PhD – Developing multi-faceted approaches to conservation planning for the European Alps

PhD on

Developing multi-faceted approaches to
conservation planning for the European Alps

PhD details


Isolated mountain ranges provide a unique opportunity to study the processes generating biodiversity and practical aspects of its conservation under a common ecological and historical setting. The European Alps, one of the coldest biomes on the planet, are a well-known hotspot of biodiversity in Europe, with fairly high plant endemism (about 13%). The growing evidence that alpine biodiversity is highly threatened by global changes urges us to assess whether the existing network of protected areas cover the different components (e.g. rarity, endemism, functional and phylogenetic diversity, phylogenetic endemism) of the flora of European Alps and their associated goods and services they provide under current and future conditions.


The objective of the PhD is to explore the regional (spatial) correlation patterns between floristic
biodiversity facets (taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic) for richness (diversity), uniqueness (or
distinctiveness), endemism, and rarity across the Alps using different datasets. The PhD will answer to what degree the existing reserve network is capable of conserving this rich floristic diversity including its rare and unique elements and its floristic compositions, and what additional regions would ideally be added to improve the conservation of plant diversity including phylogenetic (evolutionary heritage) and functional (ecosystem functioning and services) aspects. Finally, the PhD will investigate how the existing network of protected areas should be optimized to secure the plant diversity of the European Alps under future climate and land use change scenarios.

Data and methods:

The PhD will make use of an unprecedented database of distribution data for all plant species of the
European Alps, the molecular dated species-level phylogeny, and suitable functional traits, all being
currently developed within the ANR Origin-Alps project. During the first few months of the PhD, the student will participate in data acquisition (field surveys, trait sampling, and database cleaning). The methods involved during the PhD concerns species distribution modelling, conservation planning tools and diversity measures based on Hill’s number.

Practical information:

The PhD is funded through the French-Swiss bilateral project called Origin-Alps (2017-2020, Bilateral  ANR- SNF generic call 2016) coordinated by S. Lavergne and W. Thuiller (LECA, France) on the French side and N.E. Zimmermann (WSL, Zurich) on the Swiss side. The PhD will be co-supervised by N.E. Zimmermann and W. Thuiller. The candidate will be expected to share his/her time between Zurich and Grenoble (details to be discussed).

Strong collaboration is foreseen with other researchers involved within Origin-Alps (Jan Smycka,
Cristina Roquet) and in the teams of the two groups (Laura Pollock, Matt Talluto, Catherine H. Graham, Loïc Pellissier).

Keywords: Biodiversity modelling, gap analysis, phylogenetic diversity, functional diversity, climate
change, land use change, ecosystem services


The candidates should have a Master degree in a relevant area (ecology, biology, evolution), be highly self-motivated, and able to work in a dynamic team. We expect the candidates to have a good knowledge of statistics (preferably in the R environment), and preferably knowledge of conservation planning issues, biodiversity modelling and diversity metrics at multiple scales. Having worked on those issues during the Master is a plus. Working language is English. Knowledge of French or/and German is recommended but not mandatory.

Application details

Please submit your complete application (motivation letter, CV including publication list, PDF format) using this link (where you find a short version of the job offer) and address your application to SabineHirt, Human Resources WSL. Niklaus E. Zimmermann ( or Wilfried Thuiller ( will be happy to answer any questions or offer further information. The position is open until filled, evaluation starts March 27th 2017. Expected start of the position is between July 1st and October 1st 2017.

Relevant publications

Egoh, B., Reyers, B., Rouget, M., Bode, M. & Richardson, D.M. (2009) Spatial congruence between
biodiversity and ecosystem services in South Africa. Biological Conservation, 142, 553-562.

Egoh, B., Rouget, M., Reyers, B., Knight, A.T., Cowling, R.M., van Jaarsveld, A.S. & Welz, A.
(2007) Integrating ecosystem services into conservation assessments: A review. Ecological
Economics, 63, 714-721.

Gonzalez-Orozco, C.E., Pollock, L.J., Thornhill, A.H., Mishler, B.D., Knerr, N., Laffan, S., Miller,
J.T., Rosauer, D.F., Faith, D.P., Nipperess, D.A., Kujala, H., Linke, S., Butt, N., Kulheim, C.,
Crisp, M.D. & Gruber, B. (2016) Phylogenetic approaches reveal biodiversity threats under
climate change. Nature Climate Change, 6, 1110-+.

Pollock, L.J., Rosauer, D.F., Thornhill, A.H., Kujala, H., Crisp, M.D., Miller, J.T. & McCarthy, M.A.
(2015) Phylogenetic diversity meets conservation policy: small areas are key to preserving
eucalypt lineages. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Thuiller, W., Maiorano, L., Mazel, F., Guilhaumon, F., Ficetola, G.F., Lavergne, S., Renaud, J.,
Roquet, C. & Mouillot, D. (2015) Conserving the functional and phylogenetic trees of life of
European tetrapods. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,


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