PhD project offered by the IMPRS-gBGC in January 2022


Process understanding of dryland vegetation dynamics in a changing world *

Jianbei Huang , Susan Trumbore , Nan Lu , Bojie Fu

Project description

Drylands cover ~40% of global land area, are home to ~40% of the global population and harbor more than 20% of global biodiversity. However, drylands face significant challenges from climate change (e.g. changes in temperature and precipitation patterns) and intensified anthropogenic activities and disturbance (e.g. over-grazing) leading to land degradation and desertification. Despite the severe consequences, our ability to accurately assess and predict vegetation dynamics remains uncertain, largely due to lack of understanding of the biological and ecological mechanisms/processes driving the spatial-temporal dynamics of dryland vegetation under climate change and land use changes.

In the framework of a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary DRYLANDS project between the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC) and Chinese Academy of Sciences for Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences (CAS-RCEES), this PhD project provides a unique opportunity to combine long-term monitoring field sites along a precipitation gradient in Asia-Europe drylands and advanced laboratory facilities (e.g. IRMS, AMS), to improve our process understanding of dryland vegetation dynamics (productivity, mortality, turnover, etc.). Specifically, the project will, 1) conduct field work and organize lab analysis to examine the key plant traits (A/Ci, nutrients, and isotopes like 13C and/or 18O) that determine spatial-temporal changes in plant source (e.g. photosynthesis) and sink (e.g. growth and respiration) activities; 2) apply state-of-the-art protocols to assess carbohydrate dynamics (e.g. concentrations and 14C signature) and hydraulics (e.g., root water access, water transport, and water status) that determine plant resistance and resilience to increasing aridity and temperature in drylands. The comprehensive dataset generated from this project will also feed into vegetation models and ecosystem service evaluation to improve our ability to predict dryland vegetation dynamics under global environmental change scenarios.

Working group & cooperations

The successful PhD candidate will be affiliated with the MPI-BGC Processes Department, and will benefit from collaborations with the MPI-BGC Signals Department (Dr. Sönke Zaehle, state-of-the-art vegetation models), CAS-RCEES (Prof. Bojie Fu, socio-economic analysis and ecosystem service assessment), CAS-ITP (Prof. Shilong Piao, remote sensing, Eddy covariance fluxes). As part of the joint MPG-CAS research project, the PhD candidate also has the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from other MPI and CAS institutions, spanning multiple disciplines (e.g., plant-animal and plant-microbial interactions).


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. Prerequisites for this PhD project are
  • A Master’s degree in ecology, biology, geography, biogeochemistry, or disciplines related to environmental sciences.
  • Experiences and interest in field (e.g. LI-COR) or lab work (e.g. wet chemistry).
  • Knowledge on plant ecology/ecophysiology is preferred.
  • Understanding of isotopes (e.g., 14C, 13C or 18O) is an asset.
  • Good English written and communication skills.
The Max Planck Society (MPS) strives for gender equality and diversity. The MPS seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The MPS is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.

The stable isotope (left) and radiocarbon (right) lab that can provide strong support for the PhD project. © <a href="">IsoLab</a> and <a href="">14C Analysis group</a>
The stable isotope (left) and radiocarbon (right) lab that can provide strong support for the PhD project. © IsoLab and 14C Analysis group

>> more information about the IMPRS-gBGC + application