PhD projects: Specialised Pollination Systems and Their Conservation in Australian Orchids


La Trobe University



A PhD scholarship is available through La Trobe University to contribute to the ARC Linkage Grant ‘Using pollinators to optimise plant conservation translocation’.

While pollinators are critical for plant reproduction, they are very rarely considered when establishing new populations of endangered species. Our innovative approach to conservation translocation involves using pollinators in site selection, developing strategies to mitigate risks of hybridisation, and optimising plant reproduction through planting design.

Our main focal genus will be Caladenia, the spider orchids, a primarily southern Australian genus famed for its intricate flowers, and high prevalence of sexually deceptive pollination strategies. Our experiments will be conducted in collaboration with the Orchid Conservation Program at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, which has the largest conservation collection of Australian orchids.

In support of this ARC funded project, we are proposing several potential PhD topics, with the final details to be determined after matching the skills and interests of the successful PhD student applicant. A project in any of these areas would provide information that fits within the overall objectives of the ARC project:

  1. Increasing recruitment and reducing mortality in populations of threatened orchids to improve conservation translocations.
  2. Environmental vs phenotypic factors affecting pollination success in endangered Caladenia.
  3. Species delimitation, distribution, and ecology of orchid-pollinating thynnine wasps.

Suitable PhD students will have at a minimum: (i) a Masters or first class Honours (ii) a driver’s license (iii) a willingness to undertake extensive periods of fieldwork if needed (iv) a willingness to learn appropriate statistical and/or laboratory methods.

This project is a collaboration between Dr Ryan Phillips (La Trobe University, Melbourne), Prof. Rod Peakall (The Australian National University, Canberra), and Dr Noushka Reiter (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria).

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