PhD position Faculty of Geosciences – Biodiversity, climate action and land-
use change in African grasslands (1.0 FTE)
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
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 relationships. A detailed project description is available
This PhD position will be based at Utrecht University, The Netherlands and
executed in close collaboration with Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha,
South Africa. The position includes extensive fieldwork in South Africa.
A second PhD position is available within the same program. See here for more
Grasslands are among the least protected and most altered biomes on Earth,
where large-scale land-use changes such as conversion to agriculture, mining,
and afforestation have devastating consequences for biodiversity.
Afforestation, as an increasingly widespread climate change mitigation
strategy, is a rapidly growing threat. Yet, biodiverse grasslands can
critically contribute to climate change mitigation because they hold large,
secure, belowground carbon stocks. A specific feature of African ancient
grasslands is their high diversity of geophytes with large underground storage
organs (USOs) and perennial forbs, contributing strongly to belowground
carbon. Land-use, but also natural processes such as fire and grazing, affect
herbaceous plant diversity in ways we still poorly understand.
In this project, you will study biodiversity-carbon relationships across
existing land-use contrasts, such as varying grazing and fire regimes, across
the grassland biome in South Africa. You will measure plant diversity, with a
focus on grassland geophytes and forbs, and carbon stocks, contrasting ancient
versus secondary grasslands under different land‐use regimes. You will work
with a multitude of local landowners, ranging from commercial and communal
farmers to protected areas. You will assemble detailed historical land-use
records, such as historic afforestation, and combine temporal and spatial
patterns using GIS.
Key questions of the project include (1) How do land cover and land-use
changes affect interlinkages between biodiversity, fire and carbon storage in
Afromontane grasslands and (2) what is the importance of geophyte/forb
diversity for the persistence of the soil carbon sink in Afromontane
grasslands? This project ultimately aims to highlight synergies between
climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation actions and provide
key ecological understanding of biodiversity-carbon relationships at biome
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 €2,434 per month in the first
year and €3,111 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
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.
Would you like to know more about this position? Please contact: Mariska te
Beest (Associate Professor), via firstname.lastname@example.org of (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).
The application deadline is