PhD position in ecological networks and conservation, Germany

Application Deadline: 
18 Aug 2017

PhD positions in ecological networks and conservation

Deadline: 18 August 2017

Title: Spatio-temporal responses of ecosystem functions to ecological restoration

Supervisors: PD Dr Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury, TU Darmstadt, Germany

Co-supervisor: Dr Ruben Heleno, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Key words: Interaction networks, habitat restoration, mutualists, antagonists, ecosystem function


Ecological restoration is employed widely in biodiversity conservation to counteract ecosystem degradation and slow the loss of diversity. Yet the efficacy of restoration interventions for supporting self-sustaining communities has rarely been quantified. Instead of focussing only on species as the unit of study, researchers and conservationists aim to understand, preserve and restore ecosystem functioning, which is largely maintained by interactions between species. Understanding community-wide responses of biotic interactions to environmental change is needed to aid conservation management and to project ecosystem functions and services to future land-use and biodiversity scenarios. With this PhD project, we aim to advance understanding of the mechanisms that link environmental threats (e.g. invasive species) and the mitigation of these threats (e.g. habitat restoration) to ecosystem functioning, and provide predictions on how to sustain ecosystem functions under future scenarios of biodiversity loss.

This PhD:

The projects will use established long-term community field experiments on inselbergs on the island of Mahé, Seychelles, to investigate the spatial and temporal extent and variability of the response of interaction networks to anthropogenic disturbance. We have recently shown that habitat restoration positively affects pollination network structure and function relatively rapidly (Kaiser-Bunbury et al. 2017 Nature), but it is not yet known whether restoration also strengthens the resilience of other ecosystem functions over time. This project will use a network approach to investigate longer-term (>5 years) spatio-temporal responses of habitat restoration on native mutualistic (i.e. pollination, seed dispersal) and antagonistic (i.e. seed predation, florivory) interactions. The candidate will examine the net gains and losses to native plant reproduction of both interaction types and analyse their direct and indirect effects on community dynamics by implementing a multilayer network approach.

Personal and professional requirements:

We seek an excellent candidate who is creative, driven, and enjoys a challenge

1) Applicants should have or expect to obtain an MSc (or equivalent) in a relevant field

2) Extensive fieldwork experience in tropical locations and robust health

3) The ability to lead a small team of local and international field assistants

4) Excellent and diplomatic communicator with a heightened awareness of and sensitivity to cultural differences

5) Independent, open-minded and flexible personality, to be able to adapt to frequent challenge

6) Familiarity with network theory, and strong quantitative and ecological modelling skills

7)  Research experience on (tropical) islands, biotic interactions, bird and reptile handling are a plus

8) Fluency in English is essential

You will be part of a dynamic research group working on mutualistic interaction networks on islands with a focus on applied conservation. The project will be implemented in collaboration with long-term partners in the Seychelles, the Seychelles National Parks Authority, the Plant Conservation Action Group, and the University of Seychelles.

This PhD project is one component of a larger project consisting of two PhD projects.

The successful candidate should be available from October 2017. International applicants are encouraged. The salary corresponds to regulations of the German Research Foundation (65% of salary grade TV-L E13).

Applications must include:

1) Cover letter with clear statements of your motivation and why you believe you are the ideal candidate

2) Detailed CV

3) Contact details of two referees (at least one of whom should be academic)

4) 1-page summary of your MSc or an equivalent research project

This should be sent as a single .pdf file to the email address below. The deadline for the positions is Friday 18th August 2017. 

Please send applications and questions to Chris Kaiser-Bunbury at

For further information see