PhD Position in Contribution of Neophyte Species to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning

Catholic University of Leuven

The sGlobe lab is part of the division Forest, Nature and Landscape of the KU Leuven. We aim to improve our understanding of the effects of global change on biodiversity and the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. We combine big data with state-of-the-art modelling techniques, fieldwork and drone imagery to extract patterns and answer ecological questions on large spatial scales. One of our key research areas is to develop global change-robust solutions for the biodiversity crisis. More information? See


Accelerating climate change is moving ecosystems rapidly beyond the bounds of historical variability. Many of the traditional conservation approaches trying to maintain a status quo are no longer effective. Rather than resisting change, we need to guide transforming ecosystems towards preferred ecological outcomes. Assisted migration, the active translocation of species to mimic range expansion under climate change, is a widely proposed adaptive management strategy. But it is also controversial, as it disrupts long-held views on biological conservation. Focusing on risks and ignoring benefits has hampered scientific research on assisted migration and halted necessary conservation innovation. Yet, the costs of inaction are too high and time is running out. In FUTURENATURE, we will approach the assisted migration of plant species from an innovative functional perspective, shifting the focus from minimising the impact of translocated species to maximising their contribution to the functioning of novel communities. We will advance our understanding of how assisted migration can safeguard functioning ecosystems by combining the wealth of large observational databases, state-of-the-art joint species distribution models and a cutting-edge climate change experiment.


We will hire a PhD student for the FUTURENATURE project. The successful candidate will closely collaborate with a second PhD student, a postdoctoral researcher and the project PI, prof. Koenraad Van Meerbeek. This position will investigate the role of non-invasive neophyte species in the functioning of natural ecosystems. The functioning of these non-invasive alien plant species has remained under the radar of scientific research for a long time. However, the number of non-invasive neophytes is far greater than their invasive counterparts. They could even be forerunners of novel plant communities: They are better adapted to climate change than native species and can make an important contribution to ecosystem functioning because of their specific trait values. Based on a smart combination of fieldwork, large databases and state-of-the-art modelling techniques, the successful candidate will learn from past translocations to inform future assisted migration programs. With the knowledge gained, we will be able to shape ecosystems capable of withstanding climate change and maintaining their functions under changing conditions.
General profile of the candidate
  • You hold an MSc degree in a relevant field (Bioscience Engineering, Biology, Environmental Sciences, Physical geography or related fields) or you will have obtained it by the time you start working
  • You can demonstrate excellent study results
  • You have a passion for nature and biodiversity
  • You have a background in terrestrial ecology and ecological modelling
  • You have knowledge of programming languages such as R or python. Knowledge of spatial data analyses is a plus
  • You are fluent in English, both written and oral
  • You are a team player with good communication skills


  • A full-time PhD fellowship (4 years) following a positive evaluation after one year
  • Starting date: November 2023
  • The successful candidate will be based at the division Forest, Nature and Landscape in Leuven (Belgium)
  • Your monthly scholarship amount is calculated according to the scholarship amounts for doctoral scholarship holders on the pay scales for assistants
  • You will receive eco-cheques, a bicycle and a bicycle allowance or a full reimbursement of public transport costs for commuting. See here ( for full benefits including holidays and bonuses
  • Collaboration in a young and dynamic international scientific team. A healthy life-work balance is important for us


The application must be in English and include a motivation letter and a CV (including a copy of your Master’s degree diploma, if already obtained).
Application deadline: 8th of June 2023 | Notification of selection for interview: Mid of June 2023 | Interviews (online): End of June 2023
For more information please contact Prof. dr. Koenraad Van Meerbeek, mail:
You can apply for this job no later than June 08, 2023 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: June 8, 2023
  • Tags: Aard- en Omgevingswetenschappen
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