Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD scholarship to examine past human-environment interactions on Ahuahu Great Mercury Island, Coromandel, Aotearoa.

Indigenous societies have often developed unique ways of sustaining ecological complexity. In Aotearoa, Polynesians arrived in the 13th century with a set of commensal plants and animals and a view of the natural world adapted to small, tropical and sub-tropical islands. Guided by foundational Polynesian principles, Māori learned to live in Aotearoa’s fundamentally different environment, developing unique kaitiakitanga (values, principles, and practices of guardianship) and tikanga (customary practices).

Our transdisciplinary project is investigating how Māori drew on the knowledge of the founding Polynesian ancestors and developed unique perspectives and practices in response to intimate experiences in and interactions with the Ahuahu Great Mercury Island landscape. Horticultural development and processes of niche construction are foci of the project. Palaeo-environmental and archaeological data will be integrated with modelling of Māori tikanga and kaitiakitanga and social-ecological systems.

As part of our research team, you will contribute to understanding complex human-environment interactions and the emergence of organizational strategies associated with sustainability and resiliency.


This scholarship is open to anyone who can be in New Zealand and meets the requirements to enrol in a PhD at the relevant institution.

Nau mai, haere mai! Applicants from a diverse range of fields are welcome, with experience in any one or more of the following advantageous: Mātauranga Māori; archaeological ecodynamics; geoarchaeology; paleoenvironmental reconstruction; and analytical and statistical approaches used to identify the nature and causes of environmental change.

The successful candidate will hold, or expect to complete soon, an honours or masters degree, or similar, in a relevant discipline, including anthropology, archaeology, environmental science, geography, Māori studies, or mathematical modelling.

We encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply and we especially encourage applications from Māori and Pasifika students. Our research group aims to achieve work-life balance within a productive scientific environment.


Ideally you will be based in Auckland at the University of Auckland, although the University of Canterbury in Christchurch or the University of Otago in Dunedin may also be options. You will be jointly supervised by Professor Thegn Ladefoged (University of Auckland), and depending on your skills and focus, Dr Matiu Prebble (University of Canterbury), Dr Rebecca Phillipps (University of Auckland), Professor Melinda Allen (University of Auckland), Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi (Otago University), Associate Professor Paul Augustinus (University of Auckland), and Dr Dion O’Neale (University of Auckland).

You will be part of Te Pūnaha Matatini, the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems. Te Pūnaha Matatini brings together different disciplines, ways of thinking, methods, and people to define and solve society’s thorny interconnected problems.

Te Pūnaha Matatini has an active whānau group which supports early career researchers, committed to the Te Pūnaha Matatini values of manaakitanga and whakawhanaungatanga, offering supportive tuakana / teina learning environments.


Please get in touch if you have pātai about this position.

Financial details

  • Full tuition fees
  • Stipend of NZ$28,500 per year (tax free)

Start date

Start date is flexible but would preferably be between January and June 2022.

How to apply

Interested candidates should send an email expressing their interest, along with a CV, academic record, and list of three potential referees to Thegn Ladefoged at

Due date

Applications will be considered until the position is filled. Applications received by Tuesday 1 February will receive full consideration.