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PhD position in Forest Ecology

100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Professorship of Forest Ecology at ETH Zurich is a dynamic interdisciplinary research team that examines both theoretical and applied questions in forest ecology by combining empirical and modeling techniques. The overall aim of the group is to further our understanding of the structure and function of forest ecosystems, with a particular focus on mountain areas such as the European Alps. We offer excellent facilities in a relaxing work atmosphere with many opportunities for collaboration within and beyond the group.

Project background

Forest ecosystems are strongly shaped by past and present climate regimes. The prevailing climate conditions have direct impacts on various processes in forest ecosystems such as growth rates of trees, leaf phenology or soil formation, which in turn determine the structure of forest stands. While the impacts of climate on several aspects of forests such as growth rates of trees, leaf phenology, stand density, and stand height are relatively well understood, our understanding of how climate effects on leaf phenology interact with other environmental factors is limited. There is further little research on the question whether changes in leaf phenology lead to altered growth rates of trees.

The key objectives of this PhD project are:

  • to investigate the combined effects of climate, stand structure, soil and topography on leaf phenology
  • to assess whether changes in the timing of leaf unfolding and leaf discoloration affect diameter growth of trees

The project is funded by ETH Zurich Research Grants ("Regional- and large-scale effects of climate, stand structure, soil and topography on leaf phenology and growth rates of trees").

Job description

You will bring together and synthesize statistically data from multiple sources, including leaf phenology of trees, tree-ring data, soil data, data on stand structure, topography, and detailed weather data. Data will be assembled from Switzerland and across Europe. You will plan and conduct field work at multiple sites in Switzerland to extract increment cores of trees, take soil samples and make other forest-related measurements. You will process these samples in the tree-ring and soil labs. The results of the thesis will be published in international scientific journals.

The 4-year PhD position is based in the Professorship of Forest Ecology at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. There will be a requirement to take courses at ETH Zurich as part of the PhD training programme.

Your profile

You should have an MSc degree in ecology, environmental sciences, forest sciences, forestry, geography, biology, or a related field. Candidates should have experience or at least a strong interest in doing field and lab work. A background in statistical data analysis, experience with the statistical computing language R and knowledge of forest ecology and soil science are strong assets. You should be communicative and have a good command of English and German (French and Italian are beneficial). A driving licence is an asset.

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.
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We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Motivation letter (1-2 pages) providing information on relevant skills and experience, and explaining your interests
  • CV (including qualifications, past academic and professional experience, and publications)
  • Diploma transcripts (BSc/MSc) from which the grades are evident
  • Names and addresses (including e-mail) of three reference persons

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Screening of applications will start on October 11 2021. Applications are accepted until the position is filled.

Further information about the Professorship of Forest Ecology can be found on our website. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Dr. Christof Bigler, Tel +41 44 632 52 05 or email (no applications).

In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our Equal Opportunities and Diversity website to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.

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