Available student projects

Why are Australian cycads (Macrozamia) endangered?

Globally, and in Australia, a majority of cycad species are currently listed as vulnerable or endangered. Land-clearing post-European settlement is thought to be the major threat, but Australian cycads might already have been restricted to refugia following the aridification of Australia or landscape changes induced by the arrival of the first humans. We aim to determine whether Australian cycads were threatened by historical processes, such as ancient climate change, megafaunal extinction, increased fire regimes and pollinator disruption, or by post-European changes to their environment. Projects are available on the populations genetics of the cycads, co-diversification of beetle pollinators, and spatial and temporal interactions of the cycads and their pollinators.

I am looking for students (PhD or Honours) with a strong background in evolution, phylogenetics, insect or plant systematics, or ecology to participate in a funded project examining cycads and their pollinators.

This project is funded by the Australia Research Council.

Why do male bush coconuts carry their little sisters?

Bush coconuts (or bloodwood apples) are galls induced by the scale insect Cystococcus on bloodwood eucalypts in northern and eastern Australia.  The galls can be the size of a cricket ball and were used by early Australians as a food source, along with the large female scale insect that induces the gall.  The female scale insect starts to induce the gall when she is a tiny nymph (about 200 microns long) and will spend the rest of her life enclosed within her gall, growing up to 4 cm in length.  After mating, she first produces male offspring that feed on the nutritious white tissue that lines the inside of the gall.  It is this white tissue, that is also edible by humans and birds, that inspired the common name “bush coconut” or "bloodwood apple".  When the males reach maturity and pupate, the adult female gives birth to her tiny daughters.  These climb onto the elongate abdomens of their winged adult brothers and are carried away to a new host plant.

Up to 13 juvenile females can climb aboard the abdomen of a single male – it's not surprising that anecdotal observations suggest that males carrying their sisters don't fly as well as those with no "cargo".  Lab and field-based projects are available to test several ideas about the origin and maintenance of this unusual life history.

This project is funded by the Australia & Pacific Science Foundation

Gall-inducing scale insects on Melaleuca

I am looking for potential PhD or Honours students interested in taxonomy, systematics and/or evolution.  The project will involve description and naming of “new to science” species of scale insect that induce galls on melaleucas.  The student could also test ideas about the generation and maintenance of biodiversity, especially in respect of herbivores and their host plants. There is some scope for the candidate to tailor the project to her/his interests and strengths.

This project was funded by the Australian Biological Resources Study

Evolution of Australia's globally unique biodiversity hotspot

Australia has a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot, the southwest of Western Australia, but this unique flora is highly threatened. We will contrast this hotspot with the climatically and latitudinally comparable southeastern Australi
a to determine the processes responsible for species generation and biodiversity maintenance. Study groups include the iconic eucalypts, Melaleuca, legumes and other plants, as well as gall-inducing scale insects that are associated with the plants, and other animals.

This project was funded by the Australia Research Council.

For more information about the projects, please contact:

Lyn Cook


Any potential PhD candidate will need to be successful in competing for a PhD scholarship, either domestic (Australian candidates) or international (non-Australian/New Zealand candidates). For more information about postgraduate entry and scholarships at The University of Queensland, see: