Despite efforts to monitor and manage declining species and ecosystems around the world, biodiversity is still not routinely included in mainstream decision-making and continues to decline at the highest rate in human history. Added to this is the problem that both natural and agri-food systems are complex networks that are continually changing due to human and natural disturbances, with climate change likely to increase the impacts of extreme events like drought, fire and economic shocks on these networks.
Because of large uncertainties and trade-offs between many human and environmental goals, it is unclear which interventions will have the greatest benefits for biodiversity, whether actions for biodiversity have benefits for people, and how resilient these actions are under continual environmental and economic change.
A natural question, then, is what data do we need to choose interventions that are good for nature and people, and are also resilient to shocks?
This project seeks to answer that question using decision science techniques, including value-of-information theory which is a coherent methodology for quantifying the relevance of new information for impacting decision-making.
The successful candidate will become part of Ayesha’s new 'Food for Nature and People' research group dedicated to decision science that empowers communities and governments to make more sustainable choices about agricultural production and food consumption.
The research group will include five PhD students, a postdoctoral fellow and a research assistant, and will be interconnected with an international community of scientists and scholars, particularly those working within the fields of conservation decision science, sustainable production and consumption, human nutrition and behavioural sciences.
Our research group is a transdisciplinary space that explores how our choices about the food we grow and eat impact biodiversity, our environment and our well-being, and flow on to impact global environmental and socio-economic change. We will build insights from research in the fields of ecology, biodiversity conservation, agriculture, food and nutrition science, health, and human well-being, to reveal important impacts on nature and people from behaviour changes at both the production and consumption ends of agri-food chains.
By applying methods from decision science, operations research and social science, our team will use these insights to understand which interventions, if successful, would have the greatest outcomes for recovering biodiversity from ongoing declines whilst maintaining or improving people’s well-being. Identifying agri-food production and consumption behaviours that are resilient, healthy and sustainable is particularly critical in these times of rapid environmental, social and economic change.
A full PhD scholarship is available as part of Dr Ayesha Tulloch’s Australian Research Council Future Fellowship ‘Pathways to agri-food supply chains that co-benefit people and nature’ with the School of Biology & Environmental Science, and supported by the Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy and Centre for Data Science.
The project is also supported by a top-up scholarship and travel funding. There will also be an opportunity to collaborate with and/or present results to decision science, sustainability and quantitative ecology researchers from external institutions in Australia and overseas.
In this project you will model how different "shocks" (e.g. extreme weather events, disease, economic crises) impact outcomes for the environment and humans across agri-food networks (farmers, suppliers, consumers, biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being).
Models will be used to build an understanding of which uncertainties, if resolved, might result in the highest benefits and lowest risks to biodiversity and human well-being.
This project would suit a candidate who is interested in:
- applying and advancing quantitative skills to solve challenging environmental problems
- using network theory and modelling to evaluate outcomes of changes to complex linked systems
- quantifying and incorporating risk and uncertainty into models
- building new knowledge on the impacts of environmental change on agricultural, ecological and human systems.
The project will build upon and expand your skill set by involving a combination of the following:
- network analysis and modelling
- numerical simulation of network models
- computational methods for Bayesian inference
- applying value-of-information theory and analysis to real environmental problems.
You will also gain experience in working and communicating with researchers from multiple disciplines outside of your field, further diversifying your potential career pathways post-PhD.
You should be motivated to explore different research questions within this topic and acquire knowledge and skills across the diversity of disciplines offered at QUT. There are multiple case studies from across the globe (collaborative partners in Australia, Europe, Africa and South America) that could be examined in this project, depending on your preferences and interest.
Because of the growing interest in alternative proteins, there will be a particular focus on plant-based protein production and consumption (e.g. legumes, nuts) as well as beef production and consumption in Queensland and New South Wales.
This project aims to improve biodiversity outcomes of agricultural food production and consumption, and expects to generate new knowledge about impacts of interventions and shocks on the environment, human health and livelihoods in agri-food systems. The expected outcome is a value of information framework for identifying nature-friendly policies and actions with co-benefits for human well-being.
Skills and experience
- a Bachelor degree with Honours or a Masters degree (with a significant research component), in Applied Mathematics, Quantitative Ecology, Economics, Engineering, or other relevant quantitative discipline.
- peer reviewed publication/s, ideally as lead author
- experience in coding in a relevant programming language (e.g. MATLAB, R, C++)
- experience applied quantitative skills to an environmental problem
- alignment with the research areas: conservation of biodiversity, sustainable production and consumption, supporting human well-being, decision science
- enthusiasm for working with researchers and practitioners across disciplines.
Contact the supervisor for more information.