Open Positions

URPP Global Change Biodiversity Open Positions

The University of Zurich (UZH) Research Priority Programme (URPP) on Global Change and Biodiversity (GCB) is an established interdisciplinary research program (http://www.gcb.uzh.ch). Biodiversity is both a response variable affected by global change drivers (land use change, climate change, invasions, exploitation, and pollution)  and a factor modifying ecosystem processes and services that are essential to human well-being. An improved capability to predict the consequences of changes in drivers will aid improved prediction of the state of the environment. The URPP GCB implements innovative avenues in this research domain by using a latitudinal gradient approach based on interactions, feedback and scale, to provide a more reliable and robust knowledge of global change processes.

We are looking for highly motivated, enthusiastic and independent applicants with a passion for science to join our research program. A high standard of written and spoken English is required. We offer outstanding working conditions, a high quality of life in Zurich, and an excellent support environment. The position start is as soon as a suitable candidate is found. Salaries correspond to the UZH regulations of PhD salaries. We invite applications for the following PhD positions:

Ref URPP-GCB-FA-17-01: Integrating environmental DNA (eDNA) and remote sensing to assess fundamental biodiversity and ecosystem processes.

We are looking for a motivated candidate, capable of integrating two emerging research fields, namely environmental DNA (eDNA)-based diversity assessments using high throughput sequencing (HTS) and remote-sensing based assessments of plant diversity and related carbon stocks and fluxes. We therefore invite applications for a PhD position integrating eDNA and remote sensing research to fundamentally assess biodiversity.

This project builds on recent advances in molecular and remote sensing techniques, creating novel opportunities to assess biodiversity in a unifying and scalable way. Individually, eDNA and remote sensing offer unprecedented temporal and spatial resolutions of biodiversity information. The goal of this PhD project is to develop and test an integration of both approaches in a set of well-defined natural ecosystems, to get unified measures of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. You will assess and link biodiversity and ecosystem processes in a series of well-defined test sites using eDNA and remote sensing with a focus on tree diversity, decomposer diversity, and carbon stocks and fluxes. The ultimate goal is to upscale and predict diversity at the landscape level.

The successful applicant will be based in Zurich and embedded in a supervisory team including Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt (http://homepages.eawag.ch/~altermfl/Home.html), and Prof. Dr. Michael Schaepman (http://www.geo.uzh.ch/geolean/en/department/entire-staff-list/?content=michaelschaepman). You will work in the Dep. of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental studies and the Dep. of Geography, and Eawag: The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. All of them host several research groups working on a variety of topics assessing the key drivers of global change and biodiversity.

To apply, all applicants must have a completed master’s degree in Ecology, Molecular Ecology, Geosciences or a closely related science field. Applicants must have previous laboratory and bioinformatics experience in eDNA or HTS approaches, and ideally should have some knowledge on spatial or remote-sensing based data analysis. Experience in programing and bioinformatics skills is an asset.

Please send your application (including position reference URPP-GCB-FA-17-01) as one single PDF file (motivation letter, complete CV, and names of 2 references) to isabel.schoechli@uzh.ch. Selection of candidates will begin 1 April 2017 and the position will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. For further questions, please contact florian.altermatt@ieu.uzh.ch or Michael.schaepman@geo.uzh.ch

Ref URPP-GCB-GSS-17-01: Feedbacks between biodiversity and climate through plant traits and light interaction.

We are looking for a motivated candidate, willing to perform highly interdisciplinary research. We therefore invite applications for a PhD position on the following topic: the forecast for biodiversity under climate change requires understanding of biological mechanisms and their interaction with climate through carbon and energy fluxes. In this project, we will investigate functional traits related to the light environment, at intra-specifc, inter-specific and community scale. We will investigate constraints within the trait-space and how these constraints regulate the interaction of light with vegetation. Finally, we will experimentally test how light-related traits change under a global change driver (i.e. drought) and how these changes feed back to the atmosphere in the Arctic tundra.

The successful applicant will be based in Zurich and embedded in a supervisory team including Gabriela Schaepman-Strub (http://www.ieu.uzh.ch/en/staff/member/schaepman_strub_gabriela.html), Pascal Niklaus (http://www.ieu.uzh.ch/en/staff/leaders/niklaus.html), and Bernhard Schmid (http://www.ieu.uzh.ch/en/staff/member/schmid_bernhard.html). You will work in the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies which hosts several research groups working on a variety of topics assessing the key drivers of global change and biodiversity.

