The PhD course in “Environmental Life Sciences” is jointly offered by the Universities of Trieste and University of Udine. It covers a wide range of scientific issues related to environmental life researches ongoing at the two universities, whose main focuses are:

  • Ecology and ecophysiology of marine, fresh water, terrestrial and agricultural ecosystems;
  • Global change biology and management of natural and agricultural ecosystems;
  • Biodiversity informatics, genetics and conservation;
  • Ecotoxicology and bioremediation.

The possible field works for the PhD students span over a large array of ecosystems from the deep sea in Antarctica to high mountains passing through plains and rivers.

PhD students will find a dynamic and multidisciplinary environment that will promote both basic (e.g. marine protistan metagenomics, plant/environment interactions) and applied research(e.g. green technologies, ecological engineering and environmental biomonitoring).

Main research topics

  • Ecology and ecophysiology of marine, fresh water, terrestrial and agricultural ecosystems;
  • Global change biology and management of natural and agricultural ecosystems;
  • Biodiversity informatics, genetics and conservation;
  • Ecotoxicology and bioremediation.

Admission & scholarships

We are offering nine PhD scholarships staring the Academic Year 2022/2023 (November 1st):

The PhD 1 “Effects of 2D-NanoMaterials on seed plants reproduction”

– Principal investigator: prof. Mauro Tretiach: Prof. Mauro Tretiach, University of Trieste; The main objective is to study the effects of 2D-nanomaterials (2D-Nms), possible future environmental pollutants, on the sexual reproduction of seed plants, a key biological processes for both terrestrial ecosystems and crops economy. The tested materials will be Graphene Oxide, Boron Nitride, Molibdenum disulphide, and Mica, i.e. 2D-Nms with different chemical physical properties and on the front line of Nano-research.

Model and non-model seed plants species of high economic value will be used to test the capability of female flowers of anemophilous plants to intercept airborne 2D-Nms, and the internalisation of 2D-Nms by stigmatic surfaces and pollen tubes. The subsequent interference with the germination of pollen grains deposited on the stigmatic surface will also be studied in comparison to in vitro observations. We ask dexterity, resourcefulness, curiosity; good knowledge of plant biology, optical and electronic microscopy, and laboratory techniques.

The PhD 2 Development of integrated physical-biogeochemical models to support the analysis of marine environmental processes and marine spatial planning and scenario analysis”

– Principal investigator: dott. Donata Canu

The PhD 3 “Integrated models for the management of marine renewable resources under climate change context”

– Principal investigator: dott. Simone Libralato: Fishing impacts, habitat modifications, biological invasion and climate changes are rapidly altering marine biodiversity and ecosystems with impacts on functioning and services provided by oceans and seas. Integrating processes from physics and biogeochemistry to marine ecology and resource dynamics into quantitative tools is fundamental to capture the role of multiple stressors in the recent past and to provide insights on the future. Integrated models allow for scenario analyses that are going to give insights on current management practices and provide suggestions for optimal management solutions in order to mitigate and adapt to future expected changes. The PhD candidate program is focused on applying quantitative approaches integrating existing and novel data on species distribution and linking them to changing oceanographic conditions and anthropogenic impacts over time and space.

Research activity will consider multispecies ecological niches and tri-dimensional environmental factors in order to grasp the complexity of marine processes and to explain current modifications. The candidate will use sensitivity and uncertainty approaches in order to evaluate performances of models developed when contrasted with observations. The candidate will develop multiple scenarios that should include, other than climatic modifications, also fisheries management actions and other possible adaptations. The scenario analysis will be done considering ecological aspects, together with proxies for their economic and social impacts in order to allow a multifaced vision of management actions. The candidate is asked to merge marine ecology, mathematical modelling and to proactively embed a variety of ecological aspects into models during the research program.

The PhD 4 “Biodiversity, functioning and resilience in marine ecosystems: modelliing and assessing climate change impacts”

– Principal investigator: dott. Cosimo Solidoro

The PhD 5 “Ecotoxicological responses in marine model species related to the effects of global change”

– Principal investigator: prof. Monia Renzi

The PhD 6 “Response of marine macroalgal forests at different hierarchical levels (molecular and cellular, species, ecosystem) in a changing ocean: perspective and challenge of marine restoration”

– Principal investigator: prof. Annalisa Falace: Predicting the impacts of global change on marine macro-algal forests remains a central goal for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. Understanding macro-algal responses to environmental shifts and deciphering phenotypic and genotypic responses are essential to predicting their fate and developing affordable and sustainable methods for their restoration. The ability of individuals and populations to shift through phenotypic plasticity and adaptation, and the mechanisms underlying these processes, are therefore of critical interest.

Linking ecological and physiological studies with the “omic” approach will allow the identification of new genes, proteins and metabolites underlying the responses of marine species to environmental change, which can be simulated as a combination of fitness maximisation and evolutionary constraints. Research will encompass several approaches: i.e. – evolutionary adaptation and underlying mechanisms, – phenology, distribution, population structure and population dynamics, – physiological and metabolic changes, – phenotypic plasticity, – changes in cellular processes, – molecular signalling mechanisms.

