Study level

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


Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Dr Matthew Adams
Research Fellow (DECRA)
Division / Faculty
Faculty of Science

External supervisors

  • A/Prof Kate O'Brien, UQ


This project seeks to explore the complex dynamics that might arise from multiple interacting feedbacks in marine ecosystems, by designing ordinary and/or partial differential equation models of these feedbacks and analysing the steady states and/or temporal dynamics of the proposed model(s).

It has been hypothesised that many social and ecological systems exhibit alternative stable states due to feedback processes that keep the ecosystem in one state or the other. The result can be tipping points, which are difficult to predict but have major impacts on the functioning of environmental systems.

A prototypical ecosystem for studying feedback processes is seagrasses, a typically submerged plant growing in shallow waters, for which many different feedbacks have been identified. Early attempts at modelling multiple interacting feedbacks in seagrass ecosystems suggest that these dynamics can be quite complex.

Research activities

  • Designing widely-applicable models that represent important ecological/environmental dynamics.
  • Code implementation of models, ideally in MATLAB.
  • Analysing ordinary differential equation models.
  • Analysing partial differential equation models.


  • Skills development in model design.
  • Development of expertise in multidisciplinary research, cutting across mathematics, ecology and/or physics.
  • New hypotheses or explanations for processes occurring in nature.

In this project there would also be an opportunity to collaborate with and/or present results to marine ecology and environmental engineering researchers from external institutions.

Skills and experience

Excellent skills in coding, especially ordinary and/or partial differential equations, an interest in using mathematics to address applied and/or theoretical ecology problems, and a potential interest in working/communicating with a multidisciplinary team of researchers.


You may be eligible to apply for a research scholarship.

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Contact the supervisor for more information.