At the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, we are looking for a PhD candidate to study the effectiveness of restoration of grassland ecosystems in agricultural landscapes. For more information about the institute you can visit a short impression of the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development on the social media channel of the Faculty of GeoSciences.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy calls for binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems to recover biodiversity, ecosystem resilience and nature’s contributions to people. However, many landscapes have been heavily modified and are currently under pressure from anthropogenic stresses such as nitrogen deposition, habitat fragmentation and disruption of hydrological connections. Restoring ecosystems in such landscapes is not straightforward.

 Land-owning organizations, including NGO’s such as Natuurmonumenten and Staatsbosbeheer, have been restoring ecosystems in the past decades. Herbaceous ecosystems such as grasslands and heathlands are often expected to recover naturally following restoration of local abiotic conditions. Alternatively, flora or (soil) fauna are transferred. The extent to which these practices are successful on the long term in restoring biodiversity in increasingly modified, agricultural landscapes remains unclear.

In this project we will analyse the recovery trajectories of restored grasslands in agricultural landscapes using field surveys and existing monitoring data. We will evaluate vegetation recovery and link this to restoration practices, environmental conditions, site and landscape management, and the distribution of remnant populations in the surrounding landscape as a source for re-colonization of the restored sites. We will collaborate and share knowledge with major land-owning NGO’s to develop effective policies and measures to sustain and restore grassland ecosystems.

We are looking for a PhD candidate who wants to contribute to bending the curve of biodiversity loss to biodiversity recovery, by strengthening our research on biodiversity restoration in (heavily) modified landscapes. You have a solid fundamental understanding of ecosystem processes and main landscape-level drivers of biodiversity loss and recovery, and are willing to translate this into effective interventions in nature conservation and restoration.

We achieve major impact through educating the change agents of the future. You will also teach in the BSc programme Global Sustainability Science, in the MSc programme Sustainable Development, and supervise Bachelor’s and Master’s theses. Teaching is in English. The teaching load will be 10%.


We gladly receive applications from candidates who:

  • have an MSc degree in a relevant field in environmental sciences or ecology;
  • have experience in ecological field work and data analysis;
  • have good mechanistic understanding of the interaction between major land use-driven environmental changes and biodiversity;
  • have good plant identification skills and knowledge of the European flora, or are willing to invest in this;
  • are deeply motivated to contribute with scientific knowledge to effective nature conservation and restoration measures;
  • have an interest in academic teaching;
  • can demonstrate English language proficiency at C1 level (CEFR
  • or comparable to level 3 of the Lecturer Assessment Grid) or are prepared to obtain this level by training;
  • are proficient in Dutch or are prepared to acquire Dutch language skills.


You will be offered a temporary position (0.8-1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions including an attractive retirement scheme, professional development (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University

About the organisation

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability. For an impression of the university, please visit Utrecht University Campus Tour

Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including its’ ecosystems and man’s utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation.

The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development. The faculty is located at Utrecht Science Park near the historical city centre of Utrecht.

As a PhD you will be based at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development: an interdisciplinary research institute hosting 270 researchers and more than 100 PhD students that collectively investigate and develop processes and opportunities for innovative change towards sustainability.

The core mission of the Copernicus Institute is to have a positive impact on the transition to a sustainable society. This includes increasing the quality of the living environment and recovering biodiversity.

The city of Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a historic centre and an internationally oriented culture that is strongly influenced by its centuries-old university. Utrecht has been consistently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the Netherlands, and is well-connected to local and international transport hubs.

Additional information

For more information about this position please contact Prof. Merel Soons at

You are also invited to join our online information session via Microsoft Teams on:

Friday 21 April between 13.00 – 14.00 CEST. Please send an email to Sophie Ketting via if you want to participate in the meeting. The Teams link will then be sent to you.

You can ask us about our profiles and tasks of the offered position, the possibilities of professional development, and living in Utrecht (housing, visa, schools, partner opportunities). We look forward to meeting you!


Everyone deserves to feel at home our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button. The application deadline is 7 May 2023.


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