PhD Position in Spatial Data of Savanna Community Assembly

PhD Position in Spatial Data of Savanna Community Assembly

Published Deadline Location
31 Jan 20 Mar Utrecht

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Do you want to contribute to research that will advance our understanding of tipping points and critical transitions in ecosystems? Apply now!

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.

Your job
For our ERC-Synergy project Pathways of resilience and evasion of tipping in ecosystems (RESILIENCE), Utrecht University offers a PhD position for a self-motivated candidate with a strong interest in tipping points, especially in the savanna.

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 Spatial data of savanna community assembly at Utrecht University, you will analyse long-term spatial-temporal monitoring data of transects from African forests towards open savannas, made available through existing collaboration networks. You will collect additional vegetation data along stress gradients, for which we will have analysed long-term dynamics and spatial patterns. This is to test the hypothesis that community re-assembly along with spatial pattern formation may contribute to evasion of forest-savanna-woodland tipping. We will use a joint approach, in close collaboration and direct interaction with other PhD candidates, postdocs and (senior) researchers from the different involved universities.


Utrecht University


We are looking for a PhD candidate with:
  • a relevant Master's degree and a strong scientific background in the field of mathematics, ecology, biology, environmental sciences or physics, preferably spanning two of the disciplines;
  • excellent English language skills;
  • experience with field work, data collection and spatial data analysis;
  • programming skills (e.g. Matlab, Python).

The project is interdisciplinary and affinity with or interest in working in an interdisciplinary environment is important.

Conditions of employment

  • a position for one year, with an extension to a total of four years upon successful assessment;
  • a working week of 38 hours and a gross monthly salary between €2,770 and €3,539 in the case of full-time employment (salary scale P under the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU);
  • 8% holiday pay and 8.3% year-end bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave and flexible terms of employment based on the CAO NU.

In addition to the terms of employment laid down in the CAO NU, Utrecht University has a number of schemes and facilities of its own for employees. This includes schemes facilitating professional development, leave schemes and schemes for sports and cultural activities, as well as discounts on software and other IT products. We also offer access to additional employee benefits through our Terms of Employment Options Model. In this way, we encourage our employees to continue to invest in their growth. For more information, please visit Working at Utrecht University.


Universiteit Utrecht

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 Pathways to Sustainability. Shaping science, sharing tomorrow.

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 Sustainable Development.

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


  • PhD; Research, development, innovation; Education
  • Natural sciences
  • 36—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 3558



Princetonlaan 8a, 3584CB, Utrecht

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