HDR Scholarship - Conservation genomics of the short-finned eel (Anguilla australis): a focus on an ancient fishery within the UNESCO Budj Bim cultural landscape

Applications now open. A PhD scholarship is available to initiate and conduct research on the topic 'Conservtion genomics of the short-finned eel (Anguilla australis): a focus on the ancient fishery within the UNESCO Budj bim cultural landscape'.

Project Supervisor

Associate Supervisor

Location

Warrnambool campus

Research topic

The short-finned eel (Anguilla australis) is native to the lakes, and coastal rivers of south-eastern Australia and New Zealand. The species carries significant cultural importance, having been harvested by indigenous people across much of its historical distribution. Most notably, in south-western Victoria where the species is known as ‘kuuyang’, it is a powerful cultural symbol of the local Gunditj people, and has formed the basis of an aquaculture industry dating back almost 7000 years. In fact, Lake Condah is globally recognised as the birthplace of modern aquaculture, where indigenous people of the region engineered the landscape to farm and trade eels for millennia. This has been formally recognised through the recent UNESCO World Heritage listing for the Budj Bim cultural landscape.

Since the early 20th century, commercial fisheries have operated across the species range, including south-western Victorian. These fisheries continue today, and are heavily geared toward stock enhancement, with lakes and dams stocked with elvers and small eels for subsequent harvesting.

The fishery supports an export market but is strongly affected by seasonal factors, with severe drought conditions driving low production in recent years. Wild short-finned eel populations are further pressured by the aquaculture industry, which is dependent on the harvesting of juvenile stock for grow-out in intensive farming systems.

The combined pressure of climatic factors and commercial exploitation of short-finned eels has led to reduced recruitment of juveniles and population declines in recent years. This raises questions about the sustainability of the industry and the conservation of the species, especially in the face of anticipated environmental shifts as a result of climate change. Information on the species’ biology and ecology is needed to help guide fisheries management and future conservation planning.

Project aim

The EcoGenetics Lab is a PhD candidate to contribute to a research program aimed at addressing critical knowledge gaps around understanding the resilience of eel fisheries (with a focus on the Lake Condah eel fishery).

The project will have three distinctive but complementary research components:

1. Undertaking population genomic analyses to gain insights into eel stock connectivity and spatial patterns of recruitment between estuaries across the species range. Genomic assessments of migrating adults and recruiting juveniles will also be conducted to address questions around natal habitat recruiting behaviour in juvenile eels and the role of selection on genetic diversity. This research will provide novel insights into the life history of the kuuyang, critical information on the recruitment potential of the Lake Condah fishery, and a resource for guiding sustainable fisheries management.

2. Adopt eDNA tools (allowing for non-invasive and cost-effective detection of eel DNA from water samples) to assess habitat use and determine where the eels reside within the Lake Condah and the local catchment. Understanding if eel populations are distributed broadly across the catchment, or if there are key habitats eels migrate to and carry out life cycles needs to be understood. This will provide an important spatial management layer for prioritising the protection/restoration of critical habitats for sustaining local eel populations.

3. Use DNA metabarcoding approaches to assess eel diet based on the genomic analysis of eel gut samples. Genetic assessments of gut samples across different developmental stages, sexes, and in time and space, will provide insights into the variability of eel diet. Understanding if eels are dietary generalists or specialists is key to understanding fisheries resilience to environmental change. Generalists are expected to be more resilient by being able to accommodate shifts in resource availability, while dietary specialists are likely to be more sensitive to environmental change. By knowing what the primary dietary species are managers can look to implements measures to ensure these resources are preserved (even enhanced in areas where needed).

This exciting project will involve a combination of field and lab-based activities, and provides an excellent opportunity to develop key skills and knowledge in conservation and fisheries genomics. The project will be conducted in close partnership with Traditional Owners, local government, and industry.

Important dates

Applications close 5pm, Thursday 31 December 2020

Benefits

This scholarship is available over 3 years.

  • Stipend of $28,092 per annum tax exempt (2020 rate)
  • Relocation allowance of $500-1500 (for single to family) for students moving from interstate or overseas
  • International students only: Tuition fees offset for the duration of 4 years. Single Overseas Student Health Cover policy for the duration of the student visa.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be either a domestic or international candidate
  • meet Deakin's PhD entry requirements
  • be enrolling full time and hold an honours degree (first class) or an equivalent standard master's degree with a substantial research component.

Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page for further information.

Additional desirable criteria include:

    Applicants should have achieved an excellent grade (e.g., H1 or HD) in an Honours or MSc research program, and proven skills in scientific writing. We are seeking candidates with an interest and experience in fish biology and ecology, and ideally fisheries genetics (but not essential).

How to apply

Please apply using the expression of interest form

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Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact Dr Adam Miller

Dr Adam Miller
Senior Lecutrer in Aquatic Ecology and Biodiversity

Email Adam Miller
+61 3 556 33171