The role of resource fluctuations in structuring microbial communities

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Applicants are invited for a fully funded PhD position to study the role of resource fluctuations in structuring microbial communities. The successful applicant will be based in the group of Dr Andrew Letten at the University of Queensland, Australia, and will be co-advised by Dr Will Ludington at the Carnegie Institute, USA.

The flow of nutrients through ecological systems fluctuates through time and yet our ability to predict the ecological dynamics of variable systems remains limited. The animal gut is one system where a predictive understanding of community dynamics holds significant appeal and where resident microbiota experience significant fluctuations in resources. Numerous studies have shown that diet is a strong predictor of gut microbiome composition, with a switch in food type shifting the community structure in just a few hours. Much less is known, however, about the effects of frequency and amplitude of food intake on the gut microbiome. This knowledge gap is especially striking given that ecological theory predicts that temporal variation in nutrient availability (e.g., feast-famine vs. continuous intake) should strongly impact gut microbiome composition (Letten and Ludington 2023). Although several studies have shown that a switch from unrestricted to time-restricted host feeding can drive significant changes in gut microbiota composition, the ecological processes underlying these shifts remain poorly resolved.

The PhD student will contribute to a project investigating the impact of resource fluctuations on community dynamics and diversity maintenance in a model microbiome, the fruit fly gut (Drosophila melanogaster). A wide variety of investigatory approaches fall within the potential scope of the project including high throughput screening and competition assays, molecular work, mathematical modelling, and computer simulations. The student will also have the opportunity to spend ~3 months in Dr Will Ludington’s group at the Carnegie Institute in Baltimore, USA where they will train in cutting-edge techniques for in vivo microbiome research.

The project is suitable to students coming from an ecological or evolutionary background who are interested in bringing their knowledge to microbial systems, or those coming from a microbiology or molecular background interested in ecological and evolutionary research.

The student will be based in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. We are a research-intensive University and our School comprises more than 100 academic and postdoctoral research staff, and ~200 higher-degree research students. The student and project will benefit from the School’s formidable research expertise in ecology, evolutionary biology and genetics, physiology, and mathematical, statistical and computational biology.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Dr Andrew Letten

School of Biological Sciences


Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of laboratory research, experimental ecology/evolution and/or mathematical modelling would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of ecology, evolutionary biology, microbiology or molecular biology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of R or Python programming and ecological and/or evolutionary theory is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2024. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process