The Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) offers, in its Department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics, a PhD position in the SoilProS project (Soil Biodiversity analyses for Sustainable Production Systems) financed by NWO-TTW (Perspectief programme).

 Project description: Current agricultural practices largely ignore the role of biota and biodiversity in soils. The result is that current food production systems require high amounts of artificial inputs and do not sufficiently value the importance of soil biodiversity. At the same time, they increasingly emit greenhouse gases and nutrients, while being poorly buffered against drought and rainfall events, and soil-borne diseases.

The restoration of these soil functions requires intervention e.g. through addition of soil amendments (organic substrates, lime), inoculation with microorganisms, application of plant mixtures, etc. However, crucial process-based insights needed for successful restoration are currently still incomplete. This is caused not so much by the limits of what we can measure, but rather by the challenge of how to optimally interpret the data generated.

In the SoilProS project, 7 PhD candidates, one Postdoc and three technicians will tackle this challenge. For this, they will work closely work together within the fields of soil biodiversity, soil chemistry, microbial ecology and artificial intelligence (AI) supported by a broad range of stakeholders from governmental bodies to various companies in the agricultural sector.

UvA-IBED will hire one out of the 7 PhD students, who will examine the impact of interventions (see examples above) on soil functions such as soil carbon storage, soil structure, nutrient supply, filter function (clean water but also water retention) and soil resilience against pests and diseases.

The PhD will  focus on determining the role of biological soil properties and will closely collaborate with another PhD at Wageningen University who will focus on the physical and chemical soil properties. The mechanistic insights regarding the interventions gained in laboratory and greenhouse studies will provide input for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) approach of the overall project geared towards a soil management regime that facilitates sustainability.

The PhD candidate will be based at University of Amsterdam, at the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), in the department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics (ELD) within the Plant-Soil Ecology laboratory (PSECO). The candidate will closely collaborate with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Wageningen University, Utrecht University, Technical University of Twente, the Centre for Soil Ecology, SoilProS stakeholders, and other national and international workshops and conferences.

What are you going to do?

In this PhD project; Soil biological mechanisms involved in improving soil functions, you will perform experiments (among other in mesocosms) in collaboration with the PhD based at Wageningen University, to elucidate the mechanisms by which interventions (see above) improve soil functions.

You will examine the impact of interventions on: 1) carbon storage  in terms of soil carbon pools of different stability, 2) the formation and stability of soil aggregates, 3) the speciation and bioavailability of nutrients in soils, 4) the leaching fluxes of nutrients and contaminants from the rootzone, and 5) the resilience of soils in preserving their functions against drought, heat and intense rainfall.

For examining these effects, a variety of experimental strategies will be employed including EPS (Extracellular Polymeric Substance) characterization, functional microbial community characterization using microresp plates, characterization of soil organic matter with FTIR-ATR (Fourier transformed infrared attenuated total reflection) and characterizing the active microbial community using PLFA (phospholipid fatty acid) DNA Stable Isotope Probing.

We will measure both pools/standing stocks (e.g. microbial biomass, soil organic matter content, total N and P, etc ) and fluxes (e.g. greenhouse gass emissions, basal respiration), as well as relevant soil quality indicators/functions such as water holding capacity, aggregates stability and ‘stable’ organic matter fractions and pathogen pressure.

What do you have to offer?

Your experience and profile:

  • A MSc in Ecology, Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, or a related discipline
  • An interest in, and understanding of, linkages between plants, microbial communities, soil organic matter, and environmental parameters
  • Experience in setting up, running, or sampling field or glasshouse experiments
  • Experience in analysis and interpretation of experimental data – experience in analysing multivariate data is a plus
  • Experience in the analysis of plant and soil samples, in particular of density fractionation methods, stable isotopes, and DNA-based methods
  • Good computational, analytical and statistical skills, including the use of a programming language such as R
  • The ability to present information in an accurate and appropriate format, and to communicate effectively with a range of groups including scientists and stakeholders with interests in soils and their management
  • Good speaking and writing proficiency in English
  • Effective interpersonal skills and ability to work with colleagues at all levels

You are a team player, looking forward to constructively collaborating with the other members of our diverse and inclusive research team.

