Drought, atmospheric nitrogen deposition and grazing effects on grasslands: the role of nutrients


Natural and man-made disturbances can dramatically alter ecosystems, potentially pushing them into alternative stable states. Grasslands in particular are vulnerable to disturbances such as drought, atmospheric nitrogen deposition and grazing, which can dramatically change plant community composition and ecosystem function. Little is known about the underlying mechanisms that are responsible for these changes. This project will explore the role of soil nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, micro-nutrients) on disturbance-induced changes in plant growth and community composition in grasslands.


Associate Professor Feike Dijkstra

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type



Disturbances, such as drought, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, and grazing can cause imbalances in the availability of essential nutrients to plants, both in space and time. Since plants require nutrients in specific ratios and at specific times for optimal growth, these disturbances can significantly alter plant growth and interspecific plant competition, potentially pushing ecosystems into alternate stable states. This project will make use of an existing grassland field experiment (drought experiment in a grassland near Camden), as well as new field experiments (grazing by nitrogen addition experiment near Camden). Soil nutrient availability measurements will be related to plant nutrient uptake and resorption, as well as changes in plant community composition in response to disturbance. There is also the opportunity to conduct experiments in the controlled environment facility at the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food in Camden.

Additional Information

This opportunity wolud be appropriate for a student with a background in soil science, agronomy or ecology. A strong interest in field/glasshouse work, laboratory work and/or modeling would be desirable. 
In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include: 

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)
You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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agriculture, Climate Change, drought, fire, grassland, fertiliser, nutrients, soil, sustainability

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2006

Other opportunities with Associate Professor Feike Dijkstra