PhD Project Descriptions: Planning for conservation and sustainable development on Indigenous lands

Expressions of interest open until 31st January 2019

We are pleased to announce three PhD projects on an exciting new project to start in early 2019, funded by the ARC Linkage program, in partnership with the Tiwi land Council, Deakin University, Charles Darwin University and the University of Melbourne. All three students will work collaboratively with each other, with all investigators and project postdoctoral researchers, and with Tiwi research assistants, rangers and communities. Indigenous students are particularly encouraged to apply. Please contact the project supervisors for more information and to send your application, which should include a cover letter addressing the required skills/experience listed below and a CV. After the EOI and interview processes, selected applicants will then need to apply formally and meet institutional requirements (which vary by university – see below).

Project overview: Planning for sustainable development and biodiversity on Indigenous lands

Team: Emily Nicholson (Deakin), Kate Hadden (Tiwi Land Council), Brett Murphy (Charles Darwin University, CDU), Margaret Ayre (University of Melbourne, UM), Jane Elith (UM), Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita (UM), Alan Andersen (CDU), Brett Bryan (Deakin), Tom Kompas (UM) (see photo below)

Funding: Australian Research Council Linkage grant LP170100305

Sustainable development is critical to reconciling economic growth, human well-being and biodiversity conservation across the globe. The complexity of planning for sustainable development is exemplified in the Tiwi Islands, 60km north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Australia. The Tiwi Land Council, the primary decision-making body for land use on the Islands, is seeking to expand economic opportunities for Tiwi communities and to improve social, economic and health outcomes for the Tiwi people, while sustaining the Islands’ unique cultural and biodiversity values. The Tiwi Land Council has identified a fundamental need to develop their capacity to make informed decisions about integrated land use planning.

This project aims to support decision-making on the Tiwi islands, through new methods for collaborative land-use planning that advance knowledge about trade-offs between sustainable economic development and biodiversity conservation on Indigenous lands. Our approach is trans-disciplinary and participatory, integrating Indigenous and scientific knowledge and methods.

On-ground outcomes will include:

  1. Identification of conservation values to inform Indigenous Protected Areas on the Tiwi Islands, based on social and ecological values reflecting Tiwi goals
  2. Projected impacts, costs and benefits of a range of alternative land-use plans on Tiwi objectives
  3. A set of data and models within a scenario evaluation framework, that can be updated and adapted to answer new questions
  4. Training for a Tiwi research assistant, building capacity in research and planning skills within the Tiwi community.

PhD project 1 at Deakin University

Topic: Dynamics of biodiversity and Indigenous values of Tiwi ecosystems.

Primary supervisor: A/Prof Emily Nicholson (e.nicholson@deakin.edu.au)

This project will be funded by and primarily based at Deakin University, but the student will be a member of both the Conservation Science Research Group at Deakin and Qaeco at the University of Melbourne. Applications are open to Australian and international students.

Project description: Effective management requires information on the distribution, dynamics and values of ecosystems of high importance to biodiversity conservation and Indigenous cultural values. The Tiwi Islands support unique biodiversity in their ground-water dependant ecosystems, which include endemic rainforests, riparian forests and swamps of high conservation value internationally and locally. The mangrove ecosystems of the Tiwi Islands are extensive but hold very high local cultural values for food and important sites. Extensive data and knowledge on these ecosystems are found across disparate sources, including Indigenous and western scientific knowledges, and remotely sensed and field data. This project will: 1) map past and current distributions of these ecosystems and associated biodiversity and cultural values, drawing on these different sources, working with Tiwi communities and research assistants, and scientists across Australia; 2) develop models of potential future dynamics under scenarios of climate and land-use change, and different management strategies; and 3) quantify how projected change will affect Tiwi goals (see Project 2), and national and international goals (e.g. UN Sustainable development Goals). This information will enable informed management on the ecologically and culturally significant Tiwi Islands.

Skills and qualifications required:

  • Undergraduate and honours or masters degree in ecology, environmental science or a related discipline
  • Demonstrated high-level skills in written and verbal communication (e.g., scientific publications)
  • Quantitative skills in statistics, data analysis and/or process-based modelling
  • Skills in programming in languages such as R (or similar), spatial analysis (in R and/or GIS), and/or experience working with remotely sensed data
  • Field ecology skills (especially flora) or willingness to learn
  • Willingness to travel to remote Tiwi Islands and stay for periods of field work in tropical environment
  • Current driver’s license
  • Desirable: experience working with indigenous people

PhD project 2 at the University of Melbourne

Topic: Participatory approaches to co-developing goals, scenarios and indicators for Tiwi land-use futures

Primary supervisor: Dr Margaret Ayre (mayre@unimelb.edu.au)

This project will be funded by and primarily based within the Rural Innovation Research Group in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne, but will also be a member of both the Conservation Science Research Group at Deakin and Qaeco at the University of Melbourne. Applications are open to Australian students only.