Our offer

A PhD position with a temporary contract for 38 hours per week for the duration of 4 years (the initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years). This should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). The preferred starting date is August 1st 2023.

We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students. 

Besides the salary and a vibrant and challenging environment at Science Park we offer you multiple fringe benefits:

  • 232 holiday hours per year (based on fulltime) and extra holidays between Christmas and 1 January;
  • multiple courses to follow from our Teaching and Learning Centre;
  • a complete educational program for PhD students;
  • multiple courses on topics such as leadership for academic staff;
  • multiple courses on topics such as time management, handling stress and an online learning platform with 100+ different courses;
  • 7 weeks birth leave (partner leave) with 100% salary;
  • partly paid parental leave;
  • the possibility to set up a workplace at home for one or two days a week;
  • a pension at ABP for which UvA pays two third part of the contribution;
  • the possibility to follow courses to learn Dutch;
  • help with your registration at UvA Staff Housing (application for a studio or small apartment when you’re moving from abroad).  

About us: The University of Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ largest university, offering the widest range of academic programmes. At the UvA, 30,000 students, 6,000 staff members and 3,000 PhD candidates study and work in a diverse range of fields, connected by a culture of curiosity.

The Faculty of Science has a student body of around 8,000, as well as 1,800 members of staff working in education, research or support services. Together, we create a vibrant, challenging and well-equipped research environment at Amsterdam Science Park.

Researchers and students at the Faculty of Science are fascinated by every aspect of how the world works, be it elementary particles, the birth of the universe or the systems underlying biological processes.

The Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics is one of eight research institutes of the Faculty of Science at the University of Amsterdam. The research at IBED aims to unravel how ecosystems function in all their complexity, and how they change due to natural processes and human activities. At its core lies an integrated systems approach to study biodiversity, ecosystems and the environment. IBED adopts this systems approach to ecosystems, addressing abiotic and biotic factors, and the interplay between those.

 The IBED vision includes research encompassing experimental and theoretical approaches at a wide variety of temporal and spatial scales, i.e. from molecules and microorganisms to patterns and processes occurring at the global scale. The University of Amsterdam has excellent high performance computing facilities.

Furthermore, IBED has a dedicated computational support team with specialized knowledge of bioinformatics, (geo)database management and scientific programming. IBED also works with non-academic partners to deliver transdisciplinary science for society.

This position will be based in the Department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics, which covers a breath of research that focusses on the functioning and dynamics of abiotic and biotic components of (geo)ecosystems across landscapes in time. You will be part of the Plant-Soil Ecology laboratory, a vibrant research group that actively values and promotes inclusivity, equity, and diversity.

We study the mechanisms through which plants and soil organisms interact, how these interactions are affected by global change, and what the consequences are for ecosystem functioning. We use a range of experimental approaches and techniques, and study natural and managed ecosystems. 

Any questions?

Do you have any questions or do you require additional information? Please contact:

T: +31 205256552

Job application

If you feel the profile fits you, and you are interested in the job, we look forward to receiving your application. You can apply online via the button below.  

Applications should include the following information (all files besides your cv should be submitted in one single pdf file):

  • a detailed CV including the months (not just years) when referring to your education and work experience;
  • a letter of motivation;
  • a list of publications (if you have any);
  • the names and email addresses of two references who can provide letters of recommendation.

Only complete applications received within the response period via the link below will be considered. The interviews will be held in the course of June/July 2023.

The UvA is an equal-opportunity employer. We prioritize diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for everyone. We value a spirit of enquiry and perseverance, provide the space to keep asking questions, and promote a culture of curiosity and creativity.

Apply Online

We accept applications until and including 29 May 2023.

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