School of plant biology research Project ideas for Prospective 4th

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Room 1.151 Central Agriculture wing; Ph: 6488 1233; Email:

Histo-pathological studies in chickpea host resistance to Ascochyta rabiei (ascochyta blight disease)


Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO Plant Industry, Floreat Park, WA; Ph: 9333 6616; Email:
Research Interests

My research revolves around water use by plants: how water use is impacted by the environment; and how it impacts on the environment. Current research projects include:

    • Water balance of conservation farming systems (with Dr Ken Flower and WANTFA). How does stubble retention, as part of a conservation farming system, affect evaporation from the soil, infiltration into the soil, deep drainage to groundwater, and crop water use efficiency?

    • Measuring crop root growth in WA soils (with Dr Yvette Oliver, CSIRO and Mr David Hall, DAFWA). Western Australian soils pose some significant challenges for crop root growth, such as soil compaction, soil acidity, and transient salinity. Previous research on overcoming soil constraints has shown inconsistent results, but actual measurements of root growth and water and nutrient uptake have rarely been undertaken, so our current understanding of these effects is limited.

    • Water repellency and stubble retention (with Dr Margaret Roper, CSIRO, and Dr Steve Davies, DAFWA). The theory of water repellence suggests that its severity should increase under stubble retention. However, farmers report that symptoms of water repellency are often less severe after adopting stubble retention. Can this be explained by patterns of soil water distribution?

In addition to the work described above on agricultural systems, I have also worked on native ecosystems, including Banksia woodland and mallee heath (with Prof Hans Lambers and Dr Erik Veneklaas), measuring water use at the ecosystem level.
Possible Projects

    • Impact of stubble orientation on evaporation from the soil during early crop growth. One of the ways to improve crop water use efficiency is to reduce water loss by evaporation from the soil surface. Can stubble retention assist in reducing evaporation, and will this increase water use efficiency? This project would involve field work at the existing trials (managed by WANTFA) located at Cunderdin and Mingenew. Measurements would include evaporation rate and soil water content in some of the treatments at the sites for the first few months of crop growth (May-July).

    • Does pasture cropping reduce the incidence and severity of wind erosion? One of the major proposed benefits of pasture cropping on the sandplain areas of WA is the potential for the higher levels of ground cover to reduce the incidence and severity of wind erosion. However, there is currently no data to support this assertion. In this project, you would take erosion measurements on farmer sites in the Northern wheat belt. Measurements would be most suited to April and May, but could be conducted at any time.

    • How does soil disturbance affect water repellency? Farmers are currently experimenting with soil disturbance ranging from minimal to complete soil inversion, and each level of soil disturbance has the potential to change the way that water repellency is expressed, sometimes in unexpected ways.

    • Dead roots as potential wicks. Recent research has shown that in sandy soils, evaporation over summer might actually be higher from areas where stubble is retained compared with areas where stubble is removed. This finding is contrary to expectations. Can dead roots act as continuous soil pores, transmitting water to the soil surface? This project will involve glasshouse research, using a tracer in water to determine patterns of water movement in pots containing dead wheat plants.

I am also happy to discuss other project ideas related to soil water or plant water use.


Research Scientist, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Underwood Ave, Floreat

Ph: 08 9333 6802; Email:; Web:


Research interests: My current interests relate to the management of invasive plants taking into account rapid global change drivers. I focus on understanding risks and impacts associated with invasive species and aim to provide evidence based assessments for influencing adaptation responses (management and policy) to global change. My work includes assessing variation in the invasive ability of plants, the interaction of these plants with their surrounding ecosystem, potential distribution studies based on modelling climatic and ecophysiological parameters, and understanding the ongoing effectiveness of biological control methods.

Students would have access to a suite of facilities at UWA and at the CSIRO CELS site in Floreat, according to the needs of the chosen project. Projects would involve collaborations with John Scott (, Hans Lambers ( and Melinda Trudgen. For further information or to propose alternative project ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Some specific projects for consideration this coming year are:

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