Learn more about the opportunities available at the Environmental Research Institute: Te Tumu Whakaora Taiao

MSc Project Opportunity (180pt)

Title: Climate change, movement of species and underwater acoustics

The reef ecosystems off the coast of the Bay of Plenty and Motiti Island support a wide range of biological diversity. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has recently implemented new rules within its Regional Coastal Environment Plan to protect three
reef systems surrounding Motiti Island from the impacts of fishing, and are completing scientific monitoring to inform future integrated marine management solutions, in partnership with other government agencies and tangata whenua. The University of Waikato and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council are collaborating in this research programme and currently have funding for one MSc student, to be based at the University of Waikato’s Coastal Marine Field Station in Tauranga.

Project description

This project builds on previous research and will quantify the distribution of the long- spined sea urchin, Centrostephanus rodgersii, and their potential habitat effects at sites within the Motiti Protection Area (MPA). The long-spined sea urchin has caused great losses of kelp habitat in southeast Australia and Tasmania in last the few decades, and due to rising sea water temperatures have been expanding their southern range in Australia. This temperature increase has also thought to have spurred their distribution in New Zealand also, with evidence to suggest they are moving down the coast of the North Island and are now known to be present in the Bay of Plenty region. The urchin also has a wider depth distribution and range of food sources than the more familiar sea urchin or kina, Evechinus chloroticus, and therefore can cause disruption to a habitat and/or ecosystem.

This project will use a multiciliary approach to assess the distribution and habitat effects of the long-spined urchin within MPA, using state of the art acoustic monitoring and underwater visual surveys.

Project includes a $12,000 Stipend (plus fees)

For more information, please contact Jenni Stanley (jstanley@waikato.ac.nz). To apply, please send a letter of interest and CV. Your letter of interest should describe why you are interested in the project.

Title: Sugars of the sea – internal distribution and chemometric model validation of polysaccharides in Lessonia variegata

This project builds on research previously conducted by the UoW team and will firstly quantify the distribution of specific polysaccharides within Lessiona plants, and secondly test the applicability of a chemometric model developed for another species of kelp to Lessiona. This project is laboratory based at the University of Waikato Coastal Marine Field Station in Tauranga and suitable for a student with an interest in (bio)chemistry and modelling. Undergraduate studies in chemistry is a pre-requisite.

Project includes an annual stipend for 18 months (pro rata): $22,000 (plus annual fees)

Please send a letter of motivation and CV (including contact information for 2 referees) to Christopher.Glasson@waikato.ac.nz. Your letter of motivation should describe why you are interested in the specific project. The position is available until filled but needs to commence before the end of 2023.

PhD Opportunities

Title: At the limit: 14C dating the Aboriginal occupation of Australia

Supervisors: A/Prof Fiona Petchey (University of Waikato) and A/Prof Michael Mucalo (University of Waikato).

We are seeking expressions of interest from potential Ph.D. candidates to investigate the chemical composition and properties of pyrogenic carbon (“charcoal”) dating close to the upper limit of radiocarbon (14C) measurement (20,000 to ~50,000 years BP).

Project Scope: Over the last decade, there has been an increased number of Australian sites with evidence of human activities dating > 45,000 years BP. The likelihood of the early settlement of the Australian deserts raises questions about the drivers and expansion rates. The accuracy of any 14C date depends on the effective separation and purification of autochthonous carbon. This project will expand the quality assurance parameters currently available by assessing a range of chemical characterisation methodologies to investigate potential sources of contamination that affect the 14C analysis. This Ph.D. is part of a larger Australian Research Council-funded project led by Prof. Peter Veth (University of Western Australia) exploring the settlement of the Western Australian desert.

Skills: The candidate will be based at the University of Waikato, and the project will involve periods of intensive laboratory work and data processing of samples sourced from stored archaeological collections and ongoing fieldwork. The candidate will also work closely with Dr. Nathan Jankowski at the OSL laboratory at the University of Wollongong. Applicants with a background in chemistry or environmental science will be considered. Ideal candidates will be highly motivated, curious, and innovative and have strong communication and teamwork skills.

Interested applicants should discuss this funded Ph.D. scholarship opportunity with A/Prof Fiona Petchey (fpetchey@waikato.ac.nz).

View more information on undertaking Ph.D. research at Waikato University 
Applications will remain open until the position is filled.

