PhD position Faculty of Geosciences – The effects of warming and fire on biodiversity and carbon storage in Afromontane grasslands (1.0 FTE)

Updated: about 1 month ago

PhD position Faculty of Geosciences – The effects of warming and fire on biodiversity and carbon storage in Afromontane grasslands (1.0 FTE)

Job description

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated PhD candidate with a background in ecology and/or environmental sciences and an interest in the relations between plant diversity, ecosystem carbon dynamics, climate change and land-use.

The PhD position is part of the new research program Biodiversity, fire and carbon storage in Afromontane grasslands financed by the Dutch Research Council NWO in the form of a Vidi grant to Dr. Mariska te Beest. The overall objective of this program is to better understand the importance of biodiversity for carbon storage in Afromontane grasslands and the ways ongoing climate and land‐use changes, including changes in fire regimes, affect biodiversity-carbon relations. A detailed project description is available upon request.

This PhD position will be based at Utrecht University, The Netherlands and executed in close collaboration with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)  in Pietermaritzburg. The position includes extensive fieldwork in South Africa.

A second PhD position is available within the same program. See here for more information.


Project description

Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest challenges of our time and they are intricately linked. While climate change is affecting ecosystems and eroding biodiversity, biodiversity may importantly mitigate climate change by shaping the carbon storage potential of ecosystems.

In this project, you will use ecological field experiments and natural contrasts to study the interlinkages between biodiversity, fire and carbon storage in ancient Afromontane grasslands. You will be working at the long-term ecological research (LTER) site at Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa. You will have access to a 40-year fire manipulation experiment where, in 2017, we were among the first to establish passive open-top warming chambers in an African ecosystem to study the effect of climate warming on grassland vegetation.

Key questions of the project include (1) how do climate warming and fire interactively affect productivity‐diversity relationships and plant functional trait diversity and (2) how do these interlinkages affect soil carbon storage? The project ultimately aims to develop knowledge to guide initiatives to preserve and restore biodiverse and climate-resilient grasslands.


You have a MSc degree in a relevant topic such as Ecology or Environmental Sciences or similar. Although based at the main host, Utrecht University, you are willing to spend long periods conducting extensive fieldwork under sometimes challenging circumstances in South Africa. You have an affinity with field ecology and plant species identification. Detailed knowledge of and experience with the South African study systems and plant diversity will count as strong merits. You are able to communicate well and to work in a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, but also independently, especially during the extensive fieldwork periods. You are fluent in spoken and written English and have a valid driver’s license. Documented skills in GIS and statistical modelling, particularly in R, and experience in writing and publishing scientific papers are strong merits. 


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 €2,443 per month in the first year and €3,122 per month in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) for full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year, see working at the university for more information . 

About the organization

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

The Faculty of Geosciences offers education and research concerning the geosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and anthroposphere. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised into four departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. The PhD projects will be undertaken within the Copernicus Institute.

The Copernicus Institute investigates processes and opportunities for innovative change towards sustainability. This transformation is a multidisciplinary process requiring a variety of disciplines. The Copernicus Institute offers a unique multidisciplinary environment in this complex field. The Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development is embedded in the Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University and consists of five research groups (sections): Innovation Studies, Environmental Governance, Environmental Sciences, Energy and Resources, and the Utrecht Futures Studio. These groups function as primary organizational units for education and research. The PhD will be embedded in the Environmental Sciences group.

The mission of the Environmental Science group is to understand the interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and global environmental changes. Our research broadly covers the following themes: Biogeochemical cycles, Interactions and feedbacks over time and space, and Integrated assessment. The PhDs will be embedded in the Environmental Sciences group.

Additional information Would you like to know more about this function? Please contact: Mariska te Beest (Associate Professor), via or (030) 2532500

Everyone deserves to feel at home at our universities. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. We especially encourage applicants with an in-depth understanding of South African ecosystems. To apply, please send your curriculum vitae and a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button below. Applications should include the names of at least two academic references (with e-mail addresses and phone numbers).

Acquisition in response to this vacancy is not appreciated.

The application deadline is 31/05/2022
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