Kelp forests of Australias Great Southern Reef

Discovering Australia’s Great Southern Reef


Defined by the iconic forests of golden kelp (Ecklonia radiata), the Great Southern Reef (GSR) is an interconnected underwater system fringing more than 8000 km of Australia’s southern coast; from Kalbarri, Western Australia to the NSW/Queensland border.

PhD projects are available to study the persistence and function of kelp forests and associated fish, seaweed, and coral communities along the GSR, in the context of ongoing climate change.

PhD candidates can develop their research using a suite of different tools and approaches, including scientific diving, field and aquarium experiments, broad-scale surveys, genetic tools, and novel restoration techniques. Candidates will join the Wernberg Lab – a highly dynamic and exciting team of graduate and postgraduate researchers that are working at the forefront of global kelp ecology and restoration science.

The project is part of two research initiatives funded by the Australian Research Council, with the broader goal to understand ecosystem services from the Great Southern Reef and to develop innovative solutions to and protect and restore threatened kelp forests in Western Australia. 

Successful applicants will develop a field-based project on temperate reef ecology between Kalbarri and Albany, that includes benthic surveys and habitat measures, as well as laboratory and/or field experiments. Projects are likely to involve a combination of database, laboratory and/or field work. Some time spent away on field trips and research visits must be anticipated for most projects. 

Volunteers for diving research and to help with restoration work are always appreciated.

Eligibility criteria: 

A strong academic record, quantitative skills and experience with marine ecology. Experience with field-based research and scuba activities are desirable but not essential. 

Suggested readings

  • Bennett S, Wernberg T, Connell SD, Hobday AJ, Johnson CR, Poloczanska ES (2016) The ‘Great Southern Reef’: social, ecological and economic value of Australia’s neglected kelp forests. Marine and Freshwater Research, 67(1): 47-56. [doi:10.1071/MF15232] 
  • Wernberg T, Bennett S, Babcock RC, de Bettignies T, Cure K, Depczynski M, Dufois F, Fromont J, Fulton CJ, Hovey RK, Harvey ES, HolmesKelp-Loss-RGB-EN TH, Kendrick GA, Radford B, Santana-Garcon J, Saunders BJ, Smale DA, Thomsen MS, Tuckett CA, Tuya F, Vanderklift MA, Wilson SK (2016) Climate driven regime shift of a temperate marine ecosystem. Science, 353(6295): 169-172. [doi: 10.1126/science.aad8745]
  • Coleman MA, Wood G, Filbee-Dexter K, Minne AJP, Goold HD, Verges A, Marzinelli EM, Steinberg PD, Wernberg T (2020) Restore or redefine: future trajectories for restoration. Frontiers in Marine Science: Marine Conservation and Sustainability, 7: 237. [doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00237]
  • Filbee-Dexter K*, Wernberg T*, Barreiro R, Coleman MA, de Bettignies T, Feehan CJ, Franco JN, Hasler B, Louro I, Norderhaug KM, Staehr PAU, Tuya F, Verbeek J (2022) Leveraging the blue economy to transform marine forest restoration. Journal of Phycology, published online. []
  • Pessarrodona A, Filbee-Dexter K, Alcoverro T, Boada J, Feehan C, Fredriksen S, Grace S, Nakamura Y, Narvaez C, Norderhaug KM, Wernberg T (2021) Homogenization and miniaturization of habitat structure in temperate marine forests. Global Change Biology, 27: 5262-5275. [].

Research team leader: Professor Thomas Wernberg

I am a Professor of Marine Botany and a former Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences, based within the UWA’s Oceans Institute.

My research covers a broad spectrum of topics, but my primary interests lie in the ecological interactions in and around shallow sub-tidal habitats, especially kelp forests. My research provides understanding of how coastal habitats might respond to stressors such as climate change, invasive species and eutrophication. Recently, I have also increased my focus on solutions to habitat decline through restoration and increasing our appreciation of the diversity of services our marine ecosystems provide, such as their role in climate mitigation. 

Funding and Collaborations

Funding: ARC DP19, DP20, DP22, Schmidt Marine Technology 

External Collaborators:

    • Dr. Melinda Coleman, NSW DPI



How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact [email protected] to proceed with your application

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