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Implications of environmentally driven changes in species, functional, and genetic composition across multiple trophic levels as modulators of ecosystem functions and services

Project Description

Research area and project description:
Vascular plants constitute one of the most important groups of primary producers and are responsible for essential ecosystem functions such as primary productivity, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, nutrient cycling, soil formation, and habitat support. They are also key providers of ecosystems services such as food and clothes, wood production, carbon sequestration, climate regulation, and habitat for other useful species. For this reason, most studies evaluating changes in ecosystem functions/services focus only on the role of vegetation shifts as a catalyst for such changes. However, just assessing the effects of an individual basal trophic level on ecosystem functions/services can be misleading, as this perspective ignores the fact that the interactions across multiple trophic levels is an essential modulator of the functions and services nature provides. Specifically, higher trophic levels (i.e., consumers) play a dominant role in shaping food web structures in terrestrial systems and indicate the importance of higher trophic levels in modulating the sizes and rates of ecosystem functions, as well as regulation and support ecosystem services.
This PhD project will assess the biological structure (i.e., species, functional traits, and genetic composition) of producers (i.e., vascular plants) and consumer (i.e., birds and mammals) groups to determine how ecosystem functions (e.g., productivity) respond to environmental driven changes to biodiversity.
This PhD project will depart from the traditional experimental used to study the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functions by using a macroecological and a macrosystems approach that is unconventional in ecosystem ecology. Specifically, the approach proposed for this project will NOT INVOLVE FIELD WORK, but leverage the large volume of geospatial data on biological structure (species, functional-trait, and genetic composition), the historical records of climatic and landscape changes, and the innovations in remote-sensing data on ecosystem functioning for vascular plants, mammals, and birds. By combining these three types of information for three groups, this PhD project focus on revolutionising our understanding of how fast ecosystem restructuring occurs across trophic levels due to environmental change determines the rate at which ecosystem functions adapt.
The candidate will have access to vast databases on traits, distributions and evolutionary relations (phylogenies) of plants, mammals, and birds worldwide. Likewise, data on environmental conditions (climate and land cover) for the last 21,000yrs, the last century (1900-2010), and projection into the near future (2100) will be available you assess rates of environmental change. Also, remote sensor derived information on ecosystem functions and services will be available for analyses. Advanced statistical techniques (Mixed models) base on Likelihood and Bayesian inference will be used to establish the synchronicity between changes in species, functional and phylogenetic composition and environmental changes across trophic levels and the consequences of these changes for ecosystem functions.
The candidate will be part of the Section for Ecoinformatics & Biodiversity (ECOINF) and be affiliated with the Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World (BIOCHANGE). Hence, the candidate will be working in a world-leading and dynamic research environment with ample opportunities to interact with other researchers nationally, as well as internationally, on related topics.
Qualifications and specific competences:
Applicants to the PhD position should ideally have a Master’s degree in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, Conservation Science, Geography or related fields with strong expertise in macroecology and biogeography ecology. A strong statistical background and programming experience in R/Python is an advantage. The applicant should hold an internal fascination for the topic, be independent, have excellent writing skills, and should be enthusiastic about working in an interdisciplinary academic environment. Note that the project will only be initiated if final funding (from GSST/the faculty) is secured. The candidate’s main supervisors will be Assistant Professor Alejandro Ordonez.
Place of Employment and Place of Work:
The PhD student will be enrolled in the Graduate School of Science and Technology (GSST) at Aarhus University. The place of employment will be at Aarhus University, Section for Ecoinformatics and Biodiversity (ECOINF) and Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World (BIOCHANGE).
Professor Alejandro Ordonez, phone +4587154347, e-mail:

For application procedures see:

Application deadline: 1 May 2019

Funding Notes

The programme committee may request further information or invite the applicant to attend an interview.
The project will only be initiated if final funding (from GSST/the faculty) is secured.
All interested candidates are encouraged to apply, regardless of their personal background.


How to apply:
1) Find the application form:
Go to - Choose May 2019 Call with deadline 1 May 2019 at 11.59 AM MET. You will be directed to the call, and must choose the programme ' Bioscience'
2) Fill in the following information:
• Personal information
• Academic background
• Admission
• Financing (if any)
• Study: In the dropdown menu you must choose the project: " Implications of environmentally driven changes in species, functional, and genetic composition across multiple trophic levels as modulators of ecosystem functions and services"
• Source (how you found out about the call)
Next to some of the information fields you will find a number. Click on the number to get further directions on how to fill in the information field/what information is needed.
3) Application attachments:
Please be aware that you cannot submit the application if one or several of these documents have not been uploaded. If you wish to upload more than one document under each section, you must scan/merge all documents into one large PDF file and upload this. Please note that we reserve the right to remove scientific papers, large reports, theses and the like. Instead you can indicate a URL where the information is available. Please note that all information in the application must be in Danish or English.
As a minimum all applications must include (pdf-files only, max. 20 MB, no zip):
• One reference
• Curriculum vitae
• Motivation (max. 1 page)
• Transcripts, grade point averages (weighted and unweighted), and diploma(s) for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree
• Project description (½-4 pages). Please simply copy the project description above, and upload it as a PDF in the application.
• Documentation of language skills if required see (please see the GSST Application Guide
After submission of the application, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with an application ID, you should use for reference if needed. The e-mail will also include a link to the application – GSST urges you to check that all mandatory data, marked with an asterisk (*), is registered correctly and all attached files are readable. If there are any significant errors, you should reply to the confirmation e-mail with the correct details before the application deadline.
GSST reserves the right to verify the authenticity of your educational diploma and transcripts.

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