Conservation and landscape ecology of the Tasmanian masked owl.


Tree cavity dependent animals are globally threatened but for many species there remain major gaps in knowledge about basic life history and ecology. This a major impediment to effective conservation management.

This PhD will focus on the largest cavity nesting bird in Tasmania, the endangered masked owl. Masked owls are iconic emblems of old growth forests but much of their basic biology is unknown in Tasmania. This PhD will be aimed at identifying important issues that affect the conservation of masked owls, with a focus on their spatial ecology and resource requirements and the impact of habitat disturbance.

The project will involve exciting use of a new technique to locate masked owls: a specially trained 'owl detecting' sniffer dog. This innovative technique will be critical to building a sufficient sample of owls for additional detailed research. The student will work with the detector dog and handler to conduct a landscape scale survey of masked owls to identify patterns in habitat use and site occupancy.

Owls found by the dog will be included in additional detailed research, including deployment of state of the art GPS transmitters to investigate owl spatial ecology and relate underlying resource availability to behaviour. The project will also identify the types of trees used by owls, and quantify their availability and distribution in Tasmanian forests. This project will be the first of its kind and will have a strong conservation management and ecology focus.

Field of study

Environmental Science


Bachelors degree with first-class honours, or a research Masters degree from a recognised university. Australian and New Zealand citizens; permanent residents of Australia.

Selection is based on academic merit and the candidate's research proposal. The successful candidate will have experience in environmental science or ecology and management, and be capable of writing quality scientific articles for leading international journals. A background in population ecology or conservation will be a distinct advantage, as will a demonstrated ability to independently plan and execute field-based research.

Domestic students must obtain a PhD stipend scholarship at The Australian National University.

The candidate will need to be able to work independently in remote and rugged field conditions in Tasmanian forests. Fieldwork experience is essential and the candidate will either be already competent or willing to be trained in tree climbing techniques (candidate must not fear heights) and hold a current driver's license. The candidate will need to be based in Tasmania for > 6 months each year and will need strong interpersonal skills. Capacity to sensitively manage a project that is likely to be subject to intense public and stakeholder interest is critical. The PhD candidate will work as part of a close knit ANU research team and with University of Tasmania affiliated researchers at the Forest Practices Authority in Hobart.


The candidate will be principally supervised by Dr Dejan Stojanovic, with additional supervision from Professor Robert Heinsohn (ANU), Dr Laura Rayner (ANU) and Dr Amy Koch (FPA). Additional external advisors may be included as necessary. The project will be based at ANU, and the candidate will be expected to apply for an ANU/APA scholarship. Funding to begin the project will derive from: (1) crowdfunding to pay for dog related expenses and a handler, (2) Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority in-kind and $7000 additional contribution, and (3) $2000 per annum scholarship top up from forest industry partners. Additional funding is being negotiated with other project partners. The candidate will be expected to apply for additional grants to undertake other elements of the research.


How to apply

The successful candidate must obtain a PhD stipend scholarship at The Australian National University (AUD$26,288 tax free (2016 rate) for 3 years). For details of PhD stipend scholarships, see

Interested individuals are invited to discuss the project with Dr Dejan Stojanovic (0408 264 761 or and must submit a CV, all transcripts and a one page statement of possible research directions to by 30 September 2016 for domestic students. Please do NOT apply online to ANU until contacted.

Queries regarding scholarship matters can be directed to Amy Chen at The candidate would be expected to commence the doctoral program in early 2017.