PhD: Water use by New Zealand indigenous tree species via FindAPhD

University of Waikato

Hamilton, , NZ

About the Project

The University of Waikato and Scion – New Zealand Forest Research Institute are seeking an energetic, self-motivated PhD student to study the water use characteristics of planted New Zealand indigenous tree species. The successful candidate will receive a PhD Scholarship to work as part of a large multi-disciplinary team studying the impact of planted forests on catchment hydrology throughout New Zealand. As land-use intensification and climate change place increasing pressure on water resources, questions have arisen in New Zealand around the role of planted forests in hydrological processes and their impacts, both positive and negative, on down-stream water resources. The overall research program combines a broad range of disciplines, from ground based monitoring of soil-plant-atmosphere interactions and catchment fluxes in planted forests, to novel remote-sensing technology and the development of predictive forest hydrological models. Based at Scion in Rotorua and funded by the NZ MBIE Endeavour Fund, the program includes researchers from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the Universities of Auckland and Waikato, and international collaborators in Australia, the USA and other countries.

For this project the student will work with researchers from the University of Waikato and Scion to examine the water use characteristics of indigenous tree species that are increasingly being planted as part of afforestation programs. Field research will include the use of sap flow and soil moisture measurements, automated dendrometry, micrometeorology, datalogging and wireless telemetry, characterisation of stand and canopy development and stomatal behaviour. The primary research site for this project will be in the Wairarapa region in the southern North Island, but similar measurements will be replicated by the program team at a number of sites in planted forests around the country. The program will generate large and complex datasets, and involves the potential to work with computer scientists on the development of data-mining and machine learning techniques for environmental data. The student will be based at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, and will need to travel frequently to interact with colleagues in Rotorua, and to work at the primary research site. The student will be supervised by a team that includes Associate Professor Mike Clearwater (University of Waikato) and Dr Dean Meason (Scion).

 Key questions for this project include:

·     What are the water use characteristics of planted indigenous conifer and angiosperm tree species, and how do these compare with those of the more widely planted exotic plantation species?

·     How do stand age, leaf area index, stomatal behaviour and rooting depth influence rainfall interception and transpiration by stands of indigenous tree species?

·     Can we predict the response of indigenous tree species to soil moisture deficits, and their likely responses to future changes in rainfall, soil moisture and temperature?

·     Can we use automated dendrometry and other remote monitoring technologies to monitor the functioning of indigenous tree species, quantify their water use, and understand their responses to stress?

·     How important are species level differences in tree function and water use for catchment scale estimates of water storage and yields?

 Applicants will be independent, highly motivated and have:

·     An Honours or MSc(Honours) degree in a relevant subject (e.g., tree physiology, forestry, hydrology, environmental science, ecology)

·     Experience working in the field at remote locations

·     Some experience with and / or an aptitude for working with complex field equipment, such as sap flow sensors, dendrometers, dataloggers and gas exchange equipment

·     Data analysis skills, including the use of coding (eg R or python), and / or a background in computer science and machine learning

·     Excellent communication skills in English (spoken and written)

·     A full driver’s license

The scholarship will provide:

Annual tax-free stipend for 3 years of $NZ 27 500, and up to $7,000 per annum for tuition fees

Closing date: We will begin reviewing applications after 29th of March 2021. The position will remain open until filled, and is available from April 2021 onwards.

To apply please provide the following:

·     A letter of motivation and your CV (as a single document, including contact information for 2 referees)

·     Academic transcripts 

Enquiries can be sent to Mike Clearwater (), and applications can be made using the form below, or directly to Mike Clearwater. Your letter of motivation should describe why you are specifically interested in this PhD project.

We welcome applications from New Zealand based and International candidates. Under current pandemic border restrictions, priority will be given to NZ citizens and other applicants who are already resident in NZ. However, if a suitable NZ-based candidate cannot be identified it may be possible to assist an international candidate to apply to Immigration New Zealand for the appropriate visa. Immigration New Zealand is currently considering visa applications from international PhD students for research programmes that meet the Government Funded Research category if a candidate with the essential skills cannot be identified in NZ.

For information on University of Waikato entry requirements, including English language proficiency for applicants whose first language is not English, please go to