How did those trees get there? Rediscovering prehistoric Aboriginal plant dispersal pathways

2 x PhD positions! Population genetics/Socio-cultural studies Funded through a new ARC Discovery Project (2018-2020) Based at: Macquarie University with external collaborators

Project description: Preliminary studies for these projects used cutting edge genetic and socio-cultural techniques to show that Aboriginal people dispersed culturally important Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) in northern NSW prior to colonisation (Rossetto, Ens, et al. 2017. PloS One). The rediscovery of plant populations as cultural artefacts demands closer examination of the origin of other culturally important species. Revealing Aboriginal assisted plant migration is important for natural and cultural resource management including climate change adaptation strategies and cultural heritage maintenance. See some media on our Indigenous knowledge revitalisation work here: : New techniques in genetics can uncover plant population dynamics and relationships more efficiently and in greater detail than ever before. However, distinguishing between ‘natural’ or human dispersal requires input from Aboriginal knowledge custodians, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics and ecology.

This project aims to work with Aboriginal people to trace pathways of plant dispersal by Aboriginal people along the east coast of Australia. The successful applicants could work side by side to investigate the migration history of large-seeded rainforest trees using population genetics and Aboriginal biocultural knowledge.

Essential: To be eligible for a scholarship, applicants are expected to have a record of excellent academic performance and preferably, additional relevant research experience and/or peer-reviewed research activity in line with the University’s scholarship rating guidelines. Refer to the Rating Scholarship Applicants section for more information about these guidelines.

For the Genetics PhD: Honours or Masters degree in genetics

For the Socio-cultural PhD: Honours or Masters degree or substantial experience in Anthropology, social science, linguistics or archaeology.

Essential/desirable: Driver’s license; plant ecology; excellent verbal and written communication skills.

PhD stipend: This is a direct entry 3-year PhD scholarship comprised of a Tuition Fee Offset and a Living Allowance Stipend. The value and tenure of the scholarship is a “MQRES” full-time stipend rate of $26,682 per annum (tax exempt for up to 3 years – indexed annually). (The ARC grant also allows for some travel, equipment, conference and research assistant support). Applications due by the 23rd April 2018. See Macquarie University Faculty of Science HDR Scholarships for more info:


Supervisors: Dr Emilie Ens (Department of Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University)

Dr Maurizio Rossetto (Principal Research Scientist, Manager Evolutionary Ecology, Sydney Botanic Gardens);

Dr Margaret Raven (Indigenous Fellow, Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University); and

Dr Philip Clarke (Consultant Anthropologist; Research Associate (Anthropology), South Australian Museum)

Aboriginal advisory group: Oliver Costello (Jagun and Firesticks Alliances), Gerry Turpin (Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre) and Michael Smith (Bunya Mountains Murri Rangers)

For more information contact: Dr Emilie Ens at