breeding, ecology and physiology, developmental biology, molecular biology and natural product chemistry. These areas of research are also greatly impacted by the interactions of plants with pathogens, an area covered by the discipline of plant pathology. Opportunities exist for professional career development and for crop scientists to contribute to global social and economic well-being. Research funds are increasingly directed towards these goals and many opportunities for collaboration exist with organisations such as CSIRO, Department of Agriculture and Food (WA), Centre of Excellence for Ecohydrology, ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, international aid organisations and researchers from other Schools in this and other Universities, both within and outside of Australia.

The University of Western Australia has a multidisciplinary programme of Marine Science research and teaching that transcends Faculty and School boundaries and has been consolidated within the UWA Oceans Institute. Staff from the School of Plant Biology have a broad range of interests in Marine Ecology. Research interests and activities range from habitat mapping, basic taxonomy and physiology of marine plants to population and community ecology of plants, invertebrates and fishes. Research is currently conducted in areas as diverse as Esperance, Albany, Cape Naturaliste, Rottnest, Cockburn Sound, The Abrolhos Islands, Shark Bay, Ningaloo, and overseas such as Malaysia, Oman and Brazil. Challenging questions relate to the functioning of marine plants and animals in their environment and on the significance of their communities for the fisheries industry. Important collaborative research links are with Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, CSIRO Marine Research, Department of Fisheries, RMIT Faculty of Engineering, Western Australian Marine Science Institution, and State Natural Resource Management agencies and community groups.

The Western Australian coast is long, covering latitudes from tropical to temperate, with a variety of coastal habitats and hence, an interesting and diverse marine flora and fauna. Western Australia provides many opportunities to study the adaptations of marine plants and animals to their environment and the interactions between them. In particular, research is carried out into the processes which influence the distributions of marine flora and fauna, from the biogeographical scale to their ecophysiology, and the significance of physico-chemical controls versus biological interactions in the partitioning of marine habitats. This research is extended into the examination of disturbed (polluted) habitats, and more practical applications such as prediction of environmental impacts.

The timing of the start of the research projects listed below will vary depending on weather patterns and equipment availability. If you have any queries please contact the supervisors listed to discuss. Scuba diving is a useful, but not essential skill for potential students unless specifically listed for a project. Again, please contact potential supervisors to check.


This research area focuses on issues arising through the interactions of plants with their physical and climactic environments, with each other and with symbiotic and pathogenic microbes. A major theme is plant conservation and environmental rehabilitation. All scales of biological organization are examined, from the molecular to ecosystem level. Many interactions occur between members of this staff group and the other research areas within the School along with the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, the Bushfire CRC, Department of Agriculture and Food (WA), Department of Parks and Wildlife, the ARC Centre for Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, the Forest Products Commission, a variety of mining companies, special interest groups and other stakeholders.

Western Australia, especially the southwest corner, is regarded as one of the world's hot-spots of terrestrial and marine plant diversity. Many researchers focus on the communities, species and genes found in the region, and employ the best available systematic, evolutionary, ecological and physiological science to underpin their work. Others work on threatening processes and their mitigation, such as loss of biodiversity due to habitat destruction, fragmentation of wild areas, dieback disease, invasion by feral animals and weeds, salinity and nutrification.

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