Do you want to contribute with ecological understanding of plant-insect interactions to support the transition of agriculture to more sustainable ecology-based production systems? Are you fascinated by the complexity of species interactions and keen to further develop your personal and academic skills during a PhD training? Then you might be the candidate we are looking for!

The research programme CropMix is a Dutch Research Agenda initiative of a large interdisciplinary research team joining forces with the agricultural sector to achieve a breakthrough in the transition to sustainable arable farming. We study how crop diversity in the field can benefit from ecological processes to partly replace pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Crop mixtures, strip cropping and rotation of crops over time enhances pest and disease suppression, and can ensure more efficient use of nutrients and sunlight to promote plant growth.

Sustainable crop production with crop mixtures also contributes to reaching biodiversity goals. Understanding biodiversity restoration is not only important for estimating when natural pest control can effectively replace pesticides, but also how measures to increase general biodiversity can be factored into the price of products or into farm subsidies. CropMix also investigates which societal and institutional changes in the food system are needed to enable and accelerate the transition to sustainable mixed crop production. This is done by assuming a diversity of possible transition paths, such as short local chains or adaptation of existing national and international chains.

We are looking for 2 PhD candidates
The goal of the first PhD project (PhD 1) is to identify how crop diversity in space and time can support effective plant trait combinations that reduce herbivory and pathogen attack. You will assess insect herbivore abundance and pathogen prevalence in various crops and crop mixtures in large experimental field experiments. On farms across the Netherlands, you will identify the relationships between herbivore abundance, the design of crop mixtures and the role of landscape elements. In controlled experiments you may study insect herbivore behaviour in food plant acceptance as well as the role of novel organic fertilisers and soils in crop rotation on plant resistance to herbivory. This includes measurements of plant secondary defence chemistry as well as activity and composition of soil biota. You will acquire understanding of how insect herbivore communities respond to crop mixture production systems and design crop mixtures that reduce pest pressure.

The goal of the second PhD project (PhD 2) is to elucidate the mechanisms and potential of plant diversity-based strategies to enhance biocontrol of insect herbivores. You will assess the abundance and diversity of natural enemies such as parasitic wasps and ground dwelling predators in crop mixtures that are designed to attract and sustain natural enemies. In these analyses you closely collaborate with PhD 1 to study how food web structure is affected by crop combinations.

Across different farms in the Netherlands you will identify how the design of crop mixtures and landscape elements affects natural enemy communities. In collaboration with Koppert B.V. you will study release strategies of predatory insects to boost biocontrol. You may include laboratory studies on natural enemy behaviour and performance when provided with crop mixtures, multiple prey species and/or nectar. You will acquire understanding of how plant trait combinations can enhance control of insect herbivores and how release strategies of natural enemies can be used to enhance biological control in crop mixture production systems.

Please indicate clearly in your application which PhD position is your preferred topic and motivate why.

We ask

  • A successfully completed MSc degree in life sciences, plant sciences or biology.
  • You are an enthusiastic and team-oriented field ecologist.
  • In collaboration with other young scientists, you are reliable, communicative, and supportive.
  • You enjoy contributing to the societal challenge of transition to sustainable agriculture and to connect your research to other disciplines in plant modelling, economics and social sciences.
  • Your knowledge and experience has a strong basis in community ecology, multi-trophic interactions, agroecology, and/or entomology.
  • Affinity with advanced multivariate statistics or mixed models is considered a pre.
  • You have a very good level of oral and written English. You are required to show us a certification of English skills.
  • you meet all the entry requirements of the WUR PhD programme.

We offer

Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our  Collective Labour Agreement include:

  • study leave and partially paid parental leave;
  • working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
  • the option to accrue additional compensation / holiday hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
  • there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
  • a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team.
The gross salary for the first year is € 2.541,- per month rising to € 3.247,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreements for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) (scale P). This is based on a full-time working week of 38 hours. We offer a temporary contract for 18 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well.

There are plenty of options for personal initiative in a learning environment, and we provide excellent training opportunities. We are offering a unique position in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “ Best University ” in the Netherlands for the 17th consecutive time.

Coming from abroad
Wageningen University & Research is the university and research centre for life sciences. The themes we deal with are relevant to everyone around the world and Wageningen, therefore, has a large international community and a lot to offer to international employees. Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief, known as the 30% ruling. Our team of advisors on Dutch immigration procedures will help you with the visa application procedures for yourself and, if applicable, for your family.

Feeling welcome also has everything to do with being well informed. Wageningen University & Research’s International Community page contains practical information about what we can do to support international employees and students coming to Wageningen. Furthermore, we can assist you with any additional advice and information about helping your partner to find a job, housing, schooling, and other issues.

More information

For more information about this position, please contact Prof. Dr. Erik H. Poelman,
For more information about the procedure, please contact

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly by uploading your CV and motivation letter, using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval.
This vacancy will be listed up to and including 20 November 2022. The preferred starting date for this position is 01/01/2023.

Equal opportunities
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) employs a large number of people with very different backgrounds and qualities, who inspire and motivate each other. We want every talent to feel at home in our organisation and be offered the same career opportunities. We therefore especially welcome applications from people who are underrepresented at WUR.

We are

The mission of Wageningen University & Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment. With its roughly 30 branches, 7,200 employees (6,400 fte) and 13,200 students and over 150.000 participants to WUR’s Life Long Learning, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. The unique Wageningen approach lies in its integrated approach to issues and the collaboration between different disciplines.

Laboratory of Entomology
Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University addresses the ecology of insects with a focus on understanding ecological phenomena in the context of the underlying mechanisms. At the Laboratory of Entomology the research teams consist of ambitious scientists and we aim at an interdisciplinary approach from cellular to community level to unravel biological phenomena underlying the functioning of plant-insect communities, insect vectored diseases, insect neurobiology and insects as food and feed. The Laboratory of Entomology is part of the Plant Sciences Group of the Wageningen University & Research. The positions are in the team of Prof. Dr. Erik Poelman, that studies community ecology of plant-insect interactions and consists of ecologists, entomologists, molecular biologists and computational modelers.

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