Title: Modelling Coastal Wetland Response to Sea Level Rise

We are looking for suitable qualified applicants to work on a fully-funded PhD Project in New Zealand. The project is part of the new multi-institutional programme lead by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) called “Future Coasts Aotearoa”. The overall objective of the programme is to identify whole-of-system pathways for adaption of coastal lowlands to sea level rise (SLR) across social and cultural well-beings, economic systems and natural environments. into the future. This PhD project opportunity is associated with projecting coastal wetland habitat evolution and response under a range of SLR scenarios and the influence of other key drivers (e.g., sediment supply, vertical land motion) through observations and modelling.  This work will also investigate coastal wetland carbon sequestration to inform opportunities for offsetting adaption costs (lead by Dr Andrew Swales).

Details on project scope: 

There are a number of different models available to model wetland behaviour across various spatiotemporal resolutions. These range from fully-dynamical hydrodynamic and sediment models coupled to complex ecosystem models, to models that simplify the hydrodynamics, simplify the ecosystem models, or simplify both (e.g. bathtub, profile and 0-D models). Although it is well recognised that tidal and surge attenuation, asymmetry and channelization can give quite different results in long term predictions, computational cost means that it is difficult to scale these beyond local settings. Detailed models are also associated with a large parameter space which can make both calibration, sensitivity analysis, and ascertaining uncertainty in model projections difficult.  

Although quick to run and scalable, simplified models are generally not well cross-validated with more complex models.  The PhD project could fill this niche in the coastal wetland modelling field by combining dynamical modelling with our high-quality data sites from around NZ with a focus on discerning a modelling approach management-ready and scalable by exploring which complexities are necessary for the level of accuracy needed for coastal management.  The details of the modelling approach are still to be decided, but would probably use a combination of Delft3D and WARMER (Wetland Accretion Rate Model of Ecosystem Resilience developed at USGS).

This is mostly a computer modelling project and so the student must have experience in coding either Matlab or Python, and R would be useful (WARMER is written in R). Our PhDs are only 3 years long and there is not sufficient time to learn these skills.

  • a MSc or BSc(Hons) with at research thesis component of 0.5 years or longer in a related field.
  • a grade point average of B+ or higher.
  • evidence of English language proficiency (IELTS>=6.5).
  • ability to start in 2022.

The supervision panel will be Prof Karin Bryan (University of Waikato), Dr Andrew Swales (NIWA) and Dr Joel Carr (USGS), and there will be plenty of opportunity to interact with the wider team. To apply, please send CV and a cover letter to: Karin.bryan@waikato.ac.nzThe position is open until filled, but we will look at applications at the being of April 2022.

Title: A complex systems approach to understanding the evolution of animal mating systems

Understanding the drivers of diverse animal mating systems remains a key challenge in evolutionary biology. In particular, monogyny, where males mate with a single female during their lifetime, remains an evolutionary puzzle because male animals typically maximise reproductive success by mating with multiple females. Monogynous mating systems consist of multiple life history and behavioural traits, including dramatic adaptations such as the lifelong fusing of tiny male anglerfish to a female or the spontaenous death of a male during mating to form a whole-body mating plug in garden spiders. However, intricate correlations between system elements make it difficult to understand their roles in mating system evolution.

Using Dolomedes fishing spiders as a model system, the PhD candidate will gain insight into the evolutionary pathways to monogyny by first developing a framework that enables the use of complex systems analysis to explore mating system evolution. They will also conduct a series of field and lab assays to quantify the behaviour and life history of New Zealand Dolomedes spiders. Together with data from several other Dolomedes spiders from around the globe, the PhD student will then use network science and comparative phylogenetic methods to disentangle evolutionary patterns in mating systems.

This PhD position involves a combination of computer, lab and field work, with considerable opportunities to travel to field sites around New Zealand and the Chatham Islands. You will be supervised by Dr Chrissie Painting (University of Waikato), Dr Dion O’Neale (University of Auckland), Professor Eileen Hebets (University of Nebraska), and Professor Matjaž Kuntner (National Institute of Biology in Slovenia), with opportunities to collaborate with other researchers and communities in New Zealand and abroad.

Applicants will be independent and highly motivated with:

  • An Honours or MSc degree in evolutionary ecology, animal behaviour or environmental science
  • Experience in ecological field work and/or lab and field experiments
  • Strong statistical analysis skills (preferably in R)
  • Excellent communication skills in English (written and spoken)
  • An open mind and a general willingness to learn and work in a team
  • A full driver’s license

Project includes an annual stipend for 3 years: $35,000 (plus annual fees and research costs). View full details.

