TNQ Hub Scholarships

The TNQ Hub is encouraging and supporting honours students through scholarships (full time and top-up) to conduct regionally focused drought resilience projects that will build academic knowledge in the agricultural sector.

OPEN NOW: TNQ Hub Scholarship Opportunity

The Tropical North Queensland Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub is paving the way to deliver drought resilience activities in tropical north Queensland in partnership with James Cook University (JCU).

The TNQ Drought Hub is offering scholarship opportunities for  students within the TNQ Hub region who are interested in undertaking an Honours project in 2023-24 on a topic that is aligned to the TNQ Drought Hub priorities.

The TNQ Drought Hub priorities encompass drought and climate change adaptation, land management, innovation, and technology, enhancing skills and human capacity, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait agricultural enterprise. These priorities will help guide the key challenges and opportunities for agricultural businesses, their towns and communities and regions within Tropical North Queensland to build drought resilience and preparedness.

The scholarships are up to the value $5,000 for full-time students. The successful students will be passionate about building resilience and drought preparedness in agriculture and associated industries.

Please complete the Expression of Interest form

Applications close 30 November. 

For any questions, contact

Previous Scholarship Recipients

The TNQ Hub is pleased to announce the names and provide the research abstracts of the James Cook University students that are being awarded scholarship funding to support their drought resilience research during 2023.

Students were asked to submit their research topic and discuss how it aligned with the TNQ Hub priorities to ensure it would contribute to the current and future agricultural needs of Tropical North Queensland.

As part of their scholarship milestones, students will be providing summary reports/videos and overviews of any identified practical applications that can be shared with the sector and industry representatives.

The scholarships are proudly funded by the Transformational Agricultural Systems Program and facilitated by the Building Human Capacity Program.

Round One: click on each students name to reach their abstract and milestone updates.

Elora Baird

Research Topic: Systematic interrogation of groundwater sampling techniques, equipment, and analytics to constrain their impact on water metrics and refine best practice sampling for North Queensland.


Academic Supervisor: Dr Brandon Mahan


Research Abstract



  1. Systematically constrain the effects of variables in groundwater sampling on important water metrics both in field and in lab, including those most relevant to water quality assessment.
  2. Refine/define best practices for groundwater sampling methods for current and future applications of groundwater metrics.


Groundwater is a vital resource for a variety of things such as human consumption, agriculture, and livestock. Therefore, it is paramount to be able to accurately constrain water quality and analyte metrics, and for this data to be directly comparable across catchments, regions and at the national level. While this importance is acknowledged, standardization of groundwater sampling and comparative analytics between sampling protocols is scarce. The effects of different sampling protocols, equipment, and common consumables on water parameters, as well as on inherent analyte concentrations, has to date been poorly explored, quantified, and compared in an internally consistent manner. Therefore, the overarching goal of this research project is to systematically interrogate common variables in groundwater sampling and to constrain the effects of these variables on important water metrics collected in both the field and lab.


There will be approximately 20 local bore sites selected and 4 sampling methods used at each site. This will result in approximately 80 samples that will then undergo laboratory testing. The four methods are traditional bailing, traditional purging, low flow purging and hydro sleeve. The tests on these samples will consist of field parameters, major and trace element analysis, and a potential isotopic component. These results will then be used to constrain accuracy of differing methodology.

Damon Colman

Research Topic: The effects of beef stocking strategies on ant community composition and seed removal in northern Australia: a study from the Wambiana experiment.


Academic Supervisors: Professor Susan Laurance and Dr. Peter Yeeles


Research Abstract


As global warming increases the frequency and severity droughts, understanding how agriculture can become more sustainable and resilient is increasingly important to global food security. In Australia, the effects of droughts can be exacerbated by over stocking further limiting agricultural lands capacity to recover. The sustainability of Australia’s rangeland grazing has been the topic of one of the nation’s longest running studies at Wambiana cattle station.


The Wambiana project has measured the effects of different stocking rates (cattle density) on land productivity as well as a variety of other sustainability metrics including vegetation cover, vertebrate diversity, and drought resilience. In this study, I aim to examine the terrestrial ant community at Wambiana’s different stocking rates and explore its functional effects on the ecosystem through a seed removal experiment. There is considerable evidence that ant communities play important roles in ecosystem function. They can modify soil physical and chemical properties, influence plant communities and alter above- and below-ground faunal communities.


