PhD Scholarship - Where no eyes can see: Tracking Australian shorebird migration using radar

The University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of Exeter are seeking an exceptional student for this PhD Scholarship: Where no eyes can see: Tracking Australian shorebird migration using radar as part of the QUEX Institute. This joint PhD scholarship provides a fantastic opportunity for a talented doctoral student to work closely with a world class research group and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions. The successful applicant will have the chance to study in Australia and the UK, and will graduate with a joint degree from The University of Queensland and the University of Exeter.

In addition to this project, a further six UQ-based projects are available, along with seven Exeter-based projects.


Project details

Where no eyes can see: Tracking Australian shorebird migration using radar

Project team Project description Preferred academic background


Professor Richard Fuller


Dr Jason Chapman 

Bureau of Meteorology

Dr Joshua Soderholm 

More than five million migratory shorebirds visit Australia each year from Asian breeding grounds, where they spend the non-breeding season on wetlands throughout the continent. Studies at the University of Queensland have revealed that most species are declining quickly, and eight have now been listed as nationally threatened as a result. Yet effective monitoring of migratory shorebirds in Australia has proven extremely difficult because many sites are inaccessible in the summer months when the birds are present.

Continental-scale networks of weather radars provide unique opportunities for monitoring of migratory birds over very large scales, and they have been used to great effect in Europe and North America for this purpose. Migrating birds produce characteristic radar signals which can be separated from signals produced by weather, and radar ornithologists have developed methods for classifying and analysing signals produced by birds. In Europe and North America, systems have been put in place to routinely separate and archive these signals, so that migration biologists can use them to study bird migration patterns over very large scales (100s of km) and across multiple seasons and years. Australia has a similar network of weather radars, yet it has never before been used to monitor bird migration. 

Weather radars cover the eastern and northern coastlines between Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney, and the publicly-accessible archive of usable data stretches back about 5-10 years across this region. These weather radars (which use very similar technology to the European and North American radars) also record huge numbers of migratory birds, but as yet these data represent untapped resources which are filtered by radar meteorologists and discarded. During this PhD study, the student will assess the capability of Australian weather radars to provide the data required for long-term monitoring and quantification of shorebird migration to, from, and around Australia. Specifically, the studentship will tackle the following objectives:

  1. Use Doppler and Dual-polarised weather radar data from radar stations in eastern and northern Australia to separate and classify the echoes produced by flocks of migrating birds, and produce estimates of shorebird migration traffic rates, flight heights, speeds and directions.
  2. Validate the bird migration products from the weather radars using field observations at key sites in Australia.
  3. Compare continental-scale bird migration patterns along the Asian-Australasian Flyway with those in Europe and North America.

Establish a radar-based migratory shorebird monitoring system that complements and extends on-ground counting.

A bachelor’s degree with first class honours or a coursework master’s degree and an overall GPA (grade point average) equivalent to 5.65 on the 7-point UQ scale, which includes a relevant research component.

The successful applicant for this project will enrol through The University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences.

Questions about this project should be directed to Professor Richard Fuller


These scholarships include a living stipend of AUD $27,596 (2019) tax free, indexed annually, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover (where applicable). A travel grant of AUD $8,500 per annum, and a training grant of AUD $3,000 are also available over the program.

How to apply

These scholarships attract a large number of applications and are therefore highly competitive. The are several steps involved in the application process, and these are outlined below. Please note this process is for the UQ-based projects. The Exeter-based projects have a different process.

  1. Expression of Interest: To be considered for this program, you must complete an Expression of Interest via the link below.
  2. Shortlisting: The project team will review all Expressions of Interest received. They may contact you at this stage to request more information or to have an informal discussion about your suitability for the project.
  3. Interview: The project team will nominate the two most suitable applicants for each project (or only one if they prefer), and these applicants will be invited to attend a formal interview. As there are seven UQ-based projects, a maximum of 14 applicants will be interviewed.
  4. Invitation to apply: The applicants who were interviewed will be ranked. The top five ranked interviewees will be invited to submit a full application, providing they have applied for five different projects. If two applicants have expressed interest in the same project, the lower ranked applicant of the two will not proceed, and the applicant with the next highest ranking for a different project will be invited to apply instead.
  5. Assessment of application: If you are invited to submit a full application, this is the point at which you will be assessed for eligibility to enter the PhD program. To avoid delays at this point, you should familiarise yourself with the program requirements including evidence of relevant research experience and English language proficiency prior to submitting an Expression of Interest.
  6. Commencement: Successful applicants will commence at The University of Queensland in Research Quarter 1 (January, 2020).

Expressions of interest are open until 20 May, 2019.

Submit an expression of interest

Questions? Contact the Graduate School.