PhD Student “Individual-based modelling to study the effect of retreating sea ice on arctic seals” 

We are looking for an excellent, highly motivated PhD student with a keen interest in quantitative ecology and seals. The PhD student will be working in a multidisciplinary research project at the NIOZ department of Coastal Systems, Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management (AEW, Wageningen University), the Arctic centre (University of Groningen), and Wageningen Marine Research (WMR, Wageningen University).

2018-08-02 10:23:34
VACANCY ID:         2018-059
CLOSING DATE:     September 24th, 2018

The NIOZ department of Coastal Systems (COS, department head dr. ir. Henk W. van der Veer) studies coastal marine ecosystems and their populations of fish, birds and other marine animals. Researchers in the department focus on key physical, chemical and biological processes that together determine the productivity and ecological functioning of coastal, open marine areas.

Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management, Wageningen University (Prof. dr. Wolf Mooij) aims to generate novel insights that can help to preserve and restore marine and freshwater ecosystem services. It takes a systems approach linking physical, chemical and biological processes across scales.

The Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen (dr. Maarten Loonen) mainly focusses on long-term human-environment relations in the polar regions, the ecology of migratory birds, the understanding of how climate change affects biology and how biology will feedback onto global climate and the origin of emissions in the Arctic.

Wageningen Marine Research (Wageningen University & Research, dr. Sophie Brasseur and Geert Aarts) is the Netherlands research institute established to provide the scientific support that is essential for developing policies and innovation in respect of the marine environment, fishery activities, aquaculture and the maritime sector.

The PhD thesis will be defended at Wageningen University (promotor Prof. dr. Wolf Mooij).



As a result of global warming, the extent of the Arctic sea-ice has decreased dramatically over the past decades. Many Arctic seal species rely on sea-ice for breeding and resting between foraging periods at sea. The retreating sea-ice may change the accessibility to foraging areas, the availability of high quality breeding sites, and the competition on land and at sea. Furthermore, as the ice retreats, commercial activities such as shipping and Arctic mining will increase and further impacting the distribution and abundance of these seal populations. Several local studies have highlighted the potential negative consequences of global warming and direct human impact on Arctic seals. However, there is a lack of insight into future population changes of these species in this rapidly changing environment. The objective of this study is to develop a circumpolar individual-based model for several arctic seal species to predict consequences of the retreating sea-ice at a population-level. Ultimately, the individual-based model will be a valuable asset to simulate new scenarios to assess the direct and indirect impact of humans on seals in the Arctic environment.

See also for a popular Dutch description.


The project will first develop an individual-based model for a data-rich species, namely the harbour seal in Dutch waters. This will be led by a postdoc in close collaboration with the PhD candidate. A specific focus of the individual-based model is to study how density-dependent competition drives space use and population dynamics. For example, if competition increases due to decreases in overall habitat availability what are strategies animals can employ to cope with such changes? And if members of a species disperse and ‘invade’ new regions, how does this affect the overall population dynamics? The resulting (generic) individual-based model will subsequently be adapted to arctic seal species, taking differences in life history and physiology into account. Information on the habitat preference and the circumpolar distribution of arctic seals will be mostly obtained from other arctic studies. In addition, this study will involve collating and analysing satellite images. Finally, the individual-based models will be used to investigate and visualise the potential effect of retreating sea ice on the arctic seal species under variable sea-ice extent scenarios.



We are looking for a highly motivated, quantitative ecologist, with knowledge of comparative animal physiology and (marine) animal ecology. The candidate should be able to parameterize how for example animal size influences thermoregulation, storage capacity and diving abilities. The candidate should have skills and experience with statistical software R and/or NetLogo. Furthermore, she or he should be able to work with large spatial data-set (e.g. using GIS). No fieldwork is explicitly included in the research project, but we will closely collaborate with international colleagues, and this will involve international research visits.



Employment of this position at Royal NIOZ is by NWO (The Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research).We offer you a fulltime position for 4 years, a yearly 8% vacation allowance, 8.3% year-end bonus and flexible employment conditions. Our labour policies are based on the Collective Labour Agreement of Research Centres (WVOI). Cost of relocation and help with housing is provided by the Royal NIOZ. The work will be executed at NIOZ, Wageningen University and WMR.



For additional information about this vacancy, please contact dr. ir. Geert Aarts  (scientist NIOZ/WUR), dr. Sophie Brasseur (scientist WUR), dr. ir. Henk van der Veer  (department head COS at NIOZ) or Prof. dr. Wolf Mooij (professor WUR).

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

Interviews with pre-selected candidates will take place on October 8th or October 9th, 2018 on Texel or online (e.g., by Skype).

Learn more about the Department of Coastal Sciences here.


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