Another PhD scholarship available! (update: this has now been allocated to a student)

We have another PhD scholarship available to work with JP Hobbs and others on hybridisation in clownfishes. Please contact JP on jp.hobbs (at) if you are interested in this project and meet the criteria below.

Project Title:

Climate change and the genetic consequences of hybridisation in clownfishes.

Project description :

Coral reefs are the world’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem. However, this biodiversity is threatened by escalating human impacts. Theoretical models predict biodiversity loss due to impacts on evolutionary processes, including hybridisation, but this threat remains untested and unmanaged. Using clownfishes as a model group, the PhD student will investigate: 1. whether climate change increases hybridisation; and 2, the genetic consequences of hybridisation. 

The PhD student will lead a global project on clownfishes with access to international collaborators and an extensive collection of samples. There will be opportunities for the student to develop their own research agenda and join research expeditions. The student will work in a leading molecular laboratory and join a multidisciplinary team that studies behaviour, sensory neurobiology and ecology. 

The successful applicant will enrol through the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland.

Preferred educational background

Masters, first class honours or equivalent with a background in evolutionary biology and/or molecular ecology, especially population genomics. Experience in statistics and bioinformatics (e.g. R, Python, bash) is preferred. Experience with fishes or marine organisms is not required. 

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2020. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Two new PhD scholarships available (update: these have now been allocated to students)

The Visual Ecology and Sensory Neurobiology Lab are excited to offer two PhD scholarships for domestic or international students to work on the visual systems of coral reef fishes under the supervision of Dr. Karen Cheney and Dr. Fabio Cortesi. 

Both scholarships are funded by the Australian Government and provide a living stipend of AUS $28,092 per annum tax free (2020 rate, indexed annually). The scholarships are open to both domestic and international students, and overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) is provided for international students. Students will be expected to start in the first half of 2020. 

Please apply by Feb 21 2020 (details below), but these positions will remain open until the positions are filled.

Colour vision is used by many animals to escape predation, communicate with other individuals, find food and mates, and navigate through complex habitats. Our understanding of animal vision has contributed to the development of digital cameras, image sensors, optical devices such as telescopes and microscopes, and computer vision algorithms. Furthermore, understanding the visual performance of animals has widespread implications in neuroscience, ecology, conservation, evolution and animal welfare.

Project 1: Colour vision in coral reef fish with five cone spectral sensitivities

Humans have the capacity to perceive millions of different colours with only three types of cone photoreceptors with different spectral sensitivities — red, green, and blue (RGB), or trichromacy. Other animals, including many species of birds and fish, have four or five spectrally distinct cones (tetra- and pentachromacy), often capable of detecting ultraviolet (UV) radiation and/or longer wavelengths. Theoretically, this should enable them to perceive and discriminate among billions of colours and utilise a colourful richness in visual scenes that we are unable to detect. Yet we do not know how tetrachromatic and potential pentachromatic animals combine information from these different photoreceptors, send it to the brain, and convert it into visual perception. This represents a significant gap in our basic understanding of animal vision.

As part of this PhD project, you will investigate the visual systems of marine fish, such as boxfish and seahorses that have five cone spectral sensitivities. You will use a variety of techniques from behavioural experiments in the field and lab, to physiological and morphological analyses, to the molecular assessment of vision on genomic and transcriptomic levels. 

Please contact Dr. Karen Cheney for more information

This PhD project is supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship awarded to Dr. Cheney.

Project 2: Reef fish vision in a changing world

Teleost fishes have more colour perception channels than any other vertebrate on the planet. However, the reason for this diversity remains poorly understood. This project will help elucidate why fishes have such diverse colour vision by studying representatives from the most vibrant ecosystem on earth, the Great Barrier Reef.

Reef fishes inherently experience large changes in their light environment as conditions fluctuate with depth, season, and increasingly also due to human-induced sediment suspension and/or algal blooms. As a consequence, some reef fishes seem able to adjust their visual system (phenotypic plasticity) to accommodate such changes in light environment. However, we currently do not understand how common visual system plasticity is, how it affects reef fish behaviour and whether this can mitigate the impacts of environmental change.

As part of your PhD project, you will investigate phenotypic plasticity of the visual system in marine fishes, such as surgeonfishes and anemonefishes. You will be exposed to a variety of techniques from behavioural experiments in the field and lab, over physiological and morphological analyses, to the molecular assessment of vision on the genomic, transcriptomic and epi-genomic levels.

Please contact Dr. Fabio Cortesi for more information

This PhD project is supported by an ARC DECRA Fellowship awarded to Dr. Cortesi.

To apply for these positions, please see information provided on the following website

For more information on our research environment, please see:

Stradbroke Field Trip


We often go on field trips to observe nature, collect our experimental animals and engage with the natural world. Lizard Island – the Australian Museum’s field station on the Northern Great Barrier Reef is a favourite, as is Heron Island and Stradbroke Island field stations. The short video above explores some of the work we do there.