Bespoke eco-engineering solutions

Project Status: 

Developing bespoke eco-engineering solutions to mitigate the risk of invasive species establishment in ports.

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About the research project

Global problem:

Marine coastal environments are under increasing pressure from anthropogenic disturbances, including coastal hardening which involves the expansion of artificial infrastructure such as piers, marinas and breakwater walls (Bugnot et al. 2020). Such structures, while not designed as marine habitats, inadvertently function as such. Unfortunately, they also serve as potential hubs for the establishment and spread of invasive species (Airoldi et al. 2015, Lemm et al. in prep).


Eco-engineering strategies offer promising solutions to enhance the native biodiversity while preventing the colonisation of invasive species on artificial structures (Strain et al. 2018, Dodds et al 2022, Komyakova et al., 2022). The strategies aim to create habitats that are less favourable for non-native species by increasing complexity through the use of panels (e.g. World harbour and Living Seawalls) or seeding with habitat-forming organisms like bivalves or seaweeds (Adams et al. 2021, Bradford et al. 2020, Chee et al. 2021, O'Shaughnessy et al. 2021, Strain et al 2021, Vozzo et al. 2021).

However, much of the existing research on eco-engineering strategies has been location-specific (e.g. Strain et al. 2020) or focused on transplanting strategies from one location to another (e.g. Strain et al. 2021, Living Seawalls), leading to variable results. This highlights the need for a more tailored approach that consider the unique environmental conditions and species tolerances in ports.

Proposed project:

This project aims to develop eco-engineering solutions to address the issues of invasive species establishment within port environments. By conducting ecological and socio-ecological research, the student will assess the diversity and abundances of native and non-native species associated with artificial structures found in ports worldwide. Building on this research, the project will then integrate insights into local biodiversity and unique Tasmanian identity.
Through ecosystem research and community engagement and including consultation with key representatives the project aims to develop and test key eco-engineering solutions. These solutions will focus on enhancing ecosystem functionality by creating habitat suitable for native species while effectively limiting the settlement of invasive species within Tasmanian ports. The research will be conducted by a PhD student and will consist of the following chapters.

Chapter 1: Identifying key taxa on artificial structures in Ports and Harbours. (Year 1)

  • Conduct a comprehensive literature review to identify native and non-native species inhabiting artificial structures
  • Determine their environment tolerances to inform strategy development

Chapter 2: Co-designing eco-engineering solutions. (Year 1)

  • Engage with key stakeholders including Ports Tasmania, Derwent Estuary Program, boat operators and the indigenous representative
  • Collaboratively identify key goals and target species for eco-engineering solutions

Chapter 3: Production of settlement panels (Year 2)

  • Develop a settlement panel prototype based on the information gathered in Chapters 1 and 2
  • Field-test the prototype alongside other settlement tile for colonisation by native and invasive taxa

Chapter 4: Testing the effectiveness of seeding panels with local native species. (Year 3)

  • Evaluate the survival of seeded native taxa on settlement panels in the Port of Hobart
  • Assessing the impact of seeded native species on associated colonising taxa

Primary Supervisor: MEET DR BETH STRAIN

Closing Date: 1 October 2024

Campus: Hobart

University of TasmaniaInstitute of Marine and Antarctic StudiesCSIRO Department of the EnvironmentGEOS
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