Interested candidates should send applications as a single PDF document comprising 1) a letter of motivation that clearly outlines your interest in the advertised project, 2) a curriculum vitae, including scientific publications if applicable, 3) academic transcripts, and 4) contact details for two academic references to Dr Chrissie Painting (chrissie.painting@waikato.ac.nz). Deadline for applications: 28th February, 23:00 NZST

Title: Restoring Aotearoa’s seagrass meadows

Seagrass meadows are one of the most functionally important coastal habitats on Earth. They provide crucial ecosystem services such as fixing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, improving water quality by trapping sediment and absorbing nutrients and enhancing biodiversity through habitat provision. Unfortunately, Aotearoa New Zealand, like many other nations, has documented extensive seagrass loss over the past 100 years; primarily due to deteriorating water quality and physical disturbance.

To prevent further loss and rebuild these important habitats, restoration projects are essential. In Aotearoa, seed-based restoration, as an alternative to transplanting from wild stocks, is in its infancy. Seed production in Aotearoa’s single seagrass species, Zostera muelleri, has historically been considered rare. However, recent research carried out at the Cawthron Institute has shown that it is possible to collect Z. muelleri seeds for restoration purposes. This PhD project will build on those research efforts to optimise techniques for seed collection, processing and storage and determine how to successfully sow seagrass seeds into the wild. This will include field studies and laboratory trials that build on international research and collaborations.

Vacancy eligibility criteria includes:

  • The scholarship is open to students of any nationality and includes a competitive stipend plus fees for three years.
  • MSc or BSc (Hons) or equivalent in a related field (marine sciences, ecology, botany, conservation)
  • Relevant laboratory and field experience is an advantage, as well as a sound understanding of experimental design, data manipulation and analysis
  • A New Zealand or international drivers’ licence
  • A willingness to be vaccinated for tetanus, Hepatitis C, Covid-19, and other infectious diseases is also necessary, due to the Cawthron Institute’s fieldwork health and safety protocols.

Project includes a competitive stipend plus fees for three years. View full details.

Please send a letter of motivation and CV (including contact information for 2 referees) to hazel.needham@waikato.ac.nz. Your letter of motivation should describe why you are interested in the specific project. The scholarship will remain open until filled and the start date is negotiable. However, we expect the successful candidate to be enrolled no later than 2nd June 2023

Title: Aquaculture methods for the seaweed Lessonia variegata for NZ open ocean conditions

This multidisciplinary PhD project will determine the effects of growth conditions on natural and farmed stock of the kelp Lessonia variegata and consists of a blend of field and laboratory work. The project includes broad sampling of seaweed in the field, aquaculture methods for early life history stages in the hatchery, and field and laboratory work to quantify effects of growth conditions (novel open-ocean structures) on the productivity and biochemistry of the seaweed, with a focus on polysaccharides and bioactives. While based at UoW in Tauranga, the project includes frequent travel to Nelson and surrounds for on-water work with Cawthron and collaborating aquaculture farmers.

Applicants will be independent and highly motivated with:

  • An Honours or MSc degree in a relevant subject (biology, biochemistry, chemistry)
  • Experience with relevant laboratory and/or field experiments
  • Sound skills in analysing data
  • Excellent communication skills in English (spoken and written)

Project includes an annual stipend for 3 years: $32,000 (plus annual fees)

Please send a letter of motivation and CV (including contact information for 2 referees) to Marie.Magnusson@waikato.ac.nz. Your letter of motivation should describe why you are interested in the specific project. Closing date 31st Jan 2023. The position will start between February and May 2023.

Postdoctoral Opportunities

Postdoctoral Fellow in Geochemistry / Carbon Capture

We have a full time, two (2) year fixed-term postdoctoral fellow position available for a highly motivated individual to develop and conduct high quality research in geochemistry / carbon capture.

The candidate will conduct research to better our understanding of the global carbon cycle and also the efficacy of enhanced rock weathering for global scale carbon capture. The research will seek to conduct enhanced rock weathering field trials across New Zealand, and combine results with geochemical modelling. This work will provide some of the world’s first natural in-field assessment of the potential of enhanced rock weathering for effective carbon capture globally. You will work with Terry Isson (Tauranga) and Louis Schipper (Hamilton) and an international team of academics as part of the Earth Life Interactions Research Group (habitablearth.com). The candidate will alsowork closely with other members of the group in the field of paleoclimate and geobiology.

The ideal candidate will have demonstrated technical expertise in a relevant field such as geochemistry, geobiology, paleoclimate or carbon cycling, and will work closely with a variety of stakeholders and academics locally and globally. You will be a highly motivated researcher, adept at developing and conducting high quality research. You will be comfortable collaborating and building relationships with a wide range of stakeholders to disseminate research findings. Salary will be based on skills, knowledge and experience brought to the position.

For a confidential conversation about the role, please contact Terry Isson, by email: terry.isson@waikato.ac.nz 

Submit application