Project description: Indigenous knowledge of socio-ecological processes is extensive, rigorous and based in exhaustive systems of Indigenous law and land and water management. However, there are few studies that have demonstrated that Indigenous knowledge for resource development can be effectively recognised and incorporated into western scientific resource assessment. As different theories of knowledge (e.g. Tiwi knowledge and western scientific knowledge) represent dynamics in socio-ecological processes in different ways, the bases for identification of preferences and visions for the future for (Indigenous) Tiwi people are different from that of science. This project will co-design innovative methods for translating Tiwi goals, values and preferences for land and resources use into quantitative goals, performance measures and integrated land-use scenarios involving economic opportunities, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. It will draw on and further develop cross-cultural, participatory planning techniques for eliciting Tiwi resource values and goals including: interviews and focus groups; ‘visits-to-country’; and participatory mapping.

Skills and qualifications required:

  • Undergraduate and honours or masters degree in sociology, science studies, environmental management (with social science training), anthropology, cultural studies or other relevant discipline
  • Demonstrated high level skills in written and verbal communication (e.g., scientific publications).
  • Demonstrated skills in qualitative social science theories and methods and their application to environmental science and land management.
  • Willingness and ability to travel to and stay on the remote Tiwi Islands for periods of field work
  • Current driver’s license

Desirable:

  • Demonstrated interest in or experience working on issues of cross-cultural knowledge making and/or Indigenous-led collaborative land and water management.
  • Demonstrated interest in or experience working in stakeholder engagement and/or participatory methods in the context of natural and cultural resource management.

PhD project 3 at the Charles Darwin University

Topic: Processes driving populations of threatened mammals on the Tiwi Islands

Primary supervisors: Dr Brett Murphy (Brett.P.Murphy@cdu.edu.au) and Prof Alan Andersen (alan.andersen@cdu.edu.au). This project will be funded by and primarily based at Charles Darwin University. The successful candidate will apply for a scholarship at CDU with the supervisors. Applications are open to Australian and international students, but be aware scholarships for international students are highly competitive.

Project description: The Tiwi Islands has high conservation value for its full small mammal assemblage (which has declines precipitously on the mainland), and threatened and endemic species. While extensive data exist, they are patchy both spatially and temporally: extensive surveys were done in 2001-2002 and 2014-2015 but were unable to survey large areas of the islands, while techniques that can monitor cat dynamics (a potentially substantial threat to Tiwi mammals) were used only recently. This leaves large gaps in understanding about the spatial and temporal dynamics of biodiversity and processes that drive it. This project will collect new data on biodiversity on the Tiwi Islands to improve understanding of spatial and temporal dynamics of biodiversity (in particular fauna). Particular processes of interest include the interactions between fire and predation by cats. The student will analyse these data in conjunction with existing data to develop appropriate models of species distributions and/or population dynamics on the Tiwi Islands. models of population and spatial dynamics. Research findings will to inform land-use decisions on the Tiwi Islands, and support the development of monitoring approaches that can be applied by rangers into the future.

Skills and qualifications required:

  • Undergraduate and honours or masters degree in ecology, environmental science or a related discipline
  • Demonstrated high-level skills in written and verbal communication (e.g., scientific publications)
  • Quantitative skills in statistics, data analysis and/or process-based modelling
  • Skills in programming in languages such as R (or similar), spatial analysis (in R and/or GIS), and/or experience working with remotely sensed data
  • Field ecology skills (especially fauna)
  • Willingness to travel to remote Tiwi Islands and stay for periods of field work in tropical environment
  • Current driver’s license

Most of the members of the research team, with Tiwi rangers on the Tiwi Islands in August 2016; from left to right: Jane Elith (University of Melbourne, UM), Marg Ayre (UM), Colin Kerinaiua (Tiwi ranger), Brett Murphy (Charles Darwin University), Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita (UM), Kate Hadden (Tiwi Land Council), Vivian Kerinaiua (Tiwi Ranger), Emily Nicholson (Deakin), Willie Rioli (Tiwi Ranger Supervisor/Mentor). Photo: Guru.