Improving our understanding of how seedlings navigate the rocky soils typical of Australia’s arid zone as they emerge, could inform better ecological restoration practice.
Seedlings of wild plants often need to emerge from heterogeneous soil environments with many obstacles (compacted soils, rocky soils, etc.). Understanding how seedlings emerge in these conditions, including the limits of emergence, has broad applications spanning seed ecology, material science, robotics, ecological restoration, agriculture and even astrobotany.
For example, in ecological restoration, if seed placement can account for the heterogeneity of the soil matrix, the proportion of successfully emerged seedlings, and potentially, the growth rate of emerged seedlings, could be enhanced. Higher emergence and seedling survival could result in major savings in seed costs and deliver better plant and ecosystem restoration.
Engineers at the UWA Centre for Engineering Innovation: Agriculture & Ecological Restoration, in collaboration with seed biologists at Kings Park Science and material scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces are seeking a suitable PhD candidate to understand how native seeds emerge from rocky substrates and in harsh environmental conditions to answer such questions as:
- What are the limits to seedling emergence depth and how is emergence depth related to the energy stores of the seed?
- How do soil properties such as rock content and compaction influence or limit seedling emergence?