We are currently looking for five enthusiastic PhD students to work on a hot topic in global change ecology: How do species survive climate change, land use and other human pressures?

The successful candidates will be enrolled in a joint award PhD program established between the University of Adelaide and University of Copenhagen. They will work closely with a diverse and highly skilled group of international researchers, having access to state-of-the art computational facilities, distributional and movement data, high-resolution climate and land-use data, and genomics data.

Supervision and mentoring: will be provided by Associate Professor Damien Fordham at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and Professor Carsten Rahbek at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (CMEC) at the Globe Institute. Both supervisors and their labs are international leaders in the fields of macroecology, global change ecology, conservation biology, biogeography, movement ecology, population biology, genomics, evolutionary biology, and ecological modelling.

The PhD students will spend at least 1 year in Copenhagen and 2 years in Adelaide, working closely with a diverse and highly skilled group of international researchers at the Environment Institute.

Position 1: Unravelling past mammal declines to improve conservation actions.

Australia’s terrestrial mammal fauna is among the most distinct in the world. However, among continents it has suffered an extraordinary rate of loss of species since European settlement. This PhD project will improve capacity to halt declines and extinctions of Australian native land mammals by generating rigorously validated spatiotemporal reconstructions of the ecological processes and threats that caused distribution and population collapses of mammals during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Specifically, the successful PhD candidate will integrate ecological models with insights of demographic changefrom Holocene fossils and sighting records fromexplorers, naturalists and early settlers to reconstruct spatiotemporally the range and extinction dynamics of an ecological and evolutionarily diverse group of terrestrial Australian mammals. We expect that the project will establish how ecological and intrinsic traits interacted dynamically with environmental change to cause population declines and later extinctions.

Key outcome: a stronger understanding of how the dynamics of extinction threats interact with ecological processes in space and time to cause common species to become rare.

Position 2: Establishing ecological processes of persistence in Andean birds.

The high altitudinal Polylepis forest of the Andes are today characterized by tiny, isolated fragments. However, evidence from pollen records indicates that these forests were much more widespread and continuous in the past.

This PhD project will establish the ecological processes and community dynamics that have allowed birds to persist at extremely low densities for centuries in very small forest fragments, typically smaller than 1 km2. According to conventional knowledge, persistence at these low population sizes should not be possible due to stochastic factors.

Specifically, the successful PhD candidate will use high performance computing to integrate process-based ecological models with field and satellite data to detect and disentangle the mechanisms responsible for bird abundance and diversity in Andean Polylepis forest fragments.   We expect that the project will establish how regional metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics promote persistence at small population sizes.

Key outcome: a stronger understanding of how the spatial dynamics of small populations and communities effects persistence in a changing world.

Position 3: Recovering large-bodied herbivores and their ecosystem services

Large-bodied herbivores are crucial to ecosystems, but tend to be sensitive to human pressures, including exploitation and persecution, habitat loss and environmental change. Meaning that they continue to face severe population declines, range contractions and extinctions.

This project will use empirical data and new statistical-simulation approaches to determine optimal localities and densities for restoring and recovery large-bodied herbivores. Specifically, the successful PhD student will integrate molecular and fossil-based inferences of past range dynamics of large-bodied herbivores into process-based ecological models to reconstruct their distributions, habitats, abundances and causes of decline at high spatiotemporal resolutions.

Information on past population and habitat dynamics will be used to support evidence-based recovery targets for large-bodied herbivores, identify optimum sites for reintroductions, and to increasing knowledge of how ecosystem services have changed through space and across time.

Key outcome: vital new information for enhancing conservation efforts to reverse population declines of large-bodied herbivores.

Position 4: Revealing determinants of persistence for small populations.

The final extinction event of a species is usually caused by stochastic factors, which organisms at small population sizes are particularly sensitive to. However, there are many species that can persist at naturally small population abundances, despite potentially severe demographic and genetic consequences.

This project will meld theory with data to identify species traits and environmental conditions that benefit the long-term persistence of small populations of mammals and birds.  Specifically, the successful PhD student will use global data sets and advanced statistical methods to identify relationships between beneficial traits, environmental conditions and small population size.

Established patterns will be tested using theory-driven ecological models. Information on species traits that benefit persistence at small population sizes will be used to inform conservation metrics of extinction risk. 

Key outcome: stronger understanding of extinction risk for small sized populations of mammals and birds.

Position 5: Identifying traits that make species vulnerable to climate change.

The ecological and intrinsic traits that increase species’ risk of extinction from climate change are currently poorly resolved. This is partly because ecological responses to climate change are complex and hard to disentangle.

A powerful solution is to analyse biological data from historical systems using process-explicit macroecological models that run at fine temporal and spatial scales and across large geographical extents. This project will use these simulation-based approaches to unpack complex interactions between species traits and climate change and other threats responsible for population and range shifts observed for mammals and birds over the last century.

By providing a more complete understanding of the ecological mechanisms that regulate species’ responses to climate change, we expect that this PhD project will result in more certain predictions of species that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Key outcome: better ability to better predict the vulnerability of mammals and birds to future climate change based on their ecological and intrinsic traits.

You should have :

  • Master degree in ecology, computer science, mathematics, conservation biology, genetics, or similar fields
  • A strong interest in the related fields of macroecology, population biology, ecological modelling, biodiversity conservation and global change ecology
  • Competency in statistical and spatial data analysis
  • Excellent time and data management and interpersonal skills
  • Evidence of well-developed verbal and written communication skills

Desirable Characteristics:

  • Manuscript fully drafted for publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • Knowledge of advanced statistical languages such as R, Python or Matlab
  • Familiarity with open-source geographic information software
  • Fundamental knowledge of natural history

Salary : Tax free stipend of $32,500/yr (AUD) plus a top-up scholarship of $8,000 to $20,000/yr (AUD) for a total of 3.5 years.


Your application should include:

  • a 1-2-page letter that outlines why you are applying for the position
  • a document addressing the selection criteria
  • your résumé/Curriculum Vitae
  • copies of any published papers
  • residency status
  • names, addresses and/or email details of two referees

Email applications to damien.fordham@adelaide.edu.au .

Applications will be assessed as they are received with the final closing date being the 3rd July 2023. If you have any queries regarding this position, please contact A/Prof. Damien Fordham (damien.fordham@adelaide.edu.au)

Applications close: 3rd July 2023

Payment per year: AUD$32,500 per annum (tax free 2023 rate, indexed annually) plus a top up scholarship


  • Australian Citizens
  • Australian Permanent Residents
  • New Zealand Citizens
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa Holders
  • International Students

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