PhD position, elevational treeline migration - Potsdam, Germany

The Research Group "Polar Terrestrial Environmental Systems" at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Cenre for Polar and Marine Research seeks a PhD student (m/f/d) within the Russian-German DFG funded project "Сlimate-induced treeline dynamics in the Ural Mountains: drivers, constraints, and the role of genetic adaptation" (UralTreelines) who is enthusiastic to address timely scientific questions about land surface processes in the Arctic and consequences on ecosystems, especially on vegetation dynamics.


The position is available to start as soon as possible.

The position is limited to three years. The salary will be paid in accordance with the Collective Agreement for the Public Service of the Federation (Tarifvertrag des öffentlichen Dienstes, TVöD Bund), up to salary level 13 (66%). The place of employment will be Potsdam, Germany.

All doctoral candidates will be members of AWI's postgraduate program POLMAR or another graduate school and thus benefit from a comprehensive training program and extensive support measures.


Elevational treelines in the Urals respond positively to industrial warming. If ongoing forest expansion keeps pace with future global change it will squeeze vast areas of pristine alpine tundra habitats, possibly to extinction. However, the rate of climate change may outrun a treeline advance. Furthermore, maladaptation and poor genetic connectivity in the landscape may constrain the adaptation of local tree populations.

Hence, to unravel the important factors for treeline migration and provide realistic predictions of the future treeline position we need to combine a genetic survey with dendroecological data to fed into a spatially explicit model that can simulate trait adaptations.

The main tasks lay in the interface of model development, molecular data generation and data analyses. This involves development of the individual-based forest model LAVESI by including dynamic adaptation of traits relevant for simulated tree species in the Ural Mountains. Further, effective seed dispersal rates need to be adjusted based on distances inferred from microsatellite-based genotyping.

Following a validation of the model, the importance of the newly implemented processes for historical treeline dynamics shall be evaluated. With the enhanced model, we aim to improve our understanding about responses of boreal forests in the Urals under climate warming in the next decades and to estimate if the potential migration would ultimately cause a tundra loss.


You will:

- Improve the microsatellite assay, genotype the samples and run the parentage analyses.
- Interpret literature-based results and own parentage data to implement dynamically adapting traits of tree individuals into the individual-based forest model LAVESI (in programming language C++).
- Parameterize the model for elevational treelines and variables adapted for the larch species present in the Urals and analyze the impact of potential processes (seed dispersal, adaptation) by running sensitivity studies.
- Force simulations with the newly parameterised and enhanced model and evaluate future population dynamics and treeline advances under potential genetic constraints using climate scenarios for the 21st century.
- A suitable publication activity as well as the presentation of the achieved results at international conferences are expected.


- Master’s degree or equivalent degree in bio- or geosciences (Biology, (Geo)Ecology, (Geo)Physics or related disciplines).
- Good knowledge of data processing and programming (C ++ and in addition R or a similar language) is required.
- Experiences in molecular biology are required.
- Advanced English skills (written and spoken) are a prerequisit, Russian language skills are beneficial.
- In general, good skills in communication and writing are expected, and a high capacity for teamwork.

The offered position offers a chance to work together in an interdisciplinary team addressing current scientific questions about vegetation dynamics. Leaders support and expect the completion of the dissertation including relevant publication and presentation of gained results at international conferences.


Please forward your application by 11 April 2021, exclusively online:

Reference number 21/76/D/Geo-b

Further information

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Ulrike Herzschuh (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; +49(331)288-2165)

or Dr. Stefan Kruse (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; +49(331)288-2218)