Faculty of Science

Investigating the hydrology of the Fitzroy River to protect the iconic sawfish


Climate change and agricultural projects within the Kimberley threaten the river habitat of the iconic largetooth sawfish.

  1. Summary of the project
  2. Eligibility criteria
  3. Readings
  4. Contact the research team leader
  5. How to apply
  6. Scholarships

Summary of the project

Global climate change represents a severe threat to our planet’s natural systems. However, complete understanding of the impact of changing climatic factors on biodiversity requires significant integration between disparate fields of science. This project seeks to understand how changing climatic patterns and land-use management across north Western Australia will impact the conservation of one it’s most iconic and most threatened species - the largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis).

Sawfishes are considered one of the most threatened groups of fishes globally and the Kimberley region in NW Australia represents one of the last intact nurseries for many species of this taxon. Increasing human influence coupled to severe climate change predicted for the area makes the identification and delineation of critical habitat critical for the conservation of these rare animals.

The student will work as part of an interdisciplinary team of hydrologists, physiologists and ecologists funded through the Australian Research Council. The student will be responsible for the development of a physical model of the Fitzroy River to quantify present and future environmental conditions sawfish experience. In addition, the students work will be integrated into a eco-physiological model to predict how environmental conditions may lead to changes in the viability of sawfish nurseries.

The student will partake in fieldwork to remote areas in the Kimberley and quantify key hydrological parameters, as well as assist in monitoring of sawfish themselves. The successful student will have a background in hydrology and a keen interest in biology, with no experience required. The work is performed in remote and challenging areas of WA’s last true wilderness and students that work well under field conditions are encouraged to apply. Students with an aptitude for adventure and unspoilt natural environments will relish the opportunity to partake in this work.

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Eligibility criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project:

  • Knowledge of hydrological processes and river ecology
  • Ability to process complex data and run numerical models
  • Willingness and ability to undertake field work in remote and challenging environments

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The work involves bridging hydrological sciences, animal energetics and river ecology. A range of suggested readings include:


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Contact the research team leader

Once you have ensured that you meet the eligibility criteria and are ready to discuss a proposal, contact the research team leader to identify a potential supervisor.
Research team leader: Dr Matt Hipsey
I am a multi-disciplinary environmental scientist who works in the area of aquatic systems science and ecohydrology, with a particular focus on environmental modelling. I currently lead the Aquatic Ecodynamics (AED) Group at UWA, where I supervise several post-doctoral fellows, and PhD students undertaking research to understand how aquatic systems respond to climate and land-use change.

The successful candidate will collaborate closely with Dr. Adrian Gleiss (Murdoch University), Dr Nicola Mitchell (UWA) and Dr Michael Kearney  (University of Melbourne).

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How to apply

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader you should be in a position to proceed to step two of the UWA application process: 'Lodge an application'.

Different procedures apply to domestic and international students.

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Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to Australian applicants for study in participating countries and regions.

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to international applicants from participating countries and regions.

Indigenous students

Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.

Forrest Foundation scholarships

All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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