PhD Position in Soil Science - Microbial Ecology


ETH Zürich

Forest ecosystems cover approximately 30% of Earth's land surface and provide innumerable ecosystem services, yet they are vulnerable to climate extremes. Of particular concern are the potential increases in tree mortality associated with drought-induced physiological stress. High mortality rates of Scots pine trees have been recently observed in several inner-Alpine valleys in Europe. This PhD project will be embedded within the framework of the SNF Ambizione project "When trees die: understanding how plants and microbes interact and influence soil biogeochemical processes" granted to Dr. Emily Solly. The main aim of the Ambizione project is to simultaneously assess the currently little explored mechanistic responses of Scots pine trees and microbial communities to drought and their effects on the cycling of carbon and nitrogen. The planned work will involve the use of controlled greenhouse experiments on small-scale Scots pine soil systems, and will rely on the analysis of soil samples collected in Scots pine stands in two inner-Alpine dry valleys of Switzerland. The analytical work will be conducted in close collaboration between Dr. Emily Solly, who will focus on the analysis of the responses of tree growth and soil biogeochemical processes to water scarcity, and the PhD candidate. The PhD candidate will assess how water limitation influences the community composition, abundance and activity of the soil microbiome and its interconnected effects on tree mortality. Cutting edge molecular genetic methods will be adopted to study the responses of the soil microbiome to drought. Furthermore, state-of-the art isotopic labeling techniques will be used to trace alterations in the carbon and nitrogen transfer between plants/soil organic matter and the microbial community. The PhD candidate will work in the research group of Prof. Dr. Johan Six. Daily supervision will be given by Dr. Emily Solly and Dr. Martin Hartmann will supervise the high-throughput DNA and RNA sequencing. The project will profit strongly from collaborations with the highly interdisciplinary Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape research WSL.

We are looking for a highly motivated and team-oriented PhD student interested in a scientific career. A degree in Environmental Sciences, Biology, Microbiology, or Ecology and a strong interest in soil microbial ecology are needed. Experience in DNA or RNA sequencing, bioinformatics, statistics, biogeochemical analysis, and general laboratory manipulation experiments is of advantage. Furthermore, very good oral and written communication skills in English are required.

Click here for more information.