Does removal of kangaroo grazing alter soil seed banks?

Some areas of the Western Sydney Parklands support a large number of kangaroos. Exclosures were constructed about a decade ago to examine the effects of kangaroos on the standing vegetation. Long-term records suggest that there may be an effect of kangaroo grazing on plant community composition but their effects on soil seed banks are little-known. This study will examine the impacts on soil seed banks, using glasshouse studies, and soil microbial communities.

In this study you will:

  • collect soil samples from different microsite inside and outside kangaroo proof exclosures and;
  • run germination trials to assess soil seed banks in the glasshouse and analyse the results

You will be expected to be undertake fieldwork in Western Sydney in an area that has very poor public transport. You should have an interest in plants and soils, and prepared to work with colleagues from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.



Malleefowl construct unique patches in arid woodlands

In arid landscapes dominated by mallee (Eucalyptus species) woodlands, malleefowl move considerable volumes of litter to construct their large aboveground nests. This litter alters plant community composition and the distribution of critical resources such as organic matter and nutrients. This movement of resources is thought to have significant impacts on microbial communities and litter resident invertebrates, but little is known about how extensive this is and if the effects are sustained when the birds abandon their nests.

In this study you will

  • examine a range of mounds, of different ages, constructed by malleefowl and
  • measure soil surface characteristics and collect soil samples for analysis of important nutrients and microbial composition.

Ideally you would be interested in plants and soils in dry environments and be prepared a to spend time in the field, often under hot conditions. You will be expected to undertake some laboratory analyses. You will be supported by researchers from the Australian Landscape Trust at Calperum Station in South Australia.

PhD project in 2021

Rewilding to restore degraded drylands – New South Wales, Australia



University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia


Sydney, Australia


PhD program by research


If you are a international student, you will need to apply for a University International Postgraduate Research Award (UIPA), which will cover your tuition fees for 3.5 years and give you an annual  stipend currently valued at A$28,092 (details available at

Or you can apply the home country joint scholarship depend on the policy of your home country (e.g. CSC for Chinese students, details available at

Last Date to Apply

Application dates are listed at The deadline is September 18th, 2020 for commencement any time in 2021.



The reintroduction of locally extinct native animals into conservation reserves is increasingly being used to sustain native animal populations, which are recognised as having positive effects on ecosystem functions and processes. We are seeking a student to develop a project within an established rewilding project to test the effects of reintroduced native animals on soil and microbial processes, how they interact with biological soil crusts (biocrusts), and whether the effects are influenced by changes in woody plant density. We expect this work will improve our understanding of the importance of reintroduced animals for rehabilitating degraded drylands.



Individuals with an interest in terrestrial ecology, soils, or restoration ecology are encouraged to apply. The successful candidate must have a Batcheler’s Degree from an accredited university and will need to have financial support to undertake an international PhD program from their own country or be competitive for a University International Postgraduate Research Award (UIPA) or the home country joint scholarships. As the scholarships are competitive, a Master’s degree with relevant research experiences and outputs (papers) is preferred. The most competitive applicants will have field experience in vegetation and soils, quantitated statistical skills (e.g. R statistical software) and research methods, and strong written and oral communication skills (in English). International student need to meet the English requirement of UNSW. To express your interest, please submit a cover letter and your curriculum vitae to David Eldridge.


Contact Person

David Eldridge

Contact Email

NEW Honours Projects in 2020

Hi everyone. The Arid Ecology Lab has two new honours projects in 2020, working on the impacts of kangaroos and Powerful Owls with great people. Do not hesitate to contact us if you are interested 🙂

Contact: Dr David Eldridge (; Dr Samantha Travers (

Project title: Impact of kangaroos on temperate grasslands – a 10 year study.

Supervisors: Dr David Eldridge (Centre for Ecosystem Science), Dr Samantha Travers (Centre for Ecosystem Science)

Synopsis: Fenced and unfenced populations of kangaroos have been monitored for the last decade in grassy woodlands in Western Sydney. Regular monitoring has also been undertaken in a number of exclosures, and detailed assessments of plant community composition made. There are been few studies of kangaroo impacts on vegetation community composition in temperate grasslands and no effects of how kangaroo densities might impact soil function. This project will be based on field assessment of plants and soil function, laboratory assessment, and statistical analyses of plant community composition over the last decade. Data have been collected continuously since 2005.

• to determine the impacts of kangaroo grazing on temperate grassland richness and composition
• to examine the effects of kangaroo activity on soil function.
• to link changes in kangaroo numbers with vegetation changes over the past decade.

