PhD position in ecology with focus on patterns of change in carbon storage and cycling over time after disturbance in boreal forests:

Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology

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The Department of Ecology and Environmental Science (Umeå University, Sweden) invites applicants for a PhD position in forest ecosystem ecology. The position is expected to start during spring of 2023 or according to agreement. Application deadline is December 15, 2022. Welcome with your application!

Project description
Boreal forests play a critical role in the global climate as stores of around a third of global terrestrial carbon. As climate change is particularly rapid across higher latitudes, the effects of climate change on this stored carbon has understandably become a topic of intense societal interest. Despite this, boreal forests have been largely ignored in global policy efforts to mitigate climate change and promote sustainable land management.

Historically, the carbon storage of Scandinavian boreal forest has been shaped over the short-term by periodic wildfire, and evidence is accumulating that climate change is increasing frequency of wildfires. Today, the dominant disturbance factor is large-scale management as part of the forestry industry. Debates about the climate impacts of forestry frequently rely on ideas about the temporal development of carbon uptake and storage over time.

We argue that key data are missing from these debates to shed light on the relationships between key ecosystem services, and how these relationships change over the timescale of a managed forest rotation. Therefore, understanding the immediate impact and pattern of recovery from disturbance – and particularly now the effects of clear cutting in modern rotational forestry – is key to projecting future shifts in boreal forest landscapes but remains poorly understood.

To address this gap we seek a PhD student to measure whole ecosystem carbon fluxes and cycling along two contrasting forest age gradients in northern Sweden – one wildfire recovery gradient (spanning 3 and 370 years since wildfire) and one rotation forestry gradient (spanning the full spectrum of a typical 100-year rotation period). The position is part of a wider project (5 researchers, 1 postdoc, 1 phd student at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå and Umeå University) using the gradients to assess trade-offs in ecosystem services over time after disturbance. Further, there is potential to link to another PhD project at Umeå University making similar measurements in Swedish old growth boreal forests.

The PhD project will take approaches to monitoring forest carbon allocation developed in tropical forests, measuring all key carbon fluxes in a repeatable and standardized way over multiple years. Specifically, the work will address the following questions:

  • How does forest carbon uptake and allocation vary over time after disturbance in Scandinavian boreal forests?
  • Are there any different patterns in recovery between the type of initial disturbance (fire vs. clear cut)?
  • What ecological and climatic factors affect patterns of recovery after disturbance?

The project will benefit from a large team of researchers with excellent competence in the broad range of topics covered in the proposal (forest inventory, soil science, micrometerology, and community ecology) who have developed the project in close dialogue with key stakeholders (Sveaskog and the Forest Stewardship Council). This will allow us to deliver the exact data needed to help resolve societal debates and guide management and land use decisions.

To be admitted for studies at third-cycle level the applicant is required to have completed a second cycle level degree, or completed course requirements of at least 240 credits, of which at least 60 credits are at second-cycle level, or have an equivalent education from abroad, or equivalent qualifications.

To fulfil the specific entry requirements to be admitted for studies at third-cycle level within the subject of ecology, the applicant is required to have completed courses within a first-cycle subject relevant to ecology comprising at least 120 credits. At least one course at second-cycle level in a subject that is central to the doctoral student’s planned specialization shall have been completed, as well an independent piece of work (degree project) with relevant specialization of at least 15 credits. The recruitment procedure for the position is in accordance with the Higher Education Ordinance (Högskoleförordningen Chapter 5 and 7). The requirements should be met at the time of acceptance to doctoral studies.

For this position, we are looking for a person interested in forests, ecosystem ecology and/or biogeochemistry. We expect the candidate to have an academic background in environmental sciences, ecology, soil science or physical geography. In addition, the following are essential: (i) Willingness to travel extensively and spend long periods of time doing fieldwork; (ii) Driving license or ability to get one before summer 2023.

Strong merits include experience of field work in remote sites and experience of forest inventory and/or quantitative analysis (statistics, modelling, remote sensing, GIS).

Terms of employment
The employment is expected to result in a doctoral degree and the main assignment for the student is thus to be part of the research education, which includes participation in research but also taking relevant courses. Teaching and other departmental activities (up to a maximum of 20% time) are typically included as well. Employment is limited to four years at full time or up to five years if teaching and other departmental work is performed. The salary is fixed according to the established salary level for doctoral students.

You apply through our recruitment system Varbi on December 15, 2023 at the latest. Evaluations will be based on the application and on interviews. The application must be written in English (preferably) or Swedish and should include:

  1. A short (max 1 page) description of why you are interested in the position
  2. CV
  3. Copies of certificates from higher education
  4. List of completed university courses and the grades
  5. Copy of publications/degree thesis

If you have questions regarding the position, please contact Professor Daniel Metcalfe:

The Department of Ecology and Environmental Science (EMG) carries out research and postgraduate education in ecology, environmental science and physical geography. The department has about 150 employees and about 30 of these are PhD students. For more information, visit

Umeå University strives to offer an equal environment where open dialogue between people with different backgrounds and perspectives lay the foundation for learning, creativity and development. We welcome people with different backgrounds and experiences to apply for the current employment.


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