Future research

Masters Research Project ideas

(available to: Masters of Urban Horticulture, Masters of Forest and Ecosystem Science, Masters of Environment, Masters of Science and potential Honours students)

1. Cultural differences in human thermal tolerance to high temperatures and the value preferences and importance placed on tree shade and tree type

Major Project (B), year long, Stephen Livesley

There are indices of human thermal comfort that are based entirely on microclimatic parameters, but how well do they reflect the levels of comfort that pedestrians experience, and how does that relate to age, cultural and society circumstance. There can be considerable ‘acclimation’ to high temperatures based upon climate of origin, behavioural practice, health status and age. This project proposes to gauge pedestrian levels of comfort on high temperature days and their attitudes towards tree shade, tree species and green space as a place of refuge. Concurrently another student (PhD) will be directly measuring microclimatic parameters from which to estimate human thermal comfort.

Ruzana_BendigoSt_compressedThis study will concentrate on streets dominated by Plane trees, Elm trees and Eucalypt trees. This study will assess whether microclimatic estimates of human thermal comfort accurately reflect human experience, and the uncertainties introduced because of different levels of ‘acclimation’. The study will indicate what factors drive ‘acclimation’, and whether people’s preferences for street tree shade fairly reflect the microclimatic benefits they provide.

2. Soil physical properties of urban parks and recreation field – current carbon and water storage and the potential for improvement

Major Project (B), year long, Stephen Livesley

Soil Carbon is a key indicator of soil quality in all ecosystems. This is no different in the urban landscape. Urban parks and gardens are some of our most important urban green spaces according to the role they play in community life but also the ecosystem services we expect of them with regards to biodiversity, stormwater run-off reduction and storage, carbon sequestration and microclimate cooling or refuge. How urban parks are managed, the vegetation that they support and their age since establishment has a large influence over their soil organic matter, and therefore soil carbon, that they support. Likewise, management, use and vegetation greatly determines soil bulk density (compaction) which in turn influences soil carbon contents and soil water movement and storage. This project will involve soil sampling for soil C concentration, bulk density, water holding capacity  and in-situ measures of soil infiltration in a range of urban parks. In conjunction, the student will undertake an assessment of urban park intensity of use and management. From this, correlations can be drawn between soil carbon and hydrological properties and green space age, management, vegetation type and intensity of use. This project will make use of an established network of 13 urban parks in SE Melbourne and vegetation surveys that have already been performed.

3. Soil aggregation and carbon fractions in golf course fairway, rough and wooded areas – their influence upon water infiltration and storage

Major Project (B), year long, Stephen Livesley

The vegetation and soil of all ecosystems store carbon in living and dead organic matter. Urban green spaces are a small component of national or global ecosystem carbon stores, but they are important because of their connection to a concerned public that wants to know what’s there and wants to make a difference. This project will make use of soil that has already been sampled through a network of 13 golf courses from fairways, rough and wooded ‘out-of-play’ areas to get an understanding of soil carbon stocks in relation to the age of golf course, intensity of management and supported vegetation. Through a combination of wet sieving techniques, infiltration and aggregate stability tests the links between green space management and fundamental soil ecosystem services will be explored.

4. Can we use tiny changes in stem diameter as a reliable indicator of tree water use?

Major Project (B), year long, Stephen Livesley and Chris Szota.

Trees are highly valued in urban landscapes, providing shade, cooling, aesthetic benefits and habitat.  There is significant potential to also use trees in reducing the flow of polluted stormwater generated by impermeable surfaces, such as roads and carparks.  Streetscapes are increasingly being designed to direct stormwater towards trees with two main aims: (i) reducing the volume of stormwater runoff entering drainage systems and (ii) providing irrigation to reduce drought stress.  Tools are required to relate stormwater flows to tree water use and demonstrate the duel benefits of these streetscapes.  In this project, the student will design a nursery experiment using potted advanced trees to calibrate micro-dendrometers, instruments which detect minute changes in stem diameter, to determine IMG_2999how changes in stem diameter relate to water use on an hourly basis. The experiment will be conducted using Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus), the most common street tree in Melbourne.  The student will develop significant skills in installation and monitoring of high-tech scientific equipment as well as in experimental design, data handling, analysis and interpretation.

5. Ant assemblages and urban streetscapes.

Major Project (B), year long, Stephen Livesley with Alessandro Ossola (PhD student)

Streetscapes are a common feature of our cities but their role in providing habitat for ground-dwelling species is virtually unknown. Ants represent abundant and ubiquitous organisms capable to exploit resources available in anthropic habitats and conversely streetscapes may provide food, shelter and preferential foraging routes across the urban landscape. The aim of this project is to understand relationships between ant assemblages and the structure of urban streetscapes. Soil fauna. Ants, millipedes and moreHabitat, structural and socioeconomic variables (e.g. vegetation structure, patch dimension and shape, distance from urban green spaces, traffic, etc) of urban streetscapes will be recorded to investigate patterns in ant community.

Pecarevic et al., 2010 “Biodiversity on Broadway. Enigmatic diversity of the societies of ants (Formicidae) on the Street of New York City”. Plos ONE, 5(10), e13222.

6. Can water sensitive urban design (WSUD) lead to plant water stress?

Major Project (B), year long, Chris Szota, Steve Livesley and Tim Fletcher

Biofiltration systems, such as vegetated swales, basins and street tree pits are increasingly being used to reduce the amount of polluted stormwater entering urban waterways.  State and Local government authorities need the tools to be able to monitor the performance of these vegetated systems in the inner city.  Monitoring soil moisture over time will show how much stormwater is being intercepted; however, soil moisture alone will not indicate critical levels of water availability for plant species commonly used in these systems.

The aim of this project is to study the relationship between soil water content and plant water stress in two soil types used in biofiltration systems: filter media (used in swales and basins) and structural soil (used in street tree pits).  Critical soil variables including determination of plant available water will be conducted in the laboratory; while a glasshouse experiment will be designed to relate available soil moisture to levels of plant water stress in a range of commonly used species.