Projects on offer

PhD project opportunities (James Cook University, Australia): 

Population genomics of the remote sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands benthic taxa

The sub-Antarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) is surrounded by a unique marine benthic ecosystem that is geographically isolated from other parts of the world. A no-take marine reserve was established in the 2000s to protect the HIMI benthic ecosystem from bottom fishing activities. Despite the conservation significance of the HIMI benthic ecosystem, there is a general lack of understanding on the genetic diversity, connectivity and evolution of its unique benthic invertebrates, as well as how they have been challenged by past and/or ongoing fishing pressures. This project will use population genomic techniques to determine the spatial and temporal patterns of population structure around HIMI, and between HIMI and the broader Southern Ocean.

This PhD project will employ the latest genomic and bioinformatics techniques in order to investigate connectivity and demography of Southern Ocean benthic taxa. This project may incorporate some Antarctic fieldwork and will also build upon data already collected from Antarctica.

The student will be based in the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia (under the supervision of Prof Jan Strugnell, Dr Sally Lau, Dr Nerida Wilson) and supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Special Research Initiative – Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future (SAEF). The student will work closely with stakeholders from the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Queensland Museum Network.

Requirements: The successful applicant will have a First Class Honours (or equivalent) in biological science or a related field and will pick up extra points in the scoring system if they have a first authored paper. Preference will be given to those applicants with previous experience in genetics and/or evidence of strong technical and laboratory skills. Journal publications in these fields are desirable but not essential. Applicants must apply by 24 November 2023.

Applicants will need to be familiar with the Higher Degree by Research Requirements.

Funding: A 3.5 year stipend scholarship co-funded by JCU and SAEF is provided ($33,500 per annum tax exempt pro rata). Field and laboratory expenses will be supported by the broader project.

Contact: Interested applicants should send their 1) CV, 2) academic transcript and 3) a short (max. 1 page) letter outlining their suitability and interest in the project to Dr Sally Lau ( and Prof. Jan Strugnell (

Masters project opportunities (James Cook University, Australia): 

Southern range limit of the the tropical Black-lip rock oyster; an emerging aquaculture species

The black-lip rock oyster, Saccostrea echinata, is an emerging aquaculture species in the North of Australia. Fast growth rates and newly established methods of hatchery production contribute to an increasing interest in the farming of this species. A comprehensive assessment of S. echinata’s distribution in Australia is yet to be completed. Adult S. echinata are known to be present as far south as Turkey Beach, but the southern range limit of the species in Queensland is unknown. Understanding its southern range range limit is complicated by high levels of morphological variability, the presence of few distinguishing characteristics and several morphological similar co-occurring oyster species. Molecular genetic methods, including environmental DNA (eDNA), now provide a tool to help establish range limits within the species, including early life history stages. Through the development of species specific assays and application of metabarcoding techniques this project will seek to determine the southern range limit of S. echinata. The project will be a collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Qld (Bribie Island) and James Cook University (Townsville) and will incorporate field work, laboratory work and molecular genetic analyses.

Supervisors – Dr Max Wingfield (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Qld), Prof. Jan Strugnell (James Cook University, Qld).

Sounds interesting? Get in touch!