Current course fees can be found at the following link:
Available Postgraduate Scholarships (Domestic)
ARC Discovery Grant - Global space-time soil carbon assessment
Climate anomalies and world agricultural production and prices
Faculty Postgraduate Research Scholarships
Leaf respiration links to nitrogen assimilation
Mesophyll conductance and water-use efficiency in pea
Mesophyll conductance in C4 plants
Nancy Roma Paech Postgraduate Scholarships
Nocturnal stomatal conductance and water-use efficiency cost in wheat
PhD Position: Carbon Partioning
PhD Position: Spatial Soil Scaling
PhD Project: Development of a novel method to estimate the flammability of Australian fuels
PhD Project: Dynamics of trace gas emissions from fires
PhD Scholarships in Rhizosphere Biology and Chemistry
Postgraduate Scholarship in Plant Molecular Genetics
Postgraduate Scholarship on Waratah Research
Soil carbon is a key component of functional ecosystems and is crucial for food, water and energy security, and for climate change mitigation. The project will contribute to global understanding of soil carbon and its management for sustainable wellbeing.
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Global climate anomalies affect world agriculture and prices through, so called, teleconnections. The teleconnections imply that local weather events in many regions can be linked and respond to global climate phenomena. One such phenomenon is known as El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Extreme ENSO events have been correlated with shifts in world agricultural production, commodity prices, and even social unrests and civil conflicts.
World economies could also be affected by other, less studied climate phenomena such as, for example, North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), etc. The research objective is to quantify economically meaningful causal connections between the climate anomalies and world agricultural production and prices.
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Applications are invited for the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment postgraduate research scholarships. The awards are for full-time postgraduate study leading to a higher degree by research and thesis and are tenable for up to two years for a Master of Philosophy, and three years for a PhD candidate. Applicants must be graduates, graduands or persons holding equivalent qualifications who are eligible for admission to candidature for a higher degree. The scholarship is paid at the APA rate.
In addition, under the University's Postgraduate Research Support Scheme, funds will be made available each year to assist postgraduate research students to, amongst other things, attend conferences or visit specialist libraries and laboratories. The funds under this scheme will be awarded on a competitive basis and an application will be required.
Plant respiration is a key component of the global carbon cycle. Of considerable global concern is that plant respiration (and resulting emissions of CO2) can provide a strong positive feedback to rising temperatures, thereby reinforcing the consequences of human-induced increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration.
The process of plant respiration is highly complex - at least six different biochemical reactions may produce CO2 in leaves. Despite the importance of respiration there is little consensus between researchers working at different scales on the relative importance of physiological, genetic and environmental drivers of respiration.
The project will introduce a novel technique: a coupled system to allow on-line, real-time measurements of exchange of CO2, O2, and 13CO2 exchange to quantify the relative importance of the different biochemical pathways involved in leaf respiration, test the proposed link between leaf nitrogen metabolism and respiration, and provide a more complete understanding of the carbon substrates for respiration.
Tcherkez G, Mauve C, Lamothe M, et al. (2011) Plant, Cell and Environment 34, 270-283.
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Efficient use of water is the most pressing environmental issue facing the Australian grain industry. While significant research effort has been employed to improve water-use efficiency (WUE), a number of leaf traits that influence leaf intrinsic WUE (A/gs; the ratio of photosynthesis to stomatal conductance) have strong potential to provide WUE gains.
Our recent study on Barley genotypes has revealed considerable variation in the ease with which CO2 diffuses within a leaf (mesophyll conductance; gm), and genotypes with high gm had enhanced A/gs and WUE. Using state-of-the-art stable isotopic laser-based approaches, this project will:
- screen existing Australian pea genotypes to determine the degree of variability in gm, and its influence on A/gs, under controlled-environment conditions;
- determine the degree of sensitivity of gm in pea genotypes to environmental parameters such as temperature, irradiance, water and nitrogen availability;
- determine the degree to which leaf-level changes in gm affect crop-scale WUE and yield in the field.
Barbour MM, Warren CR, Farquhar GD, Forrester G, Brown H. 2010. Plant, Cell & Environment 33, 1173-1185.
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To meet the challenge of increasing crop yield for a burgeoning world population, it has become apparent that photosynthetic efficiency and yield capacity must be increased per unit leaf area. Photosynthetic CO2 fixation rate is constrained by CO2 diffusion inside leaves (mesophyll conductance) in species with either C3 or C4 photosynthetic pathway. By understanding and quantifying these internal diffusion limitations, novel strategies to manipulate and enhance leaf photosynthesis and water use efficiency through genetic engineering can be identified.
This project will apply a newly-developed, real-time, laser-based technique to quantify mesophyll conductance in the C4 crop maize, and determine the response of mesophyll conductance to both long-term growth conditions (drought, temperature, light, nitrogen availability) and short-term changes in environmental conditions (temperature, light, CO2).
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A full-time postgraduate scholarship to undertake research studies leading to a PhD in Agriculture is available for a suitably qualified candidate with an interest in the disciplines pertaining to agricultural science.
The aim of the scholarship will be to support research that benefits pastoral industries and the sustainable management of rangeland, pastoral and related inland Australian landscapes. In particular it will be supporting research into the types of low-impact, broad-acre agriculture that are the future of sustainable land management for a large proportion of the Australian continent.
The research and associated activities supported by the Paech Bequest will be conducted through the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, at the Camden campus of the University of Sydney.
Students with a background in agricultural science with a strong undergraduate record (Honours 1) or equivalent are encouraged to apply. Applicants are not restricted to Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents or New Zealand citizens, however this scholarship does not cover any tuition fees payable by international students. The scholarship is valued at $30,000 per annum (tax exempt) and may be renewed for three years, subject to satisfactory progress. An additional sum of $5,000 per annum may be available for further research purposes.
Research Scholarships will be considered for applicants who have submitted a formal application for candidature, and been offered postgraduate candidature in the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment.
Click below for the application form in:
word version or pdf version
Recent experiments have revealed that stomata of most plants do not fully close in the dark, so that substantial water loss can occur if the relative humidity is significantly lower than 100%. There is no possibility for carbon gain in the dark, so nocturnal stomatal conductance can be seen as a water-use efficiency ‘cost’.
Wheat production in Australia is strongly dependent on water availability and occurs in regions prone to warm, low humidity nights when nocturnal water loss is expected. This project will assess the level of genotypic variability in nocturnal stomatal conductance and water-use efficiency cost among existing wheat cultivars, and quantify the stomatal response to environmental conditions (vapour pressure deficit, temperature, drought, CO2 concentration) in the dark.
Barbour MM, Buckley TN (2007) Plant, Cell and Environment 30: 711-721.
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Australian agriculture faces immense challenges to satisfy demand for food, fuel and fibre whilst simultaneously coping with the effects of climatic change. Improvements in yield must come from both improved germplasm as well as management based upon a sound understanding of plant processes. Great focus has been placed on improving yield via improvements in the fundamental processes of plant growth.
Legumes are thought to hold great potential under future climates due to their relative independence from nitrogen supply. If we are to understand how plants acclimate to changes in resource availability, we must understand the mechanisms that govern the central conduits of carbon partitioning. This information is central to improving the efficiency of legume production but more broadly provide tools for increasing food, fuel and fibre production across a range of crop species.
Detailed information about this research project is available here.
We are seeking an aspirational PhD researcher to investigate the mechanisms behind soil diversity, from a small field to the globe, the understanding of which is a necessity for sustainable soil management. Soil diversity is crucial for maintenance of sustainable ecosystems. Soil varies on a continuum from microbial habitats to fields, regions, continents and the globe. However currently there is no general theory on soil spatial scaling, which is urgently needed and especially important to address the mechanisms causative of the spatial variability at various scales.
This project will take a unifying approach to derive a general spatial scaling theory that will allow us to estimate the likely behaviour of soil properties at all scales. Understanding the scaling behaviour of soil means we can be certain about describing the changes in relationships between soil properties and processes. It will enhance our ability to monitor soil property changes through time, essential for gauging effects of climate change and achieving food security.
This project involves a considerable amount of modelling work. The PhD candidate should have a strong background in mathematics, statistics or related topics. The PhD researcher will acquire valuable knowledge and skills in soil physics as well as in modern statistical and spatial data analysis, scientific publication and industry liaison. Travel to a conference overseas forms part of the scholarship. The work is supported by the Australian Research Council.
The work is being conducted by a world-leading soil research team comprising Professor Alex McBratney and Associate Professor Budiman Minasny, and is based in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, located at the Biomedical Building, Australian Technology Park in Sydney.
There are a number of ways to assess fire behaviour, for example, by describing how a fire burns, timing how fast it travels, and measuring how much heat is released. Flammability of fuel is a common measure of fire behaviour and is composed of four different components:
ignitability, sustainability, combustibility and consumability.
Flammability is related to intrinsic properties of the fuels such as structural characteristics, chemical composition, fuel moisture content and fuel arrangement. However, flammability has been hard to define scientifically, which makes it difficult to use as a metric to assess fire hazard and hence predict fire behaviour. Consequently, grassland fire danger indices such as the CSIRO Grassland Fire Spread Meter, which are used to estimate the potential of fires to spread, often rely on meteorological parameters and estimates of the state of grass curing because they are easier to determine.
This project will aim to develop a method to score and subsequently rank the flammability of Australian vegetation. This will be a complementary tool for use with other techniques for assessing fire hazards and predicting fire behaviour. Predictions of the flammability of different vegetation types will be made throughout an annual growth cycle and at varying landscape scales and resulting flammability models will be validated in the field. The student will gain field-based skills in fuel collection and assessment and analytical skills in calorimetry and plant chemical composition.
The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food at the University of Sydney has world-class facilities and capabilities for analysis of vegetation and fuels that are not available elsewhere in Australia. In the recent ERA ranking process, the University of Sydney had maximum scores in the fields of Soil Science and Plant Biology and currently boasts five Future Fellows.
Dr Malcolm Possell and Dr Tina Bell
Research location: Faculty of Agriculture and Environment,
The University of Sydney, Centre for Carbon, Water and Food
Gaseous emissions during bushfires are a significant component of the smoke generated. Understanding the controls on the composition of gases in smoke generated by the burning of vegetation is crucial to being able to predict the effect smoke has on atmospheric chemistry and the consequences this may have on the global C budget and human and plant health.
Our current understanding of how trace gas emissions such as CO2, CO, and volatile organic compounds are affected by fuel condition is restricted to simple empirical descriptions. These descriptions do not capture the dynamics in trace gas emissions that are observed during burning and are not linked to known physical and chemical combustion processes.
As the incidence of bushfires and the need for hazard reduction burns in or near urban areas grows, there is a need for incident controllers and planners to be able to assess the impact smoke will have with some accuracy. Therefore, there is a crucial need to be able to model the smoke composition from fires in different vegetation types under different environmental conditions.
Despite of the significance of trace gas emissions on atmospheric chemistry, the process-based understanding of the dynamics of trace gas emissions from vegetation fires is still poorly understood. In order to assess the impact a smoke plume could have on plant and human health downwind of a fire, accurate predictions of the gases in the smoke plume are needed.
This project will develop an understanding of the physical and chemical mechanisms by which trace gases are formed temporally during combustion and use this knowledge to develop a predictive model. The student will gain analytical skills in trace-gas analysis such as mass-spectrometry, and will develop skills in numerical modelling.
The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food at the University of Sydney has world-class facilities and capabilities for analysis of trace gases that are not available elsewhere in Australia. In the recent ERA ranking process, the University of Sydney had maximum scores in the fields of Soil Science and Plant Biology and currently boasts five Future Fellows.
Dr Malcolm Possell and Prof Mark Adams
Research location: Faculty of Agriculture and Environment,
The University of Sydney, Centre for Carbon, Water and Food
The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney is offering two postgraduate positions based at their Camden and Narrabri campuses.
Plant traits that affect below-ground processes are seldom considered within breeding programs. Decades of research show both that plants do affect soils, and that there is great variation in how plant phenotypes respond to the soil environment and management.
However, our lack of knowledge in this field is limiting the potential genetic gains from wheat breeding. Enhanced soil attributes include increased ability to supply nutrients, increased ability to store carbon and increased ability to store water.
The effects of plants on physical, chemical and biological properties of soil are most apparent in the root zone (i.e. in the rhizosphere), where release of plant exudates and plant-fungal-bacterial interactions can result in major differences in local environments and microbial communities. These effects include changes to the species composition of microbial populations that enhance the availability of key nutrients for plants, changes in soil carbon content, and flow-on changes in structure that may influence storage of water.
The research program will quantify variation in soil processes and properties in the root zone of a range of wheat genotypes (G), relating these to changes in the environment (E - fertilizer, temperature, water supply) and management (M – tillage, crop rotation strategy). Standard agronomic treatments (fertilizer, legumes) will be employed as benchmarks, and we will use the resulting GxExM analysis to identify traits that through commercial breeding programmes, are most likely to result in net economic benefits to farmers (yield, grain quality, soil carbon, water use efficiency), and also contribute to environmental management goals.
PhD Project 1 - Exploring beneficial microbial-plant interactions for crop yield: effects on soil health
This project will focus on the effects of plant genotype variation on microbial activity in the root zone, and how this is affected by changes in environment and management. It will exploit recent advances in molecular biology, including next-generation sequencing and molecular fingerprinting, to measure changes in microbial communities that relate directly to the availability of nutrients and water, as well as root architecture and the structure of the root-associated soil. These include nutrient transformations, soil enzyme activities, gene expression by both microbes and plants, and characterisation of plant exudation using stable isotope techniques.
The project will focus in particular on determining the resilience of below-ground plant traits relating to microbial populations to stresses relating to crop rotation and nutrient limitation for N, P and S. Microcosm and microcosm experiments will be complemented by full scale field trials, to ensure that laboratory data is directly relevant to agronomic practice. The research will therefore integrate contributions of microbial, chemical/biochemical and physical processes, which will be quantified over time using both direct and indirect (e.g. modelling) approaches.
The key aim is to identify beneficial genetic (G) traits for commercial breeding programmes and to identify those management (M) regimes likely to best deliver those genetic gains while at the same time improving yield and environmental outcomes.
PhD Project 2 - Exploring beneficial GxExM interactions for crop yield and nutrient availability: effects on soil health
This project will focus on the effects of plant genotype variation on nutrient transformations in the root zone, especially changes in the availability of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, and the cycling of carbon in the root zone. Stable isotopes will be used to examine how C, N and P cycling changes with variation in environment and management, and how this is affected by root architecture and the structure of the root-associated soil.
The GxExM effects on processes such as rhizosphere priming and availability of soil N and P will be studied, in order to evaluate how they affect utilisation or sequestration of carbon and mineral nutrients in the soil.
The project will focus in particular on determining the resilience of below-ground plant traits relating to microbial populations to stresses relating to drought and temperature. Microcosm experiments that apply defined and controlled drought and temperature stress conditions will be complemented by full scale field trials, to ensure that laboratory data is directly relevant to agronomic practice.
The research will integrate contributions of microbial, chemical/biochemical and physical processes, which will be quantified over time using both direct and indirect (e.g. modelling) approaches. The key aim is to identify beneficial genetic (G) traits for commercial breeding programmes and to identify those management (M) regimes likely to best deliver those genetic gains while at the same time improving yield and environmental outcomes
The programs are supported by the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), which will provide a PhD scholarship and research funding for the projects. The University of Sydney’s Camden and Narrabri campuses offer world-class research facilities, including state-of-the art equipment for molecular and stable isotope analyses, an environmentally controlled growth chamber facility, and 300 hectares of fertile, irrigable land.
We seek applicants with a strong background in plant biology or soil science, and a keen interest in working with stakeholders in the agricultural industry.
To apply, send your CV and cover letter to:
Associate Professor Michael Kertesz
P (02) 8627 1022
Dr. Feike Dijkstra
P (02) 9351 1817
A full-time postgraduate scholarship is available for a suitably qualified candidate to undertake research studies leading to a PhD in molecular genetics. Suboptimal rainfall and soil moisture limit the productivity of crops in Australia and the regions and seasons within which they are economically viable. Finding ways to increase water use efficiency (WUE) in plants is a high priority, particularly given the projected changes in rainfall patterns associated with global climate change.
This project will investigate the molecular role of a single gene mutant in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, that leads to an increase in WUE and in final yield under both well-watered and water-limited conditions.
The aim of the project is to identify the mechanisms leading to the observed changes in Arabidopsis and to transfer the findings to the close relative, the important oilseed crop, Canola (Brassica napus). This translational research project is based on a multipronged experimental approach using techniques from cutting edge molecular genetic plant manipulation, to microscopy and physiology, through to glasshouse and field-based trials.
Applicants should have a particular interest in plant cellular and molecular biology. The scholarship does not cover tuition fees payable by international students. International applicants (applicants not Australian citizens or with an Australian permanent residency visa would require additional funding for tuition fees from their home country or institution).
The scholarship is valued at $29,000 per annum (tax exempt) renewed for up to three years, subject to satisfactory progress.
Further information can be obtained from:
Dr Brian Jones
Faculty of Agriculture and Environment
The University of Sydney NSW 2006
P 0435 079 890
Applications should be sent direct to Brian Jones at the above address and should include a curriculum vitae, a copy of an academic transcript, and the names and contact details of at least two referees. Contact Brian Jones for more information about this scholarship.
Postgraduate research opportunity is now available working with the iconic Australian flower, the waratah. The Faculty of Agriculture and Environment has places and scholarships (equivalent to an APA) available for PhD students. Applications are now open. Please email for more information.