In my study, ant communities will be sampled within permanent vegetation plots (Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) sites; 100 x 100 m) within three grazing treatments at Wambiana. Ant sampling will occur at nine locations (three per treatment) in pitfall trap arrays that include the locations from an earlier pilot study conducted in October 2021 by Will Edwards.  Repeat sampling will occur over three intervals in March, April, and June 2023. The functional effects of the grazing treatments will also be examined with a seed removal study that includes both a traditional and novel sensor method installed at the sampling locations.


The initial findings from the 2021 pilot study indicate that there is considerable difference in ant diversity between grazing treatments with fixed heavy stocking (HSR) showing the lowest ant diversity, moderate heavy stocking (MSR) having the middle values for diversity and rotational wet season spelling (R/Spell) showing the highest values for ant diversity. It is also anticipated that seed removal will follow a similar pattern with seed dispersal in HSR sites being the lowest in MSR sites being moderate and in R/Spell sites being the highest. The novel seed dispersal sensor is anticipated to have similar overall results when compared to traditional methods of monitoring seed dispersal when comparing total volume off seeds dispersed, with greater temporal resolution and less associated labour.

Fredrick Holden

Research Topic: Carbon dioxide removal and sugarcane yield improvement through enhanced weathering of basalt in acidic soil.


Academic Supervisor: Associate Professor Paul Nelson


Research abstract

Enhanced weathering of basalt (EW) holds significant potential for climate change mitigation through carbon dioxide removal (CDR), and drought resilience in the agricultural sector. Modelling suggests EW may be an effective negative emissions technology with benefits for crop production, but it has not yet been successfully tested in the field. Crop production is expected to increase through lifting soil pH and increasing nutrient availability to plants, consequently improving plant vigour, drought resistance and yield.


The aim of this project is to quantify CDR through enhanced weathering of basalt in the field. We will conduct a world-first field experiment on rainfed sugarcane in Gordonvale, with basalt and lime applications at 0 and 50 t/ha and 0 and 2.5 t/ha respectively, in addition to legacy basalt applied at equivalent rates for four years. Leachate (percolated rainfall) will be collected using drainage fluxmeters installed at 1 m depth and sampled throughout the 2023 wet season.


These samples will be analysed for pH, alkalinity, nitrate, ammonium and other ions, and soil and plant tissue will be analysed after harvest. A treatment effect would show pH and alkalinity (bicarbonate concentrations) in leachate to increase in basalt- and lime-treated plots, which is evidence of CDR. Similarly, we expect soil to have higher concentrations of inorganic carbon, phosphorus, and silica and crop yield to be higher in treated plots. Results will inform discussions around the efficacy of CDR and improved drought resilience through basalt applications, facilitate analysis of the net benefit and highlight topics for further research.

Jacob Vallely

Research Topic: Bush food enterprises and business opportunities for Indigenous community development.

Academic Supervisor: Professor Rosita Henry

Research Abstract

This Honours project aims to address sovereignty issues affecting Indigenous Australians and examine ways to increase their autonomy, especially in the Bush Food industry. To fully understand the cultural, economic, and social value of Bush food businesses, this project will consider the overlapping and interconnected spheres of native title, culturally appropriate Bush Food practises, and legal policy.

The rising demand for native Bush Foods in the Australian economy has led to increased cultivation of these foods as well as expansion of Bush Food businesses in the Australian domestic and international food market. As this industry continues to grow, issues that affect the control Indigenous Australians have over Bush Foods have arisen.

These include:

  • Are bush food businesses being exploited by larger industry and pressured to produce more, harming culturally traditional ways of cultivation?
  • Is the profit and success stemming from these businesses staying in communities and having positive impacts or are benefits being taken and transferred to larger entities?
  • Is the infrastructure there to support Indigenous owned businesses?
  • How much freedom do communities have to set up Bush food business and enterprise independently without external input?
  • What opportunities might native title provide for Indigenous communities to establish successful bush food enterprises?
  • How can we incorporate bush food enterprises into the economy in a way that is advantageous and culturally appropriate to Indigenous peoples?

In exploring these questions in the literature review, this honours project will seek to address the following key question:  What are the challenges that lie ahead for Indigenous-owned and operated bush food enterprises?