The PhD 7 “Biodiversity functioning and resilience in terrestrial ecosys-tems: adaptation and mitigation of climate change”

– Principal investigators: prof. Guido Incerti: The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 established the target to increase the share of land area under strict protection (i.e., without human intervention) from the current 3% to at least 10%, thus providing substantial new areas for rewilding. Among different rewilding schemes, natural afforestation of abandoned agricultural land or marginal areas is taking place all over Europe and might represent a promising low-cost carbon dioxide removals (CDR) measure, while supporting biodiversity.

The main objective of this PhD project is to acquire through direct field observations and assemble into harmonized and open-access datasets, data on C stocks, C sequestration rates and biodiversity, in principle ranging from species inventories and abundances to population and community structure, interspecific relationships and trophic networks, occurring in naturally rewilding abandoned lands, such as e.g. along chronosequences across the country. Possibly, it will also clarify to which extent habitat diversification and the improvement of structural and ecological stability following natural rewilding (e.g. afforestation) could contribute to the recovery of biodiversity considering one or more different diversity metrics describing e.g. alpha- and beta- taxonomic diversity, structural diversity, and functional diversity of different taxonomic groups, possibly also including microbial diversity.

A strong background in statistical methods is required, to empirically relate above- and belowground C
stock changes to the dynamics (i.e., rate of change with time) of diversity and structure of biotic communities, including e.g. forest diversity specifically linked to deadwood and its attributes (species, size, decay stage). Assuming also basic knowledge of the candidate and specific training during the PhD in process-based simulation modelling tools, the collected observational information could be used for the implementation/calibration of specific models to project C storage and biodiversity trajectories over time and to assess the resistance of simulated secondary forests to disturbances, with a focus on fires, storms, and biotic agents (e.g. bark beetles).

Expected outputs (tentatively across the three-years period, on a semester base)
 Literature review on C cycle and/or biodiversity in rewilding ecosystems
 Selection of abandoned, rewilding afforested sites, based on the space-for-time approach
 Dataset on available carbon and/or biodiversity data across the site network
 Statistical models for in-situ C storage and/or biodiversity changes
 Dynamic process-based model of C storage and/or biodiversity trajectories over time under
business-as-usual and disturbance scenarios (tentative)
 At least three scientific papers and presentations at international conferences
Required skills and background
 Strong attitude to intensive field work, both in team and in autonomy
 Past experience of field data collection in terrestrial ecosystems (knowledge of taxonomic
groups in these environments is a plus)
 Background in data management and statistical analysis
 Basic knowledge of process-based modelling tools is not indispensable, but appreciated.

The PhD 8 “Seismotectonic and paleoseismology as tools for assessing the seismic hazard of a region”

– Principal investigators: prof. Maria Eliana Poli: The investigation of past earthquakes can be approached in many different ways with a large variety of methods and techniques: instrumental and historical Seismology, Archaeoseismology, Paleoseismology and Earthquake Geology. Complementary techniques investigate the fault characteristics at different scales and with different resolutions, starting from the entire seismogenic level to the surface effects. The seismotectonic parametrization of active faults usually contribute to improve the seismic hazard assessment of the investigated area.

The PhD candidate program focus on a detailed investigation on active faults in order to characterize as many as possible their seismotectonic parameters, providing numerical constraints on geometrical (trend, size, depth), kinematic (slip vector, cumulative displacement, slip per event), dynamic (maximum expected magnitude) and chronological (slip-rate and mean recurrence interval) aspects. A good knowledge of morphotectonic surveys, aerial Photo-geological interpretation and high resolution-DEM analysis capabilities are required.

The PhD 9 “Formation and functions of iron plaques at the root-soil interface in flooded soils”

– Principal investigators: prof. Marco Contin: Salinization and increased flooding associated to global mean sea-level rise will threaten the ecosystem function of tidal wetlands. In these environments, carbon sequestration is linked to soil iron redox cycling that is driven by microbe-plant-roots interactions. The PhD project aims at investigating how soil properties affect the formation of iron plaques, triggered by the oxygen released by the roots of hydrophytes, under variable flooding and salinity stresses. Rice and close related wild species will be used as model plants. The role of organic matter, carbonates and the nature and amount of iron oxides will be examined towards plaque formation rates, thickness and morphology. Dynamics of redox processes and effects of complexation on iron mobilisation/ immobilisation will be investigated.

Specific Requirements

The applicant must have obtained his/her master degree within the start of the project (expected for October 3). No previous experience on the topic is required. Good communicational skills in English are required. The applicant should be highly motivated and have an ability to work independently or as part of a multidisciplinary team.

How to Apply:

More details on the aplication procedure are available at this link. The deadline for the online applications is June 27th at 1:00 p.m. Italian time.

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