In profile: Sylvia Hay, PhD student

UNSW PhD student Sylvia Hay grew up in New Zealand and completed her Bachelor of Science and Master of Environmental Science at the University of Auckland. While completing her studies, she became fascinated by the huge scale of Australian Rivers,as well as the extreme conditions they present for biodiversity.

Sylvia Hay, sampling water quality on Lawson’s Creek, NSW, photo credit: Sam Dawson

Her interest in Australian rivers, coupled with her passion for hands-on research, led Sylvia to begin her PhD at UNSW. Her research is utilising her strong background in environmental science and biology to examine the likely effects of climate change and increased drying on invertebrate communities in intermittent rivers.

Invertebrates are hugely important both in terms of diversity and productivity in rivers, forming the basal food source for many higher organisms. Intermittent rivers, or rivers that periodically cease to flow, can support a diverse range of species, with aquatic invertebrates often well-adapted to the 'boom and bust' ecology of these systems.

“I have always been interested in the wide-ranging adaptations of species to overcome severe conditions,” said Sylvia.

“Currently, little is known about the tolerance of aquatic invertebrates to extended drying, the physiological and behavioural strategies they use, and their limits to survival in drying rivers.”

Sylvia says the importance of understanding intermittent river dynamics is increasing in many regions experiencing trends toward drier rivers. This is due to climate and land-cover change and increasing levels of water abstraction for human use.

“This is particularly topical given current drought conditions,” says Sylvia.

“The ability of species to adapt will be increasingly tested by threats to biodiversity, and I also think it is important to understand how dependent humans are on healthy and functioning freshwater ecosystems.” 

The adaptation of species will be increasingly tested by threats to biodiversity

Sylvia Hay, PhD Student, UNSW

Sylvia’s research is being jointly supervised by Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, and Dr Kim Jenkins from Charles Sturt University.

Sylvia says she chose to study at UNSW because of its strong research reputation, and because of the opportunity to be part of a wider collaborative research project investigating responses of biodiversity to climate change, allowing her to work with researchers from multiple institutions and disciplines.

“I have particularly valued the diverse range of opportunities available to postgraduate students at UNSW, which have allowed me to broaden my experiences and expertise beyond my own field,” said Sylvia.

“Studying at UNSW has strengthened my love of research as a career, particularly the opportunity to work on novel and varied projects.”

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