Study level

  • PhD
  • Master of Philosophy
  • Honours
  • Vacation research experience scheme


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.

Research centre


Dr Kate Helmstedt
Research Fellow (DECRA)
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Science


The Great Barrier Reef is under significant threat from climate change.

There are many options for management approaches to help sustain the reef, and many more are being developed. However, optimally planning these management actions is a difficult mathematical problem as they need to deploy over a large scale. This results in long timeframes for developing and executing these actions.

This project will involve adapting the Modern Portfolio Theory to develop optimal management approaches to sustain the Great Barrier Reef.

Modern Portfolio Theory is an integer programming approach that allocates resources in risky scenarios where investment options are correlated. It can accommodate significant and unavoidable uncertainties, stochasticity, and correlations between options.

A diversified portfolio is less volatile than the sum of its parts. Therefore, to ensure environmental benefits in the future we should invest in a diversity of new approaches. This is particularly useful in the context of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef where environmental futures are uncertain.

Research activities

The project will require developing an understanding of the Modern Portfolio Theory approach and adapting it mathematically and computationally to solve environmental management problems for the Great Barrier Reef. You'll draw from your mathematical skillset, as well as skills and knowledge developed over the course of the project.

You'll be supported and mentored as part of the dynamic and diverse Applied Mathematical Ecology Group.


This project can potentially result in academic publications in addition to report or thesis requirements appropriate for your study level.

Depending on your interests, collaboration with external partners will be encouraged. Those collaborative relationships will be an explicit outcome of the project.

Skills and experience

Candidates must have, or be undertaking, a degree in:

  • mathematics
  • statistics
  • IT
  • engineering
  • science, with some quantitative elements
  • any related degree with sufficient quantitative components.

You're also required to have:

  • an interest in mathematics
  • excellent written and oral communication skills
  • the desire to talk to people (and not just mathematicians) about your work.

While not required, it's desirable if you have programming skills in any language and an interest in ecology or the environment. You don't need to know much about species or ecosystems, but you must be keen to learn.

Please contact the supervisor to discuss whether your experience is sufficient for this project.

We particularly welcome applications for groups that are underrepresented in STEM, including:

  • women
  • students who identify as Indigenous Australians
  • students who identify as people of colour.


You may be eligible to apply for a research scholarship.

Explore our research scholarships


Contact the supervisor for more information.