Jim Willis Studentships

Vacation studentships honouring the late Dr James Hamlyn Willis

The Jim Willis Studentships are advertised each year, with applications typically closing in October. The studentships for 2024/2025 have not yet been advertised. Last year's studentships are listed below for general reference. 


Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria invites applications for vacation studentships honouring the late Dr James Hamlyn Willis, distinguished former senior member of staff at the National Herbarium of Victoria. You will be in the third or fourth year of a Science degree, with interests in plant and/or fungal systematics. The studentship will allow you to participate, under supervision, in one of the research programs at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.

There are three studentships available and each is awarded for an eight-week period during December to February, and remuneration is $2,170.85 gross per fortnight. Applications will be assessed on the merit of the applicant.

The following projects are offered for 2023/2024:

Taxonomy of Peziza in postfire Australian environments

Peziza species are cup-forming fungi that frequently occur in post-fire habitats and contribute to forest recovery after wildfires. In Australia, Peziza species are typically found on sandy soil in woodlands and sclerophyllous forests following disturbances. Some species form ectomycorrhizal associations that aid plant nutrition and postfire vegetation recovery. Using molecular data, many of the >100 Peziza species that have been described worldwide have been reassessed and sometimes assigned to new genera. Australia is considered a biodiversity hotspot for Pezizalean fungi, but the taxonomy of the group still awaits revision.

This project will involve review of herbarium specimens of Peziza from the National Herbarium of Victoria, microscopy and Nanopore DNA sequencing to delimit species. This information will be integrated to produce a modern treatment of the Australian species.

Supervisors: Camille Truong (9252 2442, camille.truong@rbg.vic.gov.au) & Luke Vaughan (luke.vaughan@rbg.vic.gov.au)

Taxonomy and phylogeny of an endemic fungal family: sorting out the old and new in Mesophelliaceae (Hysterangiales, Agaricomycetes, Basidiomycota, Fungi)

Australia harbours a rich assemblage of truffle-like fungi, which play essential ecological roles as mycorrhizal symbionts, decomposers, and food for wildlife. One fungal order in particular, Hysterangiales, is especially notable in that their fruiting bodies can be found throughout much of the year, making them important in stabilising soil and serving as food sources.  Global-scale studies on Hysterangiales have uncovered numerous new lineages yet to be formally described, including within the Australian endemic family Mesophelliaceae. Species of Mesophelliaceae often constitute a major proportion of the diets of mycophagous mammals, such as the endangered long-footed potoroo (Potorous longipes). That many of these fungi remain formally undescribed, with little to no information on morphology or genetics publicly available, is problematic for species identification, species delimitation using environmental sequencing approaches, and restoration projects dependent on fungi as mycorrhizal partners for plants and food sources for animals.

This project will entail formally describing new taxa (genera and species) within the Mesophelliaceae, using morphological, genetic, and ecological data, as well as conducting investigations on existing taxa (toward the goal of generating a key to known species). The project will involve microscopy, DNA sequence annotation and alignment, phylogenetic analysis, engaging with relevant taxonomic literature, and collating and writing essential elements of taxonomic descriptions. The project may also involve work in the herbarium and molecular laboratory, depending on time and the interest of the student.

Supervisor: Naveed Davoodian (9252 2328, naveed.davoodian@rbg.vic.gov.au)

Deciphering variation in Banksia canei: are there 1 or 4 entities?

Banksia canei (Proteaceae) is a morphologically variable taxon that occurs in sub-alpine areas in eastern Victoria and south eastern NSW. A study by Salkin & Hallam (1978) proposed four distinct, geographically isolated forms within this species, with evolution by genetic drift. This study has largely been overlooked. However, recent genomic data has provided further evidence that Banksia canei is likely composed of several taxa.

In this project, the extensive collections of Banksia canei in the National Herbarium of Victoria will be examined to investigate morphological and ecological features across this species. The resultant data will be analysed via PATN or similar analytical packages. This, combined with the previously generated genomics dataset will form the basis for draft taxon descriptions and the preparation of figures for the publication. The student will gain skills in setting up a morphological study, use of PATN, taxonomic nomenclature, the interpretation of genomics data and the potential for some field work.

Supervisors: Laura Simmons (9252 2362, laura.simmons@rbg.vic.gov.au) & Andre Messina (9252 2339, andre.messina@rbg.vic.gov.au)

Apply now

For general enquiries on studentships contact Frank Udovicic (9252 2313, frank.udovicic@rbg.vic.gov.au).

Applications should include a curriculum vitae (including university transcript), two referees, and a brief cover letter explaining how the applicant would benefit from the Jim Willis Studentship and how they can contribute to research at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, and reasons for their preference of a particular project. 

Applications (single PDF only) should be emailed to Dr Frank Udovicic, Manager Research, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, frank.udovicic@rbg.vic.gov.au, by 13 October 2023.