PhD position: Spatial patterns and resilience in tundra community composition


The University of British Columbia, Canada

Job description

There is an urgent need to understand the effects that global change can have on the Earth, its system components and ecosystems. One area of critical concern is the imminent abrupt and irreversible critical transitions of ecosystems through tipping points. Recent discoveries indicate that such tipping could be evaded and even reversed in ecosystems through spatial pattern formation, thereby creating pathways of resilience. For our ERC-Synergy project Pathways of resilience and evasion of tipping in ecosystems (RESILIENCE) we are offering a PhD position for a self-motivated candidate with a strong scientific background in the fields of ecology, remote sensing, environmental sciences, data science, mathematics or statistics with excellent English language skills

The aim of RESILIENCE is to fundamentally advance our understanding and predictions of tipping points and critical transitions in ecosystems and reveal how these can be evaded and even reversed through spatial pattern formation. RESILIENCE will develop a new theory for emerging resilience through spatial pattern formation and link this with real tipping-prone biomes undergoing accelerating global change: savanna and tundra. The candidate will benefit from the expertise of the four Principal Investigators (PIs) in the RESILIENCE project: Max Rietkerk, an ecologist at Utrecht University, Arjen Doelman, a mathematician at Leiden University, Ehud Meron, a physicist at Ben-Gurion University, and Isla Myers-Smith, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia. In this PhD project at University of British Columbia, you will study spatial patterns in tundra ecosystems, revealing how spatial patterns relate to tundra plant composition change. For this project, you could use a combination of in-situ plant composition/biodiversity data, satellite images, aerial photographs and drone imagery from focal tundra research sites around the circumpolar Arctic to quantify how spatial patterns relate to changes in the biodiversity, composition and structure of tundra plant communities. This research will increase our understanding of tundra ecosystem resilience and will be used to predict rates of tundra plant biodiversity and composition change with global change. We collaborate with other PhDs, postdocs and researchers from the different involved universities to explore mathematical or physical models of the resulting data to address the larger project goals.


Candidates for this PhD position should have:

  • A MSc degree in ecology, remote sensing, environmental sciences, data science, mathematics, statistics or a related field
  • A desire to develop strong quantitative skills.
  • Interest in interdisciplinary research.
  • Experience in writing and publishing peer-reviewed articles.
  • Fluency in verbal and written English.
  • Ability to work independently and lead collaborative research projects.
  • Interest in working in an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment as a part of a diverse team.
  • Willingness to participate in fieldwork.

Candidates for this PhD position would ideally have:

  • Knowledge of spatial analysis and Bayesian statistics.
  • Experience in R and/or Python programming.
  • Experience using version control software and managing data.
  • Experience conducting fieldwork.
  • Experience in northern ecosystems.
  • Experience piloting drone and working with drone imagery.


You will be offered a full-time four-year position. The annual salary will be $32,000 CAD per year with tuition covered and the option take on teaching assistant contracts to supplement this funding. Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships in addition to the base salary for this position.

About the organization

This position will be based at the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, Faculty of Forestry, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver campus, which is located on the territory of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm) People. 

The University of British Columbia is a global centre for teaching, learning and research, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Forestry is recognized globally as one of the leading forestry faculties in the world. As the largest Faculty of Forestry in Canada, we welcome almost 1500 undergraduate and graduate students from over 40 countries every year to study forestry at UBC. We strive to create a respectful, positive and safe working environment for people of all backgrounds. We believe that inclusiveness and diversity are essential to academic excellence. We encourage members of underrepresented groups to apply including First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, Indigenous peoples of North America, Black-identified persons, other racialized persons, persons with disabilities, and those who identify as women and/or 2SLGBTQ+.

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact Prof. Isla Myers-Smith (contact information at


To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘APPLY‘ button. NOTE: Direct applications via email are not appreciated.

The application deadline is 20th of March, 2024. The application procedure is organised via Utrecht University as project coordinator.