Last application date Aug 24, 2023 00:00 Department LA20 – Department of Environment Contract Limited duration Degree: You hold a degree of Master of Science in Bioscience Engineering, Master of Science in Soils and Global Change, or similar Master of Science programme; students who will obtain their degree in September 2023 can also apply. Occupancy rate: 100% Vacancy type: Research staff

Job description: We have an open position for a PhD in a multidisciplinary project funded by the special research fund (BOF) of Ghent University, on: “The contribution of nematodes to soil N cycling and plant growth: feedback mechanisms with roots and the rhizosphere microbial communities”

Description: Soil biology is the new frontier in environmental sciences, and received overwhelming and ever increasing attention in recent years, but despite the rapidly evolving knowledge on soil biodiversity as such, its relation with crucial soil functions remains largely unexplored. The carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles in soil are tightly coupled and determine crucial processes with respect to agricultural production (e.g. N availability) and to environmental problems (N leaching losses, emissions of the greenhouse gases CO2, N2O and CH4, C sequestration, …).

It has been frequently suggested that soil microfauna (nematodes, protists) play a very important part in C and N cycling, but research in this field has largely ignored the role of microfauna and their interactions with plant roots, bacteria and fungi, mostly as a result of the phenomenal methodological challenges in this type of research. In the past decade, we have achieved breakthroughs in this field and we were e.g. the first to quantify the contribution of the entire soil nematode community in realistic soil conditions.

In this project, we will set up unique multitrophic experiments controlling for the presence of specific trophic groups of nematodes and their combinations, to assess how herbivorous nematodes control rhizodeposition, how this root derived carbon cascades to the microbial community and to the bacterivorous and fungivorous nematodes, and the feedback mechanisms on plant (roots).

To this end, we will use 13C stable isotope labelling to track the rhizodeposition as a function of time, and its redistribution over the soil decomposer community. We will monitor the evolution of root trait development using both destructive and non-destructive methods (X-ray computed tomography), and assess how the activity of microfauna controls this development, both directly and indirectly.

We will also investigate how nematode trophic groups and their combination influence N2O emissions from soil, potentially leading to improved management to reduce N2O emissions. Finally, this project will produce unique data that should allow to critically evaluate existing soil food web models, and propose new concepts for such models, and that may allow to increase our prediction of N dynamics in biogeochemical simulation models.

A timely research project of great importance for soil health, sustainable agriculture, ecosystem functioning, soil biodiversity This project, financed by the BOF-UGent, will be carried out by a unique UGent-ILVO consortium combining all necessary infrastructure and background knowledge, consisting of following research groups:

  • Research Group Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management, Department Environment, FBE-UGent (prof. Stefaan De Neve, prof. Steven Sleutel): soil nutrient and C cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, role of nematodes and protists in soil C and N cycling, non-destructive visualization of soil structure and plant roots using X-ray CT
  • Laboratory of Microbiology, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, FW-UGent (prof. Anne Willems): bacteria-plants symbioses, molecular analysis of bacterial community composition
  • ILVO Plant (and Laboratory of Agrozoology, FBE-UGent) (prof. Wim Wesemael): biology and management of plant-parasitic nematodes, morphological and molecular analysis of soil nematodes
    The doctoral student will also be directly supervised by an experienced postdoctoral researcher in this field.

Job profile Requirements:

  • MSc in Bioscience engineering or related study field
  • Interest in multidisciplinary research in the broad field of soil biology
  • Good command of spoken and written English
  • Willingness to participate in teaching and supervision activities: assistance with practicals (max. 5% of your time), tutoring of students for bachelor project and/or Master thesis
  • Willingness to perform short study stays abroad if so required for the research

We offer: unique and exciting research topic, in a stimulating, highly diverse and highly international research group and department further personal development through courses offered by the UGent Doctoral schools and other national and international courses 48 months PhD scholarship 36 days of holidays per year bicycle allowance use of student restaurants, sports facilities, …

Expected start date: No later than 1 October 2023 (earlier start may be negotiated if this would be preferred)

How to apply Send your application (see below) to with the heading ‘Application BOF_Soil Biology_Last name_First name’ before August 24, 2023. Provide the following documents:

  • your CV and an overview of your study results (merged into one pdf file)
  • your application letter
  • a transcript of the required degree (if already in your possession): students that will finish in September ’23 are also welcome to apply
  • If you have a foreign diploma provide evidence of English language proficiency

Ghent University maintains an equal opportunities and diversity policy, everyone is encouraged to apply for this position. Candidates found fit based on CV screening will be invited for an interview upon invitation. Include your email address and telephone number to allow us to get in contact.

MORE INFORMATION: For more information about this vacancy, please contact Prof. Stefaan De Neve (, +32(0)9/264 60 61).  

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