To apply, all applicants must have a completed Master’s degree in Environmental Science, Geography, Biology, Ecology or a closely related science field. Applicants must be ready to perform field work in the Siberian tundra at very low living standard and be highly motivated to design and run statistical analysis and apply a physics-based model. Experience in statistical analysis, trait analysis, and a background in radiative transfer theory and modelling are an asset. A high standard of written and spoken English is required. The position can start as soon as a suitable candidate is found. Salaries correspond to the UZH regulations of PhD salaries.

Please send your application (including position reference URPP-GCB-GSS-17-01) as one single PDF file (motivation letter, complete CV, and names of 2 references) to isabel.schoechli@uzh.ch. Selection of candidates will begin 1 May 2017 and the position will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. For further questions, please contact gabriela.schaepman@ieu.uzh.ch.

Ref URPP-GCB-MES-17-02: Remote sensing of genetically relevant forest traits

We are looking for a motivated candidate, capable of doing research at the disciplinary boundaries of geoecology, genetics and remote sensing. We therefore invite applications for a PhD position in remote sensing of genetically relevant forest traits.

This project will link remotely sensed trait information of forests across a range of forested test sites (ranging from boreal over temperate to tropical) to phylogenies and genetic structure to infer partial taxonomies of regional communities. Remote sensing technologies to be used include imaging spectroscopy and laser scanning across a range of scales.

The successful applicant will be based in Zurich and embedded in a supervisory team including Michael Schaepman (http://www.geo.uzh.ch/geolean/en/department/entire-staff-list/?content=michaelschaepman), and Felix Morsdorf (http://www.geo.uzh.ch/geolean/en/department/entire-staff-list/?content=felixmorsdorf) You will work in the Department of Geography, which hosts several research groups working on a variety of topics assessing the key drivers of global change and biodiversity.

To apply, all applicants must have a completed master’s degree in environmental science, geoecology, remote sensing or a closely related science field. Applicants must be able to work with statistical tools and scripting languages (i.e. Python, Matlab, R). Experience in doing lab work (e.g. HPLC, microsatellites) is an asset.

Please send your application (including position reference URPP-GCB-MES-17-02) as one single PDF file (motivation letter, complete CV, and names of 2 references) to isabell.schoechli@uzh.ch Selection of candidates will begin 1 April 2017 and the position will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. For further questions, please contact michael.schaepman@geo.uzh.ch or felix.morsdorf@geo.uzh.ch.


Ref URPP-GCB-MS-17-01: Earth System Science / Biogeochemistry

We are looking for a motivated candidate, capable of biogeochemical analysis of leaf pigments with liquid chromatography, and measuring spectral traits of leaf and canopy using spectrometers, and relating both parameters mathematically. We therefore invite applications for a PhD position in Earth System Science / Biogeochemistry on biogeochemcial validation of remotely sensed plant traits.

The aim of the project is to develop a novel approach, which will allow us to use remotely sensed spectral information to infer leaf traits on a watershed scale. Relationships between chemical composition of leaf pigments and remotely sensed spectral traits are based on classical data from more than two decades ago. Technologies have progressed, resolution of biogeochemical analytics has increased, remote sensing detectors have improved, but these classical data and relationships have not yet been updated. In the proposed project, we plan to first, measure the spectral data (e.g., hemispherical, conical) of leaf and canopy traits in the field, second describe and identify individual leaf pigments using liquid chromatography coupled to light detectors, and then establish relationships between the two based on their absorption spectra.

The successful applicant will be based in Zurich and embedded in a supervisory team including Michael Schmidt, Guido Wiesenberg and Michael Schaepman. You will work in the Department of Geography, which hosts several research groups working on a variety of topics assessing the key drivers of global change and biodiversity (www.geo.uzh.ch).

To apply, all applicants must have a completed master’s degree in biogeochemistry or a related discipline, such as physical geography, geoecology, environmental sciences, geology, and preferably some work experience in field and geochemical analytical methods. A driving license is beneficial.

Please send your application (including position reference URPP-GCB-MS-17-01) as one single PDF file (motivation letter, complete CV, and names of 2 references) to Michael.Schmidt@geo.uzh.ch. Selection of candidates will begin 1 April 2017 and the position will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. For further questions, please contact Michael Schmidt.

Ref URPP-GCB-OP-17-01: Ecological forecasting.

One of the most pressing challenges facing biodiversity science is to make and deliver local, regional, and global forecasts across scales of ecological organisation. Such forecasts can assist decision making, and drive fundamental research about the patterns and processes structuring biodiversity. Altered environmental conditions, include those driven by global change, further motivate biodiversity forecasting research. This project will use diverse data sources from URPP GCB test sites and infrastructures, and analytical tools to explore and advance the current limits of biodiversity forecasting through time, space, and environmental conditions.

The successful applicant will be based in Zurich in the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, and be supervised by Owen Petchey, Jordi Bascompte, Florian Altermatt, and other project associates.

To apply, all applicants must have a completed master’s degree in ecology, environmental sciences or a closely related science field. Experience in working with existing diverse datasets, in conducting experimental work, and in data analysis (ideally time series analysis) will be an asset.

Please send your application (including position reference URPP-GCB-OP-17-01) as one single PDF file (motivation letter, complete CV, and names of 2 references) to Owen Petchey (owen.petchey@ieu.uzh.ch).

Ref DEEP C - MS-17-01: DEEP C - Deep soil carbon cycling in a warming world – the molecular perspective


We invite applications for two PhD projects in our group working on "Terrestrial carbon cycle and global change". We seek to understand the influence of anthropogenic environmental change, such as increasing temperature on the terrestrial carbon cycle including turnover of soil organic matter. Understanding soil organic matter dynamics is critical to understand agricultural, and forestry environments, and their role in the global carbon cycle. Along with global change, temperatures will increase. The warming of planet Earth will be accelerated if soil organic matter is lost to the atmosphere as greenhouse gas.

Representations of this positive carbon-cycle-climate feedback are part of many climate projections, but there is little experimental evidence for several reasons: i) Research has focused on rapid processes (measuring respiration, and quantifying mass loss on decomposition), and not on the analytically more challenging, insights into the physico-chemical properties of soil organic matter that influences the rates of these processes, especially over longer-term. ii) Analytical efforts have focused on bulk measurement, and only recently on functionally different organic matter pools (density, and size fractions) or sources (plant vs. microbial). iii) Experimental efforts have favored laboratory incubations (often using disturbed soil), with relatively short time scales (weeks to months) over long-term (years and longer) in situ field experiments. iv) The first generation of field experiments mostly used surface warming, which did not warm the subsoil, thus missing a large part of the total SOM (Schmidt, Torn et al. 2011, Nature 478, 49-56; Torn et al. 2015, Soil 1, 575-582). The project takes advantage of already functional multi-year deep soil warming field experiments (e.g. Hick Pries et al. 2017, Science 355, 1420-1423). These sites represent three biomes: Mediterranean grassland, Temperate forest, and Boreal forested peat. We will use the rapidly evolving methodological development of isotopic labeling and molecular markers (Jansen & Wiesenberg, 2017, Soil Discussions, doi:10.5194/soil-2017-9) to “look inside the soil to resolve such dynamics as root-microbial-mineral interactions” (Bradford et. al. 2016, Nat. Clim. Chang. 6, 751-758).

For the first time, we will combine multi-year, deep soil warming, molecular markers and isotopic labeling in functionally different soil organic matter pools, to explore how the soil-plant system responds to a +4°C warmer world. We will find out if allocation between above and belowground plant biomass will change. And if deeper in the soil profile, new mineral sorption sites will be filled, potentially stabilizing soil organic matter for longer. Will warming favor bacteria over fungi and consequently the build-up of bacterial necromass deeper in the profile? Ultimately, we want to integrate our results into the next generation of vertically-resolved SOC models as tools for understanding and predicting soil biogeochemical response to global change. This project on belowground carbon cycling is aimed to answer and provide insights into the fundamental question: What will the role of soils be in terrestrial feedbacks to warming over the next 100–300 years?

The ideal candidate will be experienced in experimental work, interested in operating high- end equipment in the lab, able to analyze comprehensive datasets, and will be a good team player. Responsibilities include supervision of students, presentations of results at conferences and publication in international refereed journals. Requirements include a MSc-degree in soil biogeochemistry or a related discipline, such as physical geography, geoecology, environmental sciences, food chemistry, and work experience in analytical methods. Good knowledge of English as working language is essential. A driving license is beneficial. Start upon mutual agreement. More information on our research group can be found at www.geo.uzh.ch/phys. For further details contact Prof. Dr. Michael W. I. Schmidt (michael.schmidt@geo.uzh.ch). Send a letter of application, CV, a statement of your motivation and your research interests and addresses of two potential referees (e.g. former advisers) to him as single pdf-file. Evaluation will start in May 2017 and will continue until positions are filled.