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

Investigating threats to the Kimberley river habitat of the iconic largetooth sawfish

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 North West 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 an eco-physiological model to predict how environmental conditions may lead to changes in the viability of sawfish nurseries.

The student will partake in fieldwork in remote areas of 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.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

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).

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

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

Requirements specific to this project include:

  • 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.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

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

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.

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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