Student Projects

Please contact me if you are interested in a PhD, Masters or Honours project combining biology with statistical, mathematical and/or computational modelling. Good top-scholarships are available for motivated and well-qualified students!

I am keen to work with people with backgrounds in mathematics, statistics or computer science who have not necessarily studied biological science but are interested in looking at biological problems. I am also keen to hear from people with biology, ecology and agriculture backgrounds who are interested in learning modelling or statistical analysis skills, or in using models to address biological questions. Projects can be completely focused on modelling or can combine experimental or field work with some modelling.

PhD, Masters and Honours project projects are possible in any of the topics mentioned on the Research page, and a list of potential topics is provided below. I am also very interested in supervising modelling projects related to other areas of biology, agriculture or ecology if you already have a topic in mind, or in co-supervising projects where you would like to add a modelling component to a biological study. Co-supervision is available with experts in relevant fields from UWA, CSIRO, the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food, or other organisations.

Some of my past students and their projects can be found on the People page. More background of many of these project ideas can be found by looking at my Publications.

Some potential projects

Evolution of resistance to herbicides and other pesticides

How do management strategies and genetics affect the evolution of herbicide resistance in weeds in agricultural systems or pesticide resistance in insect pests? What are the optimal strategies to avoid different kinds of resistance, particularly for new herbicides and pesticides, and the optimal use of alternative new technologies? This project could involve model development and/or the use of well-established existing models.

Spread of biological organisms

Can we predict the spread of biological organisms such as weeds, invertebrate pests and diseases? Can models of spread be used to determine optimal strategies for detecting, containing, controlling and eradicating unwanted biological organisms (or for encouraging the spread of desirable organisms?) What factors are most important in simulating organism dispersal? A general model of biological invasion has been developed and tested and can be applied to address these questions for various organisms of interest.

The fate of plant species in changing climates

As climates change, plants may be affected in various ways. In some cases these effects may be negative and even lead to local extinction. In such cases, plant species will need to migrate to new suitable locations in the landscape in order to survive. Their ability to do so will depend on a combination of their migration abilities and the way that their lifecycle is impacted by climate at different locations within the landscape. Modelling can provide a way of integrating our understanding of these various processes, predicting the fate of different species and identifying management options such as habitat restoration or assisted migration to conserve those most threatened.

Structural models of weeds, crops, trees, seagrass and other plants

How do plant structures emerge over time in relationship with physiology and environment? Can we create structural models of important plants that incorporate these factors? Can we use these models to answer questions about issues such as competition between crops and weeds, or the best way to replant seagrass? How do structural models compare with simpler models? Can structural models be linked to crop growth models to improve the meaningfulness of the output of these models?

Optimal rooting strategies

What are the optimal strategies for plant rooting systems in different situations, and how close do real plant root systems come to these theoretical optimums? Some possible example systems include plant-root systems in arid environments with occasional heavy rainfall events; and plant-root systems for extracting nutrients from low nutrient soils; and plant-root systems on shallow soils in very seasonal environments where roots need to balance a short-term race to acquire biomass while conditions are favourable with a long-term need to access deeper more permanent water.

Agricultural weed seed bank population dynamics

Models of weed seed population dynamics have been developed as the basis of decision support tools and bio-economic analysis platforms to help farmers make weed management decisions in real agricultural systems. The usefulness of these models can be extended to represent new weed species and new management techniques. The models can be used to determine optimal strategies for the long-term management of weed populations in agricultural systems, but a number of interesting questions remain open... How are these optimal strategies affected by the seed biology of different species? To what extent do they depend on season type and seasonal variability? How will they be influenced by the development of new technologies, new crop and pasture species, climate change and new farming systems? Where should research investment aimed at improving weed management be directed so as to achieve the best possible outcomes for the whole system?

Plant spatial interactions

How does the spatial arrangement of plants affect the way they interact? Examples of systems where plant spatial interactions may be important include weeds competing with crops, perennials getting established or surviving drought in a pasture, or trees of different ages in a forest as rainfall slowly decreases with long-term climate change. Modelling techniques can be used to understand these spatial interactions, and to help design useful management strategies.

Other topics

Many other projects are possible. I am very interested in ecological optimisation – how plants balance different trade-offs to achieve the best evolutionary outcomes in their particular environments. For example, increased seed dormancy may be a bet-hedging strategy to avoid all your seeds germinating in unfavourable conditions, but it may also reduce your reproductive success. The best way to allocate limited resources, such as phosphorus or nitrogen to different roles within a structure such as a leaf or a root system, may depend on the conditions experienced by the leaf or the relative availability of the different nutrients. I am also interested in plant signalling or communication – both the internal signalling processes that influence function and structure and the external signalling that occurs between different plants. And I am very interested in the complexity of ecological community dynamics – how communities of different species are assembled and persist or change over time in response to different influences. And much more...!