Phd Position Faculty Of Geosciences – Biodiversity, Climate Action And Land-Use Change In African Grasslands (1.0 Fte)

Utrecht University


May 31, 2022


PhD position Faculty of Geosciences – Biodiversity, climate action and land-

use change in African 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 relationships. 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 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 information.

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 level.

Qualifications 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 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 position? Please contact: Mariska te Beest (Associate Professor), via 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 31/05/2022

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