GRDC – Snail Biology PhD Scholarship

In Australia, four snail species of European-Mediterranean descent have become entrenched as major agricultural pests, specifically targeting grain crops. These species include the common white snail (Cernuella virgata), the white Italian snail (Theba pisana), the conical snail (Cochlicella acuta), and the small pointed snail (C. barbara). Their presence becomes particularly problematic during the spring when they ascend crop plants, leading to significant contamination of the grain harvest. This not only incurs substantial costs in terms of harvest modifications and machinery damage but also results in economic losses due to grain value downgrades and receival rejections, posing a threat to market access for the industry. Calcium, vital for snail growth, reproduction, and shell construction, is at the heart of concerns among growers, especially regarding the practice of liming, which adds accessible calcium to the soil. Observations suggest that snail populations may flourish following lime application, prompting some farmers to reconsider their liming programs. However, omitting lime has its drawbacks, notably the unchecked acidification of soil, which compromises crop yield. Presently, there's a noticeable gap in our understanding of the calcium requirements for these pest snails, both locally and globally. This project seeks to fill that gap by delineating their specific calcium needs across different life stages, assessing how calcium availability influences their behaviour, and identifying any local adaptations. We aim to Investigate novel approaches that may limit or block calcium absorption in snails as a proof-of-concept, to curb snail damage and economic fallout. By investigating the role of calcium in the life cycles of these pests—examining its effects on growth, shell development, reproductive abilities, and behavioural changes through controlled experiments—we aim to provide actionable insights. This could potentially include leveraging lime applications in a way that disrupts the physiological development essential for their survival, thereby offering a novel approach to pest control in grain production. The successful applicant will be based at Murdoch University within the Centre of Sustainable Farming System (Entomology groups), who will access the state-of-the-art facilities in Murdoch. 
Murdoch University and the GRDC
Duration of Award:
3 or 4 years
Level of study:
  • Research
Study Area:
  • Science


  1. Applicants must meet the requirements of Murdoch University’s Graduate Research Office to be eligible (first or upper second-class Honours degree, Masters degree by research, or equivalent).
  2. A research thesis component in a relevant entomology, ecology, environmental or agricultural science.
  3. Demonstrated and well-developed interpersonal skills to communicate both with the interdisciplinary and collegial team, and with public and professional representatives.
  4. Demonstrated high levels of written and oral communication in English, and can demonstrate adaptability to rapidly changing communication and technology needs.
  5. Ability to obtain an Australian Drivers licence.
Ability to conduct research in the laboratory and in the field.

How to Apply

Please provide the following items to the contact listed below:

  • A cover letter (maximum of 2 pages) outlining your interest in the project and potential research questions you might like to address.
  • Current CV.
  • Academic transcripts.
  • Contact information of two references.

Selected applicants will be invited to attend an interview.

The selected applicant must be able to commence no later than July 2024.

Contact Dr Wei Xu for further information -

Payment Method

Fortnightly stipend payments directly to recipient’s nominated bank account.

Stipend is $33,000 per year for a period of 3.5 years.

Operating costs (consumables, field travel, experimental costs) of $5,000 per year for a period of 3.0 years.