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 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. 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.
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 fully funded PhD scholarship and top-up 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 the Environment.
In this PhD project you will build an understanding of how agri-food system interventions impact biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being.
Research activities include:
- working with different agriculture and food system researchers and stakeholders (from farmers to commercial food distributors) to compile datasets on the impacts of different biodiversity-focused actions (e.g. farm sustainability initiatives, crop diversification, consumer marketing to change purchasing behaviours, taxes on “unsustainable” foods) on the environment and people
- contributing to food sustainability and biodiversity conservation working groups with international researchers
- modelling the impacts of different interventions across case study agri-food systems to build an understanding of the range of possible outcomes from different policies, sustainable farming initiatives and consumer behaviour changes
- model validation activities - these will depend on the student’s background and interests, but could include farm biodiversity monitoring and/or landholder surveys to explore local-scale impacts of ongoing interventions to improve the sustainability of agricultural food production
- using models to identify strategies for investment in food system interventions that are good for the environment and for people.
You will 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 the biodiversity outcomes of agricultural food production and consumption behaviours, and expects to generate new knowledge about impacts of planned interventions and unplanned disturbances on the environment, human health and livelihoods in agri-food systems. The outcomes will contribute to a national 5-year project developing a social-ecological approach to prioritising how to intervene in uncertain agri-food systems.
The project will build essential knowledge to improve both environmental and human well-being outcomes of agricultural food production and consumption in Australia and globally, and identify key interventions that could improve outcomes for people and nature. Benefits include the identification of sustainability pathways with win-win outcomes for people and nature, and improved ways of meeting international commitments such as Sustainable Development Goals.
Skills and experience
You must have:
- a bachelor degree with honours or a masters degree (with a significant research component), in a discipline of relevance to the research topic, such as:
- conservation biology
- environmental sciences
- social sciences
- agricultural sciences
- behavioural economics.
It is desirable that you have:
- peer reviewed publication/s, ideally as lead author
- strong written and oral English skills
- experience in data analysis and coding in a relevant programming language (e.g. R, Python)
- alignment with the research areas: conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, sustainable production and consumption, supporting human well-being
- experience and interest in leading ecological or social field work in rural areas
- enthusiasm for working with researchers and practitioners across disciplines.
You may be eligible to apply for a research scholarship.
Contact the supervisor for more information.