The influence of site-scale characteristics of urban greenspaces on biodiversity related to human health and wellbeing: A comparative study between Shanghai and Melbourne

This joint PhD project will be based at The University of Melbourne with a  minimum 12 month stay at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Please note that as of 17 December 2020, applications for this project will no longer be accepted as the project context will change.  The new project will become available late January 2021 and candidates who have not applied previously, are welcome to submit an expression of interest to the supervisor.

Project description:
The unfolding pandemic of 2020 has placed a clear spotlight on the complex interlinkages between urban greenspaces, biodiversity and human health and wellbeing. This project will focus on greenspaces as a distinct component of urban green infrastructure, and will investigate how site level characteristics (e.g., standing water, vegetation, management activities) influence the biodiversity that directly affects human health and wellbeing, particularly those with a positive influence (e.g. insect predators) or associated with negative outcomes (e.g. mosquitos). By comparing Melbourne and Shanghai our results can be used to inform broader public health   and greenspace policies in temperate cities around the world.

This project will focus on greenspaces as a distinct component of urban green infrastructure that links directly to Sustainable Development Goal 11 –  Sustainable Cities and Communities via Target 11.7 “access to safe and accessible green space”.  The overarching research question that will be addressed through this project is: How do the site level characteristics of urban greenspaces (e.g., standing water, vegetation composition and structure, management activities) in two temperate zone cities (Melbourne and Shanghai) influence the biodiversity that directly affects public health and human wellbeing?

To address this question, the Melbourne based PhD student will identify a set of 30 urban greenspaces within both Melbourne and Shanghai, using a stratified random approach to ensure there is an appropriate representation of urban greenspace types (e.g. public parks compared to residential gardens), site characteristics (e.g., standing water, vegetation composition and structure, management activities), and urban landscape context (e.g., varying levels of human population density and time since development). For each site, they will then conduct    a series of site visits to 1) quantify the site characteristics; and 2) sample the composition and abundance of insects related to positive health and wellbeing outcomes (e.g. insect predators, charismatic species such as butterfly or blue-banded bees) and those related to negative public health outcomes (e.g. mosquitos and other zoonotic disease vectors). We will also seek to include an environmental microbiome component subject to securing additional external funding, that can build on CI Hahs and Dr Mavoa’s Australian Microbiome Initiative seed project.

This project will be based at UoM as it is highly aligned with CI Hahs’ existing  research  and  expertise,  and  CI Hahs has several colleagues within SEFS who are also experienced with sampling, identifying and analyzing insect community data from urban greenspaces.  The student would commence in March 2021, to ensure that they have time to complete their confirmation meeting prior to commencing field work during the period of peak insect activity and sampling conditions (November – March).

The UoM based student would spend 15 months at SJTU (March 2022 – May 2023), where they would undertake the equivalent field sampling around Shanghai during the northern hemisphere peak insect sampling season (June – September). As field work is best conducted in pairs, the Shanghai-based PhD student can spend two months assisting the Melbourne based student with their field sampling as they become orientated and more familiar with the greater Shanghai area. CI LI has existing projects which also involve the collection and analysis of insect data from urban greenspaces, and he will be able to provide support and facilities to complete this sampling during this time. The UoM student will also complete the mandatory coursework component of the SJTU PhD program during this period.

From June 2023, the UoM student would return to Melbourne where CI Hahs will supervise the completion of the data analyses and the writing and timely submission of the student’s PhD thesis.

There are two clear papers that the Melbourne-based PhD project would produce:

  1. The relationship between landscape context, site characteristics of urban greenspaces and biodiversity related to public health and human wellbeing in Melbourne and Shanghai.
  2. Evidence-based recommendations for urban greenspace planning, design and management that can reduce the potential for adverse biodiversity related public health outcomes, while maximizing the potential positive biodiversity related benefits that support human health and wellbeing.
  3. The third publication to arise from this PhD project is deliberately left undefined to provide an opportunity for the student to be supported through the experience of learning how to identify and develop their own distinct piece of research- an essential part of a world class graduate researcher training program.

The project will be complemented by the project on The spatio-temporal pattern of urban green infrastructure and its associations with urban human mortality: A comparative study between Shanghai and Melbourne and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Dr Amy Hahs (The University of Melbourne)

Professor Junxiang Li (Shanghai Jiao Tong University)

How to apply

If you are interested in this opportunity, read the application guidelines before contacting the lead supervisor.