Nutrient re-distribution and availability in ameliorated and cultivated soils in the Western Region

Understanding nutrient redistribution after soil renovation

While there has been increasing interest in practices of mechanical soil amelioration, relatively little is known about how they impact soil nutrient supply.

You will work within a team to investigate the effect of mechanical amelioration on Carbon and Nitrogen pathways (e.g. mineralisation and nitrification rates) at various soil depths.

These laboratory experiments will involve repeat soil sampling analysis (pre and post-soil disturbance) and be based on 15N isotopic pool dilution techniques that enable the specific pathways of the soil nitrogen cycle to be separated. New knowledge on the impact of mechanical soil amelioration on the rate of decomposition of soil organic matter and its implications for soil nutrient supply will be generated.

Decomposition rates of soil organic matter at varying depths will be assessed using a combination of in situ decomposition measurements linked to molecular measurements of the soil organic matter decomposition cascade. The decomposition rates from soil at depth will be used to estimate how soil nitrogen supply to crops changes after mechanical soil amelioration.

You will be a part of a multidisciplinary team working within the SoilsWest alliance which brings together core and translational science, as well as industry with a focus on outcomes benefiting the agricultural industry and environment.

Training will be provided to the successful student in use of 15N stable isotopes and molecular ecology to study soil processes that influence soil nutrient supply.

As part of this project the successful PhD applicant will undertake:

  • Field and laboratory experiments to deliver an improved understanding of soil N supply and N fertiliser use efficiency.
  • Field experiments to capture the residual benefit of organic and inorganic N on the following crop.
  • PhD training will also include mass spectrometry, experimental design, soil chemistry, biological processes, data analysis and scientific writing. 
  • Opportunities will be provided to present findings to farmer groups, agribusiness and at national and international conferences. 
  •  You will be expected to develop their thesis as a series of high quality journal research publications. 




Collaborations and funding

This PhD scholarship is part of the AUD$3.4 million investment in “Nutrient re-distribution and availability in ameliorated and cultivated soils in the Western Region” by the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation. The project is well resourced in terms of operating (consumables and field expenses etc) and access to field trials.

Operational budget

  • AUD$30,000 per year (tax free) stipend for 3.5 years paid to the student as a fortnightly stipend
  • All experimental consumables, laboratory expenses and field trial travel costs are paid by the project
  • International student tuition fees provided by the university (normally $45,000 per year)
  • Registration fee for the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis paid by project
  • Up to AUD$2000 for relocation to Perth, Western Australia



Research Team Leader: Professor Daniel Murphy

I started work at UWA in 1999 after spending 4 years conducting agricultural research in the UK. I currently manage a research program that addresses issues relating to the development of sustainable management practices for agriculture, horticulture and mine sites under rehabilitation. The biological fertility of soil is a major focus of this research where staff and students employ a range of molecular, isotopic, biochemical and enzymatic tools to study microbial ecology and nutrient cycling and issues relating to microbial function and diversity.

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:

  • Students who have completed a first class Honours degree (H1) in Soil Science or masters by research in Soil Science
  • We are looking for an exceptionally talented candidate who is expected to publish a number of high quality journal papers from their PhD studies
  • Proven track record in experimental design and in journal/conference paper writing is desirable
  • Applicants will need to meet the University’s requirements for entry to the PhD including English language qualifications
  • Appointment of an international student would be dependent on Australian visa restrictions

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 applicationDifferent application procedures apply to domestic and international students.