PhD Researcher Ecosystem Service Modelling

Wageningen University & Research

Wageningen, Netherlands 🇳🇱

We are looking for

Are you an aspiring researcher looking for a new opportunity in the field of ecosystem and biodiversity accounting? Would you like to join a friendly and open environment where you can develop your skills and acquire new knowledge? Then you have a part to play as a PhD candidate within the interdisciplinary research project ‘SELINA’!

In this project you will investigate how satellite data from various sources in combination with spatial models can be used to develop ‘ecosystem accounts’. Ecosystem accounting is a new, ground-breaking methodology to help understand, monitor and asses the contributions of ecosystems to the economy. Much progress has been made in ecosystem accounting in recent years, and the methodology is now a UN standard that is being applied in at least 40 countries world-wide. At the same time, some methodological challenges remain. Several of these challenges are being addressed by PhD research projects in the ESA group.

This PhD project would address two remaining key challenges: (i) how to map and analyse biodiversity as part of biodiversity accounting; and (ii) assess  how so-called disservices / negative externalities of ecosystem use (specifically how emissions from fire in ecosystems) can be included in the accounts. The PhD candidate will work closely together with other PhD students working on these related topics.
The envisioned PhD research should (i) develop new insights in how biodiversity and emissions can be connected to, or included in, ecosystem accounts; and (ii) build pilot ecosystem accounts for biodiversity and selected emissions (the scale and area for which these will be built will be determined in the beginning of the project). There are various indicators that can be considered, building upon extensive experiences world-wide with biodiversity monitoring. In terms of emissions, there are also several options, mapping emissions as disservices, or mapping ecosystem properties that lead to emission control as services. Such methods need to be assessed and compared. The use of GIS and potentially also Machine Learning (ML) is key. However, the PhD project has a degree of flexibility so that additional streams of research, case studies or methodologies can be included. The methods should be applicable world-wide, and as much as possible globally available data sources, e.g. from earth observation, will be used for this study. The research will be supported by field data from various sites, that are organised with local partners. Potential reference sites include the Netherlands, Northern Portugal, Peloponnesus, Greece, Palawan, Philippines, and Mato Grosso, Brazil. This will be done with local partners, and we will also connect to the European Space Agency as well as private sector (e.g. property developers working globally) in this project using existing contacts.

We are searching for a PhD candidate who has strong spatial modelling skills, an understanding of biodiversity, some experience with ML and spatial data management, a general affinity with the topics described above; and a curious mindset open to explore new scientific avenues. The PhD may include field work in one or more of the above mentioned sites, depending upon progress with the research and interests of the PhD candidate.

This research is embedded within the Environmental Systems Analysis Group. You will be supervised by Prof Dr. Lars Hein and Dr. Jannik Schultner. Within the SELINA project you will work closely together with a large consortium of around 30 partners, working on ecosystems, ecosystem services, biodiversity and environmental policies. You will also work with partners in the Open Earth Monitor Project with some 20 additional partners working on spatial data and models.

We ask

  • A successfully completed MSc degree in geoinformation or environmental sciences.
  • Strong spatial modelling skills, experience with Machine Learning is desired.
  • Academic excellence, with a solid understanding of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, demonstrated through grade transcripts and CV.
  • Flexible and team player.
  • Proactive behaviour and ability to work independently.
  • Some affinity with or interest in the economic analysis of ecosystem services.  
  • Good communication skills.
  • Willingness to travel to case study sites and conduct fieldwork, if needed.
  • Experience with analysis of health issues and health-focused design.
  • Excellent command of academic written and spoken English (C1 level).

We offer

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, up to 40 hours per week;
  • 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.

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 17th 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. Applicants from abroad moving to the Netherlands may qualify for a special tax relief, known as the 30% ruling. 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, and other issues.

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. For more information please go to our inclusivity page. A good example of how WUR deals with inclusiveness can be read on the page working at WUR with a functional impairment.

More information

For more information about this position, please contact Lars Hein ( or  Jannik Schultner (, by e-mail.
For more information about the procedure, please contact Edgar Tijhuis, corporate recruiter,

Do you want to apply?
You can apply directly by uploading your CV, design portfolio (PDF file no larger than 500 MB and with a minimum resolution of 150 dpi)  and motivation letter, using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval.
This vacancy will be listed up to and including the 31st of December 2022. We hope to schedule the job interviews during January 2023. The preferred starting date for this position is the 1st of March or April 2023.

We are

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.

Read the 5 reasons why your future colleagues enjoy working at WUR and watch this video to get an idea of our green campus!

The ESA group studies environmental problems by exploring, modelling, and communicating their causes, mechanisms, effects and potential solutions. Quantitative, qualitative and multi-, and transdisciplinary research are combined and knowledge from natural, social and engineering sciences is integrated. In ESA research, a systems analysis approach is taken and tools are applied to the thematic domain of environmental change and society. Within the ESA group we currently identify two research lines: Pollution & Nutrients (e.g. causes and impacts of pollution, nutrient fluxes, uncertainty analysis and scale issues in modelling), and Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (e.g. quantification and valuation of ecosystem functions and services). The ESA group plays a key role in the study programmes Environmental Sciences, Urban Environmental Management and Climate Studies of Wageningen University





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