PhD project offered by the IMPRS-gBGC in July 2021

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Carbon/Water/Nutrient Interaction – From Individuals to Ecosystems

Richard Nair , Christine Römermann , Tarek El-Madany , Markus Reichstein , Marion Schrumpf

Project description

The global carbon, water, and nutrient cycles are linked by plant activity. Individually, plants optimize traits to maximise resource (e.g. C, N, P, water) acquisition, growth, and reproductive success in response to constantly changing environmental conditions. In heterogeneous natural communities, individual species dominance also changes through time (due to response to natural conditions or neutral drift), so changes in ecosystem functional properties (EFPs) arise from a combination of plastic responses (within species or within individuals), and changes in abundance over time.

Nonetheless, remote sensed measurements of EFPs cannot distinguish between these two different biological responses, necessitating the use of on-the-ground measurements to link biology to macro-scale properties. In this project, the successful candidate will work within a well-established ecosystem manipulation experiment in Spain, where nutrient addition treatments increase water use efficiency (i.e. carbon fixation per transpired water). As variation in the productivity of this system is driven by a diverse and variable herbaceous layer, this provides a testbed to disentangle the effects of plant species change and within-species trait plasticity on water/carbon interactions under different nutrient regimes.

The PhD project will focus on the dynamics of herbaceous species at the study site, and the dynamics of traits within species / plant types. The PhD candidate will explore how these relate to macro-level functional properties of the herbaceous layer or the ecosystem as a whole. They will also be expected to conduct additional manipulation experiments to provide additional mechanistic explanation of species abundance vs trait changes in response to environmental condition. The field component of the project can be shaped to fit the candidates particular interests, e.g. by stable isotope analysis, multispectral measurement or plant hydraulic measurements. A well suited candidate could also aim to provide data to pair with an ecosystem demographic model for the site, allowing diversity change to be directly linked to changes in EFPs.

The ideal candidate will have both an interest in quantitative methods and a willingness to work periodically in the field and take a strong role in design and implementation of their own work plan.

Requirements for the PhD project are

  • Master degree in a discipline related to the environmental sciences with a strong quantitative background
  • Basic knowledge / experience of field measurements and readiness to work in the field together with other researchers as part of an international team
  • Experience in data analysis using script languages (e.g. MATLAB, R, Python)
  • Good expression in English (spoken and written). Knowledge of Spanish would be beneficial but not required.
The Max Planck Society seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The Max Planck Society is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.


>> more information about the IMPRS-gBGC + application