PhD Student “Small steps, giant leaps – How coastal landscapes are formed by spatially organizing plants”

The Department of Coastal Systems (COS, department head dr. ir. Henk W. van der Veer) is looking for a highly motivated PhD student with a strong interest in (marine) ecology and biogeomorphology, and the ability to combine and integrate empirical and theoretical work.

2018-10-17 14:39:00
VACANCY ID:          2018-077



Vegetated coastal ecosystems provide vital ecosystem services, including flood protection, water and carbon storage, and biodiversity enhancement. Over the last century, however, these ecosystems and their services rapidly declined, often due to anthropogenic disturbance.

Although there is wide consensus that these losses should be halted and reversed, declines continue while restoration has proven very difficult. An important cause is that self-sustaining feedbacks generated by habitat modification (ecosystem engineering) by the vegetation itself only work beyond a certain minimum vegetation patch size and density. Below these thresholds, unpredictable losses can occur, while (re-)establishment is hampered. Although patchiness is known to control engineering strength, it remains unknown how clonal plants spatially organize their shoots to form patches and optimize self-sustaining feedbacks, and how this affects coastal landscape dynamics.



In this project, you will investigate how plants optimize patch formation, and how different patch formation strategies affect the formation of coastal landscapes. Specifically, you will test the hypothesis that clonally expanding coastal plants follow a specific shoot placement strategy – a so-called “random walk” – in which the underlying step size distribution between shoots controls a trade-off between engineering strength and expansion rate.

You will focus on five species – two dune-building, two salt marsh and a seagrass species – that represent the entire temperate vegetated coastal gradient and exhibit contrasting expansion strategies. Your work will consist of a combination of field surveys, experiments, and computer modelling. The results will provide indicators for feedback-dependence of ecosystems, and allow harnessing of species-specific engineering and expansion capacities for their restoration.



We are seeking an enthusiastic candidate with a strong interest in (marine) ecology, with the ability to combine and integrate empirical (e.g. surveys and experiments) and theoretical (e.g. concept development and computer models) work. You must have an MSc degree (or equivalent) in ecology, biogeomorphology, or a related field. A multidisciplinary interest, the ability to work in a group, and a strong motivation to obtain a PhD degree are essential.



Employment of this position at Royal NIOZ is by NWO (The Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research). We offer a position for 4 (fulltime) years with an excellent salary, a pension scheme, a holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary, a year-end bonus, and flexible work arrangements. You may expect attractive secondary employment conditions. We offer generous relocation expenses for employees coming from abroad and support with finding accommodation. Our labour policies are based on the Dutch Collective Labour Agreement of Research Centers. 



Additional information on job details: prof. dr. ir. Tjisse van der Heide

For additional information on the procedure, please contact Sigrid Moerbeek (senior HR advisor).

For more information about the COS department click here.


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