Benefits to student: This is a multi-disciplinary project that will expose the student to a diverse range of skills. You will:
• work on a high priority conservation project
• experience the problems associated with managing native animals in a periurban environment
• have access to a large temporal database
• experience a mixture of field work and data analyses
• learn how to assess soil and vegetation health
• gain skills in laboratory techniques
• be exposed to the activities of the National Parks and Wildlife Service
• have fun and work with great people


Project title: Assessing prey items in the scats and pellets of Powerful Owls and their importance as a bioindicator of environmental lead (Pb) levels

Supervisors: Dr David Eldridge (Centre for Ecosystem Science), Dr Samantha Travers (Centre for Ecosystem Science), Chris Lloyd (Powerful Owl Group)

Synopsis: In the Sydney region, the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) is a large predator of folivores such as ringtail and brushtail possums (Trichosurus spp.). Together possums and owls have increased markedly over the last 50 years, and now occupy rainforest gullies close to urban areas. Lead (Pb) is a major environmental pollutant and bioaccumulates in the food chain as it concentrates in animal bones, where it remains for extended periods. Analysing lead concentration in bones can give us an indication of past levels of lead exposure and potentially, environmental lead concentrations. Because lead concentrates in bones, it can be assessed in the scats and pellets of carnivores. The Georges River Group of the Powerful Owl Project has been analysing the composition of prey items collected in bolus from roosting sites on both sides of the Georges River between 2012 and 2017. The bones of more than 250 prey animals have been collected from ten separate owl territories. The Georges River provides a natural boundary between the earlier European settlement, and therefore motor vehicles use, on the northern side of the Georges River and the more recently settled southern side of the river. These two sites may differ in lead (Pb) levels as the more recently settled areas were mainly urbanised in an era of lead-free fuel after 1986.


• examine differences in prey items in Powerful Owl scats and pellets from 10 sites in southern Sydney
• examine Pb levels in the bones and feathers of vertebrate prey
• explore potential differences in Pb levels that might account for differences in environmental Pb between areas with long and short histories of usage of fuel-based Pb.

Benefits to student:

This is a multi-disciplinary project that will expose the student to a range of disciplines. You will:
• work on a high priority conservation project
• gain skills in laboratory and data analytical techniques
• work with a community group (Powerful Owl Project)
• undertake a mixture of microscope, laboratory and community-based work
• get access to a large existing database



Congratulation Max on ESA student prize!

Max and Jingyi, (PhD students) presented meta-analyses on impact of digging mammals and woody plant removal at ESA 2018 (Annual Conference of Ecological Society of Australia). Max won the 2018 ESA Wiley Student Prize for the EMR spoken presentation on management or restoration. Congratulation Max!




Congratulation to Gabby (Dr. Radnan now😊) for her PhD graduation ceremony today! Gabby has accomplished an excellent PhD on ants. Thanks for her great work in our lab. We will miss the joyful time spent with you 🙂 .


We’re looking for enthusiastic students to work with our Arid Ecology Lab in 2020 for the following projects. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested 🙂


Branching: can the addition of woody material help to revegetate degraded drylands?

Woody debris is recognised as an important structural element of the ground layer. The placing of logs or branches on the soil has been trialled as a method to stabilise degraded soil surfaces, by protecting plants from herbivory and allowing them to establish. A trial is being established in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia to examine the usefulness of ‘branching’ as a restoration tool.

This study will compare the effect of multiple branching treatments on soil accumulation and soil properties, herbivory of planted seedlings, and establishment of perennial vegetation within an existing experiment. An honours project would form part of a larger research project looking at the role of branching in restoring degraded landscapes. Students will be able to position their research within a broader context and work alongside collaborating scientists.

The work will be carried out near Renmark, South Australia and co-supervised by Dr Heather Neilly. For more information contact David Eldridge (


The effect of herbivory on the restoration of a semi-arid woodland

Vertebrate herbivores can threaten vegetation establishment and persistence in areas being managed for restoration. Various projects would investigate different aspects of how grazing by a range of herbivores (goats, rabbits and kangaroos) affect vegetation and soils in order to develop effective management of grazing. The work will be carried out near Renmark, South Australia and co-supervised by Dr Heather Neilly. For more information contact David Eldridge (


Long-term dynamics of vegetation cover under kangaroo grazing

Overgrazing by kangaroos has been identified as a major land degradation issue, particularly during droughts. This project will examine long-term data on the effects of kangaroos on vegetation species composition across a large number of sites, some of which are kangaroo free. The study will also incorporate measures of soil function at different parts of the landscape to determine the impacts of kangaroos on soil function. The work will be carried out at sites in eastern Australia in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. For more information contact David Eldridge (

Congratulations Adriana and Naomi

Congratulations to Naomi and Adriana on their graduation ceremony today! Also special mention to Adriana who won the best honours award in geography and received the Jack Mabbutt Medal.

Thank you to both of you for the excellent work and joyful time in our lab as honours students, we will miss you guys!

Honours project opportunity: Soil health in River red gum forests

A chance for some field work in these beautiful inland riverine forests.

A chance for some field work in these beautiful inland riverine forests.

We’re looking for an enthusiastic student to be involved with a larger project set up by Office of Environment (NSW) and Heritage and Parks Victoria. The project will involve field work throughout the Lachlan Valley, Murrumbidgee Valley and Murray Valley. This project presents an opportunity to visit some unique parts of Australia and receive training in measures of soil health and soil surface condition. This is a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with government departments including National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW), Parks Victoria (Vic.) and Scientific Services (NSW). Preferred candidates would have a strong background in ecology and/or soil science and hold a provisional or full drivers licence. For more details please contact Prof. David Eldridge (