Ecological flows and floodplain trees, how do we estimate impacts?


Floodplain ecology provides important ecosystem functions, such a storage of flood peaks and filtration of sediments from water, as well as providing habitat for a range of native fauna and flora. Maintaining a healthy flood plain environment requires regular flooding, which has been disrupted by river regulation and other human activities. Environmental water is being purchased and released by the taxpayer to balance the negative impacts and to maintain a healthy flood plain environment. Understanding how floodplains will respond to increased environmental flow, while under pressure through drought and other factors requires detailed monitoring and scenario modelling.


Associate Professor Willem Vervoort

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type



Over the last decades, Dr Tanya Doody at CSIRO L&W has collected a wealth of tree sapflow and associated data at different locations and different vegetations on the floodplains of the lower Murray Darling Basin (Doody et al., 2015; Doody et al., 2009). This provides a unique opportunity for a PhD student to perform detailed modelling of floodplain tree behaviour under different environmental stresses and to assess the potential impact of additional environmental flows. So far, in Australia, modelling of floodplain vegetation has been limited to 1-D approaches using WAVES (Slavich et al., 1999) and data science approaches (L. et al., 2016; Ren and Kingsford, 2011; Wang et al., 2015). In this project the proposed model is ECH2O (Kuppel et al., 2018), which incorporates detailed landscape level hydrology and ecology and so far, has not been applied to flat floodplain environments in Australia. The main objectives of this PhD would be: 

  • Apply and test the limits and opportunities to use ECH2O as a model for flood plain vegetation model using extensive field and monitoring data;
  • Compare the ECH2O result to traditional Australian 1-D approaches and data science approaches; and 
  • Develop scenarios and recommendations for environmental flows to floodplain systems. 

Doody, T.M. et al., 2015. Quantifying water requirements of riparian river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia – implications for the management of environmental flows. Ecohydrology, 8(8): 1471-1487. DOI:10.1002/eco.1598
Doody, T.M., Holland, K.L., Benyon, R.G., Jolly, I.D., 2009. Effect of groundwater freshening on riparian vegetation water balance. Hydrol Proces, 23(24): 3485-3499. DOI:10.1002/hyp.7460 
Kuppel, S., Tetzlaff, D., Maneta, M.P., Soulsby, C., 2018. EcH2O-iso 1.0: water isotopes and age tracking in a process-based, distributed ecohydrological model. Geosci. Model Dev., 11(7): 3045-3069. DOI:10.5194/gmd-11-3045-2018 
L., N.P. et al., 2016. Wide‐area estimates of evapotranspiration by red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and associated vegetation in the Murray–Darling River Basin, Australia. Hydrol Proces, 30(9): 1376-1387. DOI:doi:10.1002/hyp.10734 
Ren, S., Kingsford, R., 2011. Statistically Integrated Flow and Flood Modelling Compared to Hydrologically Integrated Quantity and Quality Model for Annual Flows in the Regulated Macquarie River in Arid Australia. Environmental Management: 1-12. DOI:10.1007/s00267-011-9673-9 
Slavich, P.G., Walker, G.R., Jolly, I.D., Hatton, T.J., Dawes, W.R., 1999. Dynamics of Eucalyptus Largiflorens growth and water use in response to modified watertable and flooding regimes on a saline floodplain. Agricultural Water Management, 39: 245-264. 
Wang, B., Chen, Y., Lü, C., 2015. Evaluating flood inundation impact on wetland vegetation FPAR of the Macquarie Marshes, Australia. Environ Earth Sci, 74(6): 4989-5000. DOI:10.1007/s12665-015-4511-7

Additional Information

This PhD would be a collaboration between Dr Tanya Doody at CSIRO L&W (SA) and the University of Sydney. A prospective student would be required to obtain a competitive RTP scholarship, but CSIRO or the University of Sydney top-up scholarships might be available for suitable candidates.  

HDR Inherent Requirements 

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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Floodplain vegetation, water sharing, hydrology, water, environmental flow, environmental science, model, landscape

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2824

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