PhD position: Infectious diseases in a changing world: combining experimental data with eco-epidemiological models to understand the dynamics of parasite invasions under climate change

This vacancy is the result of the collaboration between Utrecht University and NIOZ. The Department of Coastal Systems (COS) at NIOZ (Texel) is looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated PhD candidate holding a MSc degree in ecology, biology, zoology, parasitology, epidemiology, veterinary medicine, environmental sciences, or a relevant related field.

2021-09-30 23:56:14

VACANCY ID:              2021-54
CLOSING DATE          October 31st , 2021.


Sharing science, shaping tomorrow. This ambition 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 Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine has a unique position in the Netherlands. Not only is this the only institution where veterinarians are trained, researchers are also working together on innovative scientific research in the areas of One Health, One Medicine and Veterinary Biomedicine. In addition, the faculty provides specialist clinical care in the largest academic veterinary hospital in Europe. Attention to disease, health and welfare of the animals and their environment are the basis of the three pillars of the faculty: education, research, and patient care. The faculty has approximately 900 scientists and support staff and counts 1.500 students.

NIOZ is the national oceanographic institute and principally performs academically excellent multidisciplinary fundamental and frontier applied marine research addressing important scientific and societal questions pertinent to the functioning of oceans and seas. Second, NIOZ serves as national marine research facilitator (NMF) for The Netherlands scientific community. Third, NIOZ stimulates and supports multidisciplinary fundamental and frontier applied marine research, education and marine policy development in the national and international context.

The department of COS studies integral coastal ecosystems and their populations of fish, birds, and other marine animals in the North Sea and Wadden Sea as well as on a global scale. The department focuses on key physical, chemical and biological processes that determine the productivity and the ecological functioning of coastal areas. The coastal system is studied as a unity by considering the interrelations between the key compartments of the ecosystem (water, sediment, microalgae, macro zoobenthos, parasites, fish and birds).

It is increasingly recognized that human actions can affect the emergence and epidemiological dynamics of pathogens and parasites in ecosystems and identifying the underlying mechanisms is essential if we are to understand future emergence of infectious diseases in humans as well as in wildlife. Progress in understanding this complex topic demands the study of well-defined disease systems for which empirical and experimental knowledge can be obtained to constrain and test eco-epidemiological models addressing the complexity of ecological and epidemiological processes and their interactions.

This PhD project will follow this approach and combine existing and new experimental data with eco-epidemiological models to understand the dynamics of parasite invasions and the underlying ecological interactions in an ecosystem under climate change. Biological invasions are among the most pervasive anthropogenic stressors as they can change the structure and balance of invaded ecosystems in a variety of ways. These include the co-introduction of novel parasites, as well as affecting infectious disease agents already present. In some cases, co-introduced parasites can also infect native species (parasite spillover) and lead to emerging diseases. The resulting dynamics are likely mediated by climate change, another pervasive anthropogenic stressor, as disease dynamics are commonly affected by temperature, for example by modifying the production of infective stages, the susceptibility of hosts to infection or the impact of infections on host fitness.

The model system we focus on is the invasive parasitic copepod Mytilicola orientalis and related native species. The invasive parasite has been co-introduced with Pacific oysters to Europe and has spilled over to native hosts, in particular the blue mussel. As controlled experimental infections in the lab are possible, this makes this system ideal to study the interplay between climate change and parasite invasions and ecological interactions.

The overall aim of this interdisciplinary PhD project is to investigate the effect of climate change on the population dynamics of this prominent marine invasive parasite and its related native species following two objectives: 1) to experimentally determine the effects of temperature on key processes in the parasite-host interaction and 2) to mechanistically understand observed population dynamics of the parasites and to predict future changes using eco-epidemiological models.

The PhD project will be supervised by a multidisciplinary research team, consisting of two PIs and several national and international collaborators, with complementary expertise in empirical disease/parasite ecology and theoretical epidemiology.


We are looking for someone who is enthusiastic and highly motivated and holds a MSc degree in ecology, biology, zoology, parasitology, epidemiology, veterinary medicine, environmental sciences, or a relevant related field. You will be both excited and capable to take up the challenge of combining empirical and theoretical approaches to make full use of the interdisciplinary nature of the project. A documented interest in, for example, disease ecology, epidemiology, theoretical biology, climate change impacts or invasion biology would be a plus. Previous experience with experimental designs and epidemiological or ecological modelling, and in programming languages such as R, Python or Matlab, are clear assets. However, most important will be a strong general enthusiasm for research, a desire and ability to work and think both practically and abstractly, the motivation to learn new things, and the ability to work independently while being an active member of a multidisciplinary, international research team. You will be based at NIOZ Texel, with regular visits to Utrecht University, and joint meetings with the national and international collaborators in the project team. Excellent communication skills in written and verbal English are a prerequisite.

We highly encourage applicants from all members of our community and of diverse background, including LGBTIQ+ communities, to join us.


Employment of this position at Royal NIOZ is by NWO (The Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research). We offer a position for a period of 1 year (fulltime). At the end of this first year, the employment will be extended for a fixed-term of a maximum of 4 years, if the first year evaluation held with the employee is positive. The salary is compliant to the CAO-OI (Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Research Institutes), a pension scheme, a holiday allowance of 8% of the gross annual salary, a year-end bonus of 8,3%, flexible work arrangements and arrangements and 42 days of holiday leave (fulltime position).

You may expect attractive secondary employment conditions. We offer generous relocation expenses for employees coming from abroad and support with finding accommodation.

For additional information about this vacancy, please contact David Thieltges or Hans Heesterbeek For additional information about the procedure, please contact Sigrid Moerbeek (senior HR advisor).

For more information about the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University see here; for more information about the Department of Coastal Systems (COS) at NIOZ (Texel), see here.

Find more information about the UU-NIOZ projects here.

Interviews will be held online (Microsoft Teams) in week 46 or 47


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