The grass-fire cycle theory posits that increased biomass caused by invasive grasses will increase vegetation flammability leading to more frequent and intense fire. This results in a positive feedback, whereby frequent fire facilitates invasion, further increasing in flammability. This has been documented in tropical grasslands of Australia but there is little direct evidence of it occurring outside of tropical areas.

The lack of evidence for the grass-fire cycle outside the tropics does not mean there is no threat of it occurring in future. When the grass-fire cycle does occur there are profound consequences, including declines in native plant and animal species and irreversible changes in ecosystem function. We need the capacity to detect the initial stages of the grass-fire cycle, so we can allocate management effort to slow the spread of invasive species.

In this project, we will examine reproductive traits of key invasive grasses to determine if they undergo rapid adaptation to increased fire frequency. We will explore whether seed and germination traits change in plants exposed to more frequent fire and whether there is an underlying molecular basis for these changes. This project will help determine the likelihood that a positive ecological feedback will occur in subtropical Australia in future.

The candidate:

The successful candidate will have a first class honours degree in ecology, botany, environmental science or a related discipline. Candidates with at least one published peer-reviewed paper will have an advantage. The candidate should be enthusiastic about ecological and evolutionary theory that can be applied to real-world problems. She/he should be willing to conduct field work and lab work, in addition to learning sophisticated analytical tools. Willingness to learn the R programming language is essential and prior knowledge in programming, bioinformatics and statistics will be an advantage.

The candidate will need to apply for a PhD Scholarship through the UQ Graduate School:

 

Project members

Dr Annabel Smith

Lecturer in Wildlife Management
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Dr Shane Campbell

Senior Lecturer in Pasture Sc & Agr
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences