Synopsis

Many plant species use day length as a cue to determine when their seeds should germinate. In the past, day length sensitivity stopped seeds from germinating at a dangerous time of year (e.g. during a warm spell in winter). Today, daylength sensitivity might be working against plants, as it could stop species from changing their germination timing to take optimal advantage of the new conditions under climate change.

Although Australian scientists are at the forefront of research in some areas of germination research, we have surprisingly little data on the role of daylength in shaping the germination of Australian species (pers. comm. Cathy Offord, Principal Research Scientist at the Australian PlantBank).

We don’t know the extent to which day length sensitivity might prevent Australian species from responding to climate change. We also don’t know whether there are geographical trends in daylength sensitivity in Australian plants.

Aims

During the project: “Will Daylength Sensitivity Limit Australian Plants’ Response to Climate Change?” you’ll run germination experiments to quantify the role of photoperiod sensitivity in germination of seeds from a range of Australian ecosystems. This includes tropical forests, tropical savanna, temperate shrubland, temperate forests, the arid zone and the alpine zone.

The idea is to include 40 species from each vegetation type, spanning a range of taxonomic groups and growth forms. Many species’ seeds could be sourced from the Australian PlantBank. You’ll also have the chance to conduct field trips to collect seed for other species. Your data will fill critical knowledge gaps and allow you to test a range of hypotheses about the factors that are most important in determining species’ responses to changing climates. 

Your analyses will improve our ability to predict which Australian species will be most threatened by climate change.

Student Benefits

The Big Ecology Lab is a friendly, productive group who love to work together. We have lab discussion groups, weekly student-supervisor meetings, and are active participants in university life. We also have a lab policy of celebrating victories with prizes, publications and completions.

All 15 of my previous honours students received first-class honours, and their current positions include:

  • PhD study
  • Team Leader in plant biosecurity at AQIS
  • Wildlife Photographer
  • Lab Technician at 4 Pines Brewing Company
  • Ecological Consultant
  • Environment Advisor at BMA.

Of course, you’ll also gain skills in experimental design, data analysis, writing and science communication. This project will give you valuable expertise in an important environmental issue. You’ll also work at the Australian PlantBank at Mount Annan – which means that you’ll use some amazing facilities and make contacts with lovely people who employ Plant Ecologists.