To answer this question, a case study approach will be adopted, in which at least one bush food enterprise is explored via interviews with participants in that enterprise. This work may provide insights regarding the opportunities and barriers to Indigenous participation in the Bush Food economy.


Milestone Update 1

This study focused on the growth and assimilation of the Bush food industry into the mainstream Australian food market, emphasizing the underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals in this sector and the protection of their traditional knowledge. It identifies challenges including a historical fear of exploitation, inconsistencies in organic materials, and issues related to supply and demand dynamics.


Read the summary report or watch the summary presentation.

Round Two: Click on each students name to reach their abstract and milestone updates.

Declan Cargill

Research Topic: Optimising Drone Surveying for High Resolution Digital Terrain Mapping in Gullied Savanna Rangeland.

Academic Supervisor: Dr Jack Koci and Dr Ben Jarihani

Research Abstract

 High-resolution topographic information is invaluable for the sustainable management of water in water-limited rangeland production systems, such as the gullied savanna rangelands of north-east Queensland. High-resolution topographic information, for example, enables assessment of where water is likely to move, be stored and be lost in the landscape.

Topographic information can also be used to identify erosion hotspots and inform targeted remediation strategies.  Topographic data can be derived from satellite products, but often the spatial resolution of readily available data is too large to enable detailed assessments at the paddock scale. High-resolution topographic information can be derived from aerial and ground-based Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) surveys, however, the high cost associated with these surveys precludes frequent data capture.

Increasingly, low-cost drones are being used to produce high-resolution topographic information, through a technique known as structure-from-motion with multi-view stereo photogrammetry. While increasingly applied, few studies have quantified error and uncertainty in the topographic models produced in gullied savanna rangelands, and there remains uncertainty as to optimal surveying techniques.  Producing accurate topographical models in these landscapes from drone imagery is particularly challenging due to the complexity of gullies and presence of complex vegetation structures.

The overarching aim of this study is to develop an optimised drone survey technique for producing accurate digital terrain models in gullied savanna rangelands. The study will be focussed on an alluvial gully complex in the Upper Burdekin catchment. Digital terrain models will be produced from several drone surveys where key survey parameters (e.g., flight height, angle of image capture, amount of image overlap) will be varied. The accuracy of each digital terrain model will be assessed by comparing the models to on-ground spot measurements of elevation derived from a Real-Time Kinematic Global Navigation Satellite Systems survey.

The challenges and uncertainties of using drones for topographic surveying in these landscapes will also be explored. Ultimately, it is hoped that this research will help to inform the collection of reliable topographic data which can be used by a variety of stakeholders to inform improved management of water and runoff in savanna rangeland landscapes, helping to build drought resilience in our region. 

This project is supported by funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Tropical North Queensland Drought Hub.


Milestone Update 1

This study aimed to optimize a drone survey method for precise digital terrain modeling in gullied savanna rangelands, found that that camera angles of 70° and 80° consistently produced the most accurate drone-derived digital terrain models which can help with practical applications in optimizing drone survey workflows, erosion monitoring, catchment hydrology analysis, and land condition assessment.


Read the summary report

Sarah Cassells

Research Topic: The influence of social identity on water conversation behaviour in Australia during periods of drought: A pilot study.


Academic Supervisors:  Dr Connar McShane


Research Abstract


Drought is a frequent occurrence in Australia, with a significant drought happening once every 18 years on average. The Millennium Drought was the most catastrophic drought in recent memory and lasted from 1996 until 2010, affecting much of the country. This study seeks to explore how people’s perceptions of equity and resource access influence their behaviour towards water management and conservation.


It is hypothesised that strong identification with an ingroup leads to feelings of inequity in access to water resources, resulting in resentment towards outgroups, and influencing individual willingness to support water management practices. The study will recruit participants from Port Augusta, a South Australian community that experienced drought and water use regulation during the Millennium Drought.


The study will use a qualitative pilot design featuring non-probability, naturalistic emergent sampling to explore how social identity affects people’s views on equitable access to water resources. Social identity perspectives have been used in studies on pro-environmental behaviour and belief in climate change, but little is known about how social identity may negatively affect behaviour.


It is anticipated that this study will provide the groundwork for a much larger study in future relating to water conservation behaviour in Australia, providing useful insights for the further development of water conservation policies and procedures that better prepare Australian communities for drought events.

