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Call for candidates – PhD positions for CESS-REG Innovative Personnel Training in Global Change Studies

  
 

I. Introduction to the project
Tsinghua CESS-REG Innovative Personnel Training in Global Change Studies, sponsored by the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC), is developed under a close collaboration between the Center for Earth System Science (CESS) at Tsinghua University in China and the Resource Ecology Group (REG) at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. This training program takes fully advantage of complementary research experience and skills in Geography, Climate Science and Ecology and aims at develop cutting-edge research topics based on mutual interests, and with a particular focus on biodiversity hotspots in China/East Asia.
We accept two types of PhD candidates: full-time and