Are you passionate about understanding the effects of drought on tropical forests? Do you aspire to contribute to cutting-edge research in forest ecology and management? We have two exciting PhD positions available at the Forest Ecology and Forest Management Chair Group (FEM) at Wageningen University that offer a unique opportunity to delve into the impacts of drought on trees in Brazilian tropical forests.

You will contribute to a better understanding of tree responses to drought at seasonal and multi-annual time scales, and across a rainfall gradient in the tropics. Specifically, you will help unravelling the roles of two possible mechanisms driving drought impacts on tree growth: (i) the low availability of sugars due to stomatal closure, impairing photosynthesis (source limitation) and (ii) the lack of cell multiplication and expansion due to low cell turgor pressure (sink limitation).

You will study two widespread and abundant tree genera (Aspidosperma, Handroanthus) that form annual tree rings. You will also contribute to model development, and use process-based tree growth models. Both PhD students will work closely together during intensive field campaigns at two climatically distinct sites to measure daily and seasonal patterns of plant hydration and stem growth (with dendrometers), water dynamics (sap flow sensors) and leaf phenology (automized cameras).

PhD student 1 will use these data to analyse diel and seasonal drought effects, and apply a new mechanistic tree model that simulates tree-level photosynthesis and turgor-limited growth. This model allows evaluating the roles of source and -sink limitation in tree drought responses at daily and seasonal time scales. Both PhD students will also jointly collect wood samples (increment cores or stem discs) at 7 sites across a large rainfall gradient from dry (caatinga) to wet zones (Amazon forest).

PhD student 2 will use these samples to quantify the effects of extreme, episodic droughts on stem growth (tree ring analysis) and water use efficiency (carbon stable isotopes). Next, this information is used to develop and use a novel tree growth model that simulates source and sink limitation at multi-annual time scales. Both studies are tightly linked and most field work is conducted in close collaboration.

You will be supervised by Frank Sterck and prof. dr. Pieter Zuidema and the supervision team is further complemented by specialists on modelling tree growth responses at diel, seasonal and multi-annual scale, on plant phenology and plant hydraulics.

Your qualities We are looking for two highly motivated and enthusiastic candidates with the following qualifications:

  • An MSc degree in a relevant field, including: biology, forest & nature conservation, plant sciences;
  • Experience in conducting forest ecological or tree eco-physiological field work in remote sites; leading such fieldwork is a plus;
  • Excellent communication and collaboration skills are a strict requirement;
  • Experience with quantitative techniques and statistical analyses of large datasets;
  • Experience with mechanistic plant growth modelling and programming is a plus;
  • Experience in handling (advanced) equipment for measuring plants is a plus (PhD1);
  • Experience with dendrochronological measurements and analyses is a plus PhD2);
  • A broad interest into understanding climate change impacts on forests;
  • Meeting minimal English language requirements of Wageningen University and willingness to learn Portuguese.

We offer you 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;
  • 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. The start of this PhD project is planned for November 1, 2023, and the contract is for four years (if full time). 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 18th 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. 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. For instance under the “30% rule”, certain categories of international staff can receive tax exemption on approximately 30% of their gross salary.

Do you want more information? For more information about this position, please contact prof. dr. Frank Sterck , by email: or prof. dr Pieter Zuidema, by email: For more information about the procedure, please contact Noorien Abbas, Corporate Recruiter, by email:

Do you want to apply? You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval. Please upload your CV and cover / motivation letter. This vacancy will be listed up to and including 18 September 2023. We hope to schedule the first job interviews soon after the closing date.

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.

Wageningen University & Research: 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.

About FEM: We are at the Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, which focusses on education and research on the mechanisms of biodiversity and productivity patterns in forests, and on forest management aiming at the sustainable use of forests.

We are part of the department of Environmental Sciences of Wageningen University, which provides a broad array of research and academic education on the environment. This includes nature, landscape, land usage, adaptation to climate change, water and ocean management and the various competing claims on space, but also biodiversity and the sustainability of management and production. Wageningen University is part of the Wageningen University and Research Centre.

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