PhD position: Unified spatial ecosystem models – the ecological angle (1.0 FTE)

PhD position: Unified spatial ecosystem models – the ecological angle (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
14 Feb 31 Mar Utrecht

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Would you like to do research on the effects that global change can have on the Earth, its system components and ecosystems?

Job description

There is an urgent need to understand the effects that global change can have on the Earth, its system components and ecosystems. One area of critical concern is the imminent abrupt and irreversible critical transitions of ecosystems through tipping points. Recent discoveries indicate that such tipping could be evaded and even reversed in ecosystems through spatial pattern formation, thereby creating pathways of resilience. For our ERC-Synergy project Pathways of resilience and evasion of tipping in ecosystems (RESILIENCE) we are offering a PhD position for a self-motivated candidate with a strong scientific background in the field of mathematics, ecology, environmental sciences or physics, preferably spanning two of the disciplines, and with excellent English language skills. It is possible to apply for more than one position at the same time.

The aim of RESILIENCE is to fundamentally advance our understanding and predictions of tipping points and critical transitions in ecosystems and reveal how these can be evaded and even reversed through spatial pattern formation. RESILIENCE will develop a new theory for emerging resilience through spatial pattern formation and link this with real tipping-prone biomes undergoing accelerating global change: savanna and tundra. The candidate will benefit from the expertise of the four Principal Investigators (PIs) in the RESILIENCE project: Max Rietkerk, an ecologist at Utrecht University, Arjen Doelman, a mathematician at Leiden University, Ehud Meron, a physicist at Ben-Gurion University, and Isla Meyers-Smith, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia.

In this PhD project Unified spatial ecosystem models – the ecological angle at Utrecht University, you will develop spatial ecosystem models addressing the following questions: Under which conditions and at what spatial scales do sharp or gradual spatial boundaries exist between tropical forests, savanna, savanna woodlands, and grasslands? And how is this for spatial boundaries between boreal forests, open tundra and tundra shrubland? How are those boundaries moving with respect to climate, herbivory and fire? Under which conditions do spatial patterns occur and through what ecological mechanisms? How does spatial patterning interact with fire behavior and ecosystem resilience? This will be done by a combination of simulations, mathematical bifurcation analyses and numerical continuation in one and two spatial dimensions, through a joint modelling approach, in collaboration with other PhD’s, postdocs and senior researchers from the different involved universities and especially in direct interaction with those involved in the closely related twin project Unified spatial ecosystem models – the mathematical angle.


Utrecht University


The ideal candidate has a background and proven interest in mathematics, physics, environmental sciences or ecology, preferably spanning two of those disciplines, programming skills (e.g. Matlab, Python) and a relevant Master's degree. The project is interdisciplinary and affinity with or interest in working in an interdisciplinary environment is important.

Conditions of employment

You will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. 

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


Utrecht University
A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. The faculty is located at Utrecht Science Park.

The position is embedded at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, in the Environmental Sciences group. The Copernicus Institute is the scientific institute for sustainability research and teaching of Utrecht University. The mission of the Environmental Sciences group is to understand the interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and global environmental change.


  • PhD
  • Natural sciences
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1205434



Princetonlaan 8a, 3584 CB, Utrecht

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