Alex Dodge

Research Topic: Quantifying Small-Scale Rainfall-Runoff Processes on Gullied Savanna Rangelands of Northern Queensland.


Academic Supervisor: Dr Jack Koci and Dr Ben Jarihani


Research abstract


In water-limited systems used for grazing, knowledge and information on hydrological processes is useful for informing land management strategies seeking to build drought resilience. In the savanna rangelands of northern Queensland, rainfall often occurs with high intensity and for short periods of time. If the land is in poor condition, the soil is likely to lack the capacity to accept and retain this water, leading to high rates of runoff. This excess runoff not only decreases the amount of water available for uptake by plants, but also increase the landscape’s susceptibility to erosion, further reducing productivity levels and negatively affecting downstream ecosystems.


Accurately quantifying rainfall-runoff processes in these landscapes is challenging due to the complex nature of interactions amongst environmental factors such as rainfall, soil, vegetation, and topography. Whilst hydrological models show promise in simulating this complex suite of processes, very few studies have documented the challenges and uncertainties of modelling at the hillslope scale. This is particularly the case where erosional features such as gullies are present.


The overarching aim of this study is to improve understanding of the challenges and uncertainties associated with modelling small-scale rainfall and runoff processes on gullied savanna rangelands.


The study site is located in the Upper Burdekin catchment of north-eastern Queensland. At the study site, four alluvial gully complexes have been equipped with instruments to measure rainfall and runoff and this will be monitored over one wet season. Data will also be collected to characterise the topography, vegetation and soil condition of the area. This data will be used to calibrate and validate a hydrological model (HEC-HMS) and test the ability of the model to reliably predict runoff for given rainfall events. Through this study, the challenges, uncertainties, and limitations of hydrological modelling at this scale will be documented and the link between land condition and runoff will be explored.


This research will help to improve our understanding of small-scale rainfall-runoff processes in gullied savanna rangelands and approaches to hydrological modelling at small-scales. Ultimately, it is hoped that this research will aid in the development and implementation of land management and remediation activities focussed on improving land condition, reducing runoff and, subsequently, increasing drought resilience.


This project is supported by funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Tropical North Queensland Drought Hub.

Lucy Gardner

Research Topic: Rapid Assessment of Mitchell Grass (Astrebla spp.) Tussock Density on Southern Gulf Rangelands Using High Resolution Drone Imagery and Machine Learning.


Academic Supervisor: Dr Jack Koci, Dr Ben Jarihani, Associate Professor Paul Nelson and Geoff Penton


Research Abstract


In rangeland production systems, accurate and consistent data on land condition is critical for decision-making to ensure long-term sustainability, productivity and profitability. In Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.) dominated rangelands of the Southern Gulf region in north-west Queensland, Australia, the amount and distribution of Mitchell grass tussocks is an important indicator of land condition. Current approaches involve subjective on-ground visual assessments which are limited to small spatial extents (< 1 ha).


The increasing accessibility of lightweight (< 2 kg) and low-cost (< AUD $3,000) drones, coupled with advances in image classification procedures utilising machine learning, is introducing more efficient and reliable quantification of pasture and other vegetation types at spatial scales (e.g., entire paddocks) relevant for rangeland management. Such approaches, however, have not been rigorously tested in Mitchell grass dominated rangelands.


The aim of this study is to develop and test an approach to rapidly quantify the amount and distribution of Mitchell grass in paddocks, using high-resolution drone imagery and machine learning.


Sites will be surveyed with a lightweight quadcopter drone that will collect images at a range of elevations (25 – 100 m above ground level) to determine the optimum ground sampling distance required to detect individual Mitchell grass tussocks. Images from each survey will be stitched together using structure-from-motion with multi-view stereo photogrammetry software, producing high-resolution ortho-photo mosaics. An open-source supervised machine learning model will then be used to train a neural network. The accuracy of the model in detecting individual Mitchell grass tussocks in the ortho-photo mosaics will be assessed.


The study will provide valuable new knowledge and understanding of drone survey methodologies and image classification procedures needed to reliably quantify Mitchell Grass tussock density and distribution, which can be utilised by graziers, natural resource management groups and other stakeholders involved land condition assessment and sustainable grazing land management.