PhD student position in Drought Impacts on Forests

ETH Zürich
Zürich, Switzerland
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 
Advanced Degree (Master's or JD)


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The Professorship of Forest Ecology is a dynamic, interdisciplinary research team that examines both theoretical and applied questions in forest ecology by combining empirical and modeling techniques. The overall aim of the group is to further our understanding of the structure and function of forest ecosystems, with a particular focus on mountain areas such as the European Alps. We offer excellent facilities in a relaxing work atmosphere with many opportunities for collaboration within and beyond the group.

Forest management is facing multiple challenges in the era of global change. Among others, drought frequency and severity are likely to increase, with first signs already being visible (e.g., European drought of 2018/2019). Thus, robust knowledge on drought impacts is needed at tree and ecosystem scales to enable projections of forest dynamics across the 21st century as information support for sustainable forest management.

Project background

In a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, we are investigating the long-term dynamics of managed forests using dynamic models, emphasizing (1) the structural uncertainty in model formulations and (2) the further development of the belowground components of a stand-scale model, i.e. water and carbon/nutrient cycling.

Job description

As a component of this larger project, we seek to appoint a PhD student to conduct research on aboveground-belowground interactions in managed forests and to provide projections of their future dynamics based on a simulation model. The PhD student will focus on modeling bio-climatic influences on forest dynamics by developing alternative formulations of soil water dynamics for better representing drought effects on tree establishment, growth, mortality, and competition. Data analysismodel-data fusion (e.g. using Bayesian techniques), rigorous model analysis, model development and model testing are integral parts of the project. The work will be conducted in close collaboration with scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).

Your profile

Required qualifications comprise an MSc degree in Forest Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Ecology, Forestry, Landscape Ecology, Ecosystem Modeling or a related field with good knowledge of Forest Ecology and Soil Science. Experience in developing, testing and applying dynamic models is a strong asset for this position. Knowledge of the software and the C family of programming languages (C++, C#) is an asset as well. Knowledge of European forest ecosystems is highly welcome. Finally, candidates should have at least basic knowledge in statistics.

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.


Starting date: 1 January 2021; negotiable within limits.

Duration of appointment: The PhD thesis should be finished within four years.

For more information on the Professorship of Forest Ecology, check its website or contact the group leader, Prof Harald Bugmann (e-mail:; no applications).

To apply for this position (in English or German), submit a cover letter (1-2 pages) explaining your interests and motivation, your CV, the transcript of records (BSc and MSc) from which the grades are evident, and the names and addresses (including e-mail) of three reference persons. Applications must be submitted using the online tool. Applications submitted by e-mail will not be considered.

Screening of applications starts on 25 October 2020, and applications are accepted until the position is filled.