PhD Position in Land-Use Effects on The Functioning of Anthropogenically-Dominated Landscapes

University of Zurich Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

PhD Position in Land-Use Effects on The Functioning of Anthropogenically-Dominated Landscapes


100 %

Within the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 847585, University of Zurich is offering a 36-month PhD position for an early-stage researcher (ESR) in the area of sustainable land-use decisions.

Job Description

We are looking for a PhD student to investigate landscape-level diversity effects. Research of the past decades has made clear that ecosystems provide services to humans that are of enormous economic value. At the same time, experiments have shown that biodiversity matters for ecosystem functioning. However, this evidence stems from relatively small and artificial setups. It thus currently remains unclear whether the mechanisms identified also operate in real-world ecosystems and to which extent their functioning is threatened by land-use changes and biodiversity loss.

The successful candidate will analyze diversity-functioning relationships at the landscape scale. The analysis will span sites in a range of biomes that are distributed around the globe, and make use of existing ground-based and remotely-sensed data on the diversity of ecosystems and their functioning. The broader objective of the study is to evaluate how mechanisms change with scale, and whether and how biodiversity matters for the functioning of ecosystems in the "real world".

A planned secondment of 3 months at the "Swiss Biodiversity Forum" in Berne (Switzerland) is part of this project. During this secondment, the ESR will evaluate how landscape structure and planning could be leveraged to improve landscape-wide ecosystem functioning. For this part of the work, the ESR will closely work with Swiss stakeholders and with scientists at the "Forum". One anticipated outcome of the secondment is a fact sheet that will be published on the Forum's web site and that will inform stakeholder and policymakers and the importance of diversity in large landscapes.

Interested / Your Profile

Applicants should have a background in ecology, biology, environmental sciences, or a closely related discipline. The project includes the handling and statistical analysis of large amounts of data from satellite-remote sensing and from other sources; although training will be provided, prior experience in statistical data analysis, the processing of large data sets, or in programming (preferably in Python or C++) are an asset. Familiarity with ecological theory also in important. A high standard of written and spoken English is essential.

Eligibility: Early stage researcher in the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers, including the period of research training, starting at the date of obtaining the degree which would formally entitle them to embark on a doctorate either in the country in which the degree was obtained or in the country in which the initial training activities are provided.

At the time of recruitment (December 1, 2020) by the host organisation, researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Switzerland for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the reference date. Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays are not taken into account.

Language requirement: English / Proficient oral and written English skills are expected. German is desirable, in particular for the secondment.

Main Research Field: Ecology
Sub Research Field: Biodiversity sciences

RESPONSE is open to applicants of any nationality.


We are offering an interesting position at the interface of science and policy. The successful candidate will be based at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. The PhD project also is part of the large interdisciplinary research priority programme "Global Change and Biodiversity" of the University of Zurich. The programme offers exciting opportunities for training and interactions with other researchers, both within and across disciplines. The PhD candidate will jointly be supervised by Pascal Niklaus and Eva Spehn at the Swiss Biodiversity Forum.

The complete 36 months will be under a 100 % working contract. An extension of 12 month is anticipated.

The PhD salary follows the regulations of University of Zurich and will be according to EU regulations for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early Stage Researchers. The monthly gross salary will not be lower than CHF 3920.

The successful candidate will be matriculated and will have a working contract at University of Zurich. He/she will work in Switzerland. The secondment will take place at the Swiss Biodiversity Forum in Berne (1 hour by train from Zurich).

Further information:
RESPONSE Doctoral Programme: «RESPONSE - to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences» is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 847585. RESPONSE DP builds on the academic expertise of three world-leading institutions - ETH Zurich, University of Zurich and University of Basel. The successful candidate will be integrated in the research network and infrastructure of the internationally renowned competence center Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center.

All RESPONSE ESRs will follow the PSC PhD Program Science and Policy that is unique in its kind. Through the curriculum of this program, ESR will be trained in the communication of scientific evidence to policy-makers and the public; the involvement of different stakeholder groups as well as in policy development and endorsement in Europe and at global scale.

For project, programme and application details, see the RESPONSE DP webpage

Working Location

University of Zurich, Irchel Campus, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Starting Date and Application

Expected starting date of the working contract: 01.01.2021

For submitting your online application: Application Portal LSZGS(select PhD program Science and Policy). The online application should contain all information as indicated by the application portal. Moreover, the following documents have to be uploaded under "further documents": 1) a letter of motivation to join a) the RESPONSE doctoral programme and b) to apply for this specific position (ESR 19), 2) a comprehensive tabular CV, and 3) transcripts of records. If you apply for more than one RESPONSE position, please refer to them in your letter of motivation. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

For further information: Prof. Pascal Niklaus

Apply now