The Plant Ecology Group at ETH Zürich conducts research on a diversity of topics within the realm of plant community ecology, including forest community turnover in response to climate change, the role of climate, biotic interactions, and demographic lags in constraining range limits and range shifts, the drivers of Alpine wildflower phenology, and the use of citizen science for collecting ecological data and engaging the general public. We conduct projects and maintain long-term monitoring studies in forest and Alpine field sites in the USA (Washington State) and in Switzerland. We are committed to fostering diversity and inclusivity in all our activities, as well as in conducting open and collaborative science.

Motivation: Trees have long and complex lives, and the tiniest individual trees (seed and seedlings) are generally assumed to play only a minor role in forest dynamics. This assumption comes from the observation that trees produce millions of seeds annually, of which only a very few survive to adulthood, while adult trees with generally low mortality rates form enduring structures that characterize forests.

However, community turnover can only occur through the arrival and establishment of new seeds and seedlings, meaning that these stages may be particularly important for range shifts and community turnover in a rapidly changing environment (such as we are experiencing global change). Moreover, seedlings and adult trees often differ in the biotic and abiotic stressors they face, as well as the functional traits that allow them to cope with these stressors, which means we cannot assume that any information gained from the study of adult trees necessarily applies to understanding regeneration dynamics in forests.

Project background

Position: To address this topic, the Plant Ecology Group at ETH Zürich, led by Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers (she/her), seeks a PhD student to join a team studying how tree regeneration niche influences forest dynamics in a warming and drying climate. We have three objectives:

  • to quantify tree seedling functional traits and compare them to adult tree traits;
  • to conduct climate change experiments to assess how climate stressors differentially affect the seedling performance of co-occurring trees and whether functional traits are predictive of relative performance, and
  • to use demographic modelling to explore how and whether differential climate impacts on seedling stages drive population dynamics across ranges.

Job description


  • You will work collaboratively with the team (consisting of Postdocs, Master’s students, and research staff) on all project activities, taking a leadership role in completing one objective (depending on project needs and student interest).
  • You will also be given the opportunity to develop your own project (experimental, observational, modelling) that fits within the overall project theme.

A thematically similar PhD position (focused on seedling recruitment relative to tree seed predation and mast seeding) will be filled at the same time, and it is likely that the two PhD students will benefit from collaboration with each other in data collection, methods development, and/or analysis. Professor Janneke Hille Ris Lambers will be the primary supervisor, with additional supervision from Drs. Alana Chin and Rubén Manzanedo.

Your profile

  • Enthusiasm and interest in the scientific background of the project
  • Ability to work independently and collaboratively
  • Commitment to a collegial and inclusive workplace
  • Experience with statistical modelling and related programs (R statistics)
  • Field work experience and a valid driver’s license
  • Advanced English (oral and writing)
  • Plant identification skills and knowledge of ecophysiology (and measurement approaches) are desirable but not required

We offer

  • Outstanding research group at ETH Zürich, the adjacent University of Zürich, WSL (the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research) and EAWAG (the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology) offer numerous opportunities for interaction and collaboration.
  • Additionally, ETH Zürich offers a competitive PhD salary.
  • Zürich is a cosmopolitan city with high living standards and easy access to forested and alpine research sites, outdoor activities and the rest of Europe.

We value diversity

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.

Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application, including the following documents, each uploaded as a separate pdf. Please include your last name in the title of any file uploaded (e.g. Aziz-CV.pdf, Chang-MscDegree.pdf, Garcia-MscTranscript.pdf).

  • Your curriculum vitae (2-page CV), including information on your educational background and any relevant research/work / volunteering activities
  • A copy of your MSc degree (including thesis title) and a list of courses taken and Grades (a transcript)

Applications will be reviewed starting September 15, with the goal of conducting interviews in early / mid-October and making a decision by early November. The ideal start date would be January of 2023. 

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through this online application portal, and applications via email or postal services will not be considered. Incomplete applications will also not be evaluated.

Questions regarding the position can be directed to Drs. Janneke Hille Ris Lambers (, Alana Chin ( and / or Rubén Delgado Manzanedo ( Please include an informative subject (e.g. “Questions about Regeneration Niche PhD position”).

Apply online now

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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