Research and Industry projects

Semester AvailableContact & EmailTitle or TopicDescription of ResearchType of research/methods
Semester 2, 2017Dr Fjalar de HaanDrivers and Mechanisms of Sustainability Transitions

No specific skills requirements apart from strong analytical and conceptual skills. Programming skills welcome but not required.

Sustainability transitions are complex processes in which societal systems such as energy, health care, transport or food production, shift from one dominant way of meeting human needs to another. If we want to bring about sustainability transitions or manage them, we need to know how they work. This is a topic about which much is theorised and many qualitative, narrative case study work is being done. Systematic analysis of what the drivers and mechanisms in sustainability transitions are, is still lacking.

In this project, you will carry out systematic meta-analysis of the expanding empirical and theoretical literature on sustainability transitions. This research operates on the interface of data-driven approaches and philosophical analysis - where the emphasis will lie depends on your interests and skills. There is scope for the application of data mining approaches so if you are comfortable with programming in a language like Python or Java that would be great - but it is not a requirement. If you are conceptually inclined you can explore the theoretical implications of the data. Either end of the spectrum across it could make a relevant contribution.

Meta analysis of literature, potentially using data mining, text mining approaches.
Semester 2, 2017Theresa Jones

The ecological impact of artificial night lighting

Requires: ecological knowledge and prior experience with animal systems

Investigations regarding the effect of artificial light at night. These can be conducted in the field on invertebrates or vertebrates (birds) or in the laboratory using invertebrate models (we currently look at spiders and a range of insects). Projects can include community level surveys exploring whether the presence of night lighting causes shifts in the abundance and composition of communities or an individual level approach exploring changes in key traits related to survival and reproductionfield work - sites that vary in nighttime light intensity around Victoria. Sampling invertebrate abundance or monitoring individual species in their natural habitat either directly or using automated monitoring systems such as acoustic recorders

Lab work - invertebrate culturing, immune and reproductive assays, survival analyses.
Semester 1, 2017Professor Ruth Beilin

Indigenous Protected Area management in southwest Victoria

Requires: Qualitative social science research skills

Recognising that cultural and environmental flows are critical to the restoration of water in the farming landscapes of the basalt plains. The aim of this project is to work with local indigenous rangers to ascertain local practices that enable these values. Students will conduct in-depth interviews with local landholders, the IPA personnel and regional government and planners to build a rich understanding of how the environmental and colonial history of the landscape is shaping the 21st C livelihood aspirations of its managers.Interviews, lit reviews, document analysis
Semester 2, 2017Dr Sebastian Thomas

Turning local waste into sustainable superfood

Requires: Biochemistry and analytical skills - experience in design of experiments a plus.

Life Cykel enables Australians to grow their own oyster mushrooms with simplicity and from used coffee grounds. Gourmet mushrooms are nature's waste cleanser and Life Cykel knows that there's room for a larger health and environmental impact. Life Cykel is seeking motivated students to work with us in conducting trials for different local waste growing substrates on growth rates and testing the health benefits of the mushrooms. Nutrient and pesticide analysis of mushrooms are few of many angles we can analyse. This project has scope for long-term studies and significant implications for local food production and waste management.Lab-based experiments
Semester 2, 2017Stephanie Lavau

Measuring social benefits of river restoration and waterway improvement works

Requires: Some knowledge of social science research methods; enrolment in 'long' (ie two semester) 25 or 50 point research project.

This research project is a collaboration with Melbourne Water, who are kindly offering financial support for fieldwork.

Research objectives:
*to investigate the range of social outcomes arising from river restoration and other waterway improvement works
*to identify strategies for recording and measuring social outcomes from river restoration and other waterway improvement works

In Australia, as elsewhere, the environmental outcomes of river restoration and other waterway improvement works are often monitored and recorded through comprehensive sets of indicators, covering hydrology, water quality, streamside zone, physical form and aquatic life (e.g. Index of Stream Condition). There has been less investment, however, in capturing and recording the social outcomes of such works (e.g. relating to amenity, recreation, place attachment, capacity-building, community resilience, individual well-being, institutional trust, and so forth), whether they be social values that were targeted by such works or other unanticipated or unintended social benefits.
Suggestions include focus groups, interviews and/or questionnaires
Semester 2, 2017Stephanie Lavau

Improving community engagement through volunteer work on waterways

Requires: Some knowledge of social science research methods; enrolment in 'long' (ie two semester) 25 or 50 point research project.

This research project is a collaboration with Melbourne Water, who are kindly offering financial support for fieldwork.

Research objectives:
*to investigate the motivations and experiences of volunteers working across a range of waterways programs
*to identify strategies for enhancing community engagement through volunteer activities

Volunteers are increasingly important in environmental management, given the need for extensive data sets and improvement works to restore sites that are geographically distributed, and in the context of a sense of urgency and limited resources. As noted in Melbourne Water’s Healthy Waterways Strategy, volunteers make significant contributions to improvement works, environmental monitoring, and biodiversity surveys, amongst other activities. While the value of volunteer work to waterways management is acknowledged (and in some cases measured) in terms of providing expertise, a skilled workforce, and community education, a more comprehensive understanding of volunteers’ perspectives on this mode of community engagement would enable Melbourne Water to further enhance these community partnerships.
Suggestions include focus groups, interviews, and/or questionnaires
Semester 2, 2017Dr Gyorgy Scrinis

Food labelling and food policies for sustainable food systems

Requirements: completed  FOOD90026 The Politics of Food and/or FOOD90033 Sustainable Food: Policy and Practice.

This project involves researching some aspect of food labelling with respect to sustainability, or other policies relating to food sustainability. This may involve researching existing or proposed labelling schemes in Australia and elsewhere, and that relate to the environmental impact of food products, such as food miles, carbon footprints, water use, or animal welfare. Projects related to other policies, regulations for sustainable food systems can also be considered.This research will involve document analysis, desktop research and field data gathering. It will preferably be either a 12.5 point or 25 point project.
Semester 2, 2017Dr Meenakshi Arora

Wastewater Infrastructure in Developing Countries: Investigating Socio-Technical Complexities

Requirements: Technical reading skills.

Background: Wastewater treatment barely exists in developing countries. The typical barriers have been large upfront infrastructure costs, lack of awareness and inadequate knowledge, and low value attributed to negative impacts of degraded water quality. There are insufficient incentives and drivers that would prioritize and realize water treatment systems and infrastructure.

a. Review literature on the causes and underlying factors of lack of water treatment systems and low priority in developing countries – start with focus in South Asia. Identify key factors and barriers from literature. We expect that the barriers will include low value accorded to water quality by both users and providers due to inadequate awareness and appreciation of health impacts, limited public funds, lack of private investment and business interests, organizational inefficiencies and inertia in public sector, lack of political and government will etc.
b. Determine and elicit key barriers for lack of water treatment and water quality control.
c. Map how the factors are interlinked and process dynamics that give rise to existing state of systems (i.e. non-existence of water treatment).
d. Formulate solutions for intervention through technology (cost-effective solutions, new distributed architecture, new technologies?), markets (create incentives for treating water or dis-incentives for using waste water), management (organizational mandates, jurisdictions, linkages etc.) and policies (clean water act?). Are there a set of creative measures that can be employed that will likely be a combination of technology interventions, public awareness campaigns and education (“make the water fit for drinking”), organizational arrangements, and policy.
Literature review
Semester 2, 2017Dr Meenakshi Arora

Investigating and Mapping the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus

Requirements: Good written communication skills.

Background: Water, Energy, and Food are key resources needed for human well-being and societal advancement. Population growth, urbanization, and new technologies have created critical inter-linkages across the domains of water, energy, and food that are inadequately understood.

a. Review of existing literature on the WEF nexus across engineering, science, and social science domains. Categorize and classify the questions explored, the results obtained, and identify gaps. Critically analyze the findings to determine if and where the nexus exists, at what scale (micro/household, to macro/national level), how is it defined (what does it mean and to whom does it matter).  
b. Create a causal-loop diagram, or map the WEF nexus across scales (create multiple maps and perspectives that make sense for understanding the nexus and for identifying interventions through policy, technology and human behavior)
Review of literature.
Any SemesterStephanie Lavau

Research opportunities with Melbourne Farmers Market

Requirements: These topics would require familiarity with social science research, and qualitative or quantitative methods as appropriate to the research objectives.  As they are interested in primary data collection to inform their activities, these options would best suit a 50 point research project.

The Melbourne Farmers Market (who coordinate the farmers market at the university, amongst others) are very keen to collaborate with postgraduate students on the development of research projects and internship opportunities.  Their areas of research interest include:

- consumer behaviours in relation to food purchasing decisions and engagement with farmers markets (e.g. in relation to students on campus, or the Carlton housing estate)

- food justice and access issues

- students’ ‘agricultural literacy’

If you’re interested in any of these areas, you are welcome to discuss your ideas with potential supervisors and/or with Stephanie Lavau, and to contact the MFM by email:

Social research methods, as appropriate to the research project objectives

Semester 1, 2018Joe Greet

Making rivers great again! Assessing the potential of environmental flows to restore native riparian plant communities

Requirements: Some knowledge of the relationships between river flows and riparian vegetation dynamics. A student proficient in R and GLMMs is preferred but not essential.

In partnership with DELWP’s Arthur Rylah Institute, we are seeking student/s to investigate the potential of environmental flows to restore native riparian vegetation. Flow regime is the primary driver of riparian vegetation dynamics. Many of Australia’s rivers are degraded due to water extraction, flow regulation and other anthropogenic pressures. Increasingly, water is being returned to rivers via environmental flows to improve their health, including the restoration of native riparian vegetation. Better knowledge of the relationships between river flows and riparian vegetation dynamics is required to best target environmental flows.

To inform Victoria’s Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program, we are seeking student/s for a range of projects investigating vegetation flow-ecology relationships via a combination of nursery and field-based experiments, and/or interrogation of a large existing dataset. A student proficient in R and GLMMs is preferred but not essential. This project would be jointly supported by ARI and the SEFS at The University of Melbourne. Please contact Joe Greet to discuss:

Nursery and fieldbased experiments, interrogation of large existing datasets
Semester 1, 2018Joe GreetAssessing the potential for natural regeneration following removal of the weedy shrub (Kunzea leptospermoides).

In partnership with Zoos Victoria, we are seeking a student to investigate the potential to restore areas heavily invaded by the shrub, Kunzea leptospermoides (Yarra Burgan). Approximately 75% of the Coranderrk Bushland Reserve (adjacent to the Healesville Sanctuary and managed by Zoos Victoria) is heavily invaded by Burgan. This invasion is linked with overbrowsing by macropods and altered fire regimes. Burgan invasion is associated with reduced understorey vegetation diversity and cover, and dieback of overstorey trees.

A program is currently underway to remove Burgan from large areas of the reserve. We are seeking a student to assess the potential for recovery via natural regeneration following Burgan removal using both field-based (vegetation surveys) and nursery based (soil seedbank assays) studies.

This project would be jointly supported by Zoos Victoria and the SEFS at The University of Melbourne. Please contact Joe Greet to discuss:

field-based (vegetation surveys) and nursery based (soil seedbank assays) studies
Semester 1, 2018Joe Greet

Saving our critically endangered fauna one planting at a time?

Revegetation is a common approach to restoring habitat for our native fauna. However, plantings and vegetation trajectories are often compromised such that the resulting vegetation community may not provide appropriate habitat. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent (and will be spent) revegetating Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve in the Yarra Valley to provide habitat for the critically endangered Helmeted Honeyeater and lowland Leadbeater’s Possum.

A range of factors affect the success of these plantings, including weed control (or lack of), protection (or lack of) from browsers (deer, wallabies) and other environmental factors. There are a range of potential projects to assess the effectiveness of revegetation efforts at Yellingbo that could contribute knowledge aiding future restoration efforts. Happy to discuss:

Semester 1, 2018Joe Greet

No eye deer? Developing revegetation techniques to outsmart introduced deer in Australia.

Introduced deer species cause considerable damage to native vegetation. Attempts to restore through revegetation are often hampered by deer, and excluding them through fencing etc. can be cost-prohibitive. Alternative methods have been proposed in Australia and overseas, such as reduced plant nutrient levels, deer repellents and co-planting of palatable and non-palatable species. However there is considerable uncertainty around their success and cost-effectiveness.

Next year, Greening Australia will plant 100,000s of plants at sites across Victoria that are deer-affected as part of the high-profile Twenty Million Trees restoration project. Greening Australia are keen to improve the science of restoration in the presence of deer. This project provides an opportunity to work with Greening Australia staff to improve revegetation outcomes in the face of browsing pressure from deer. Please contact Joe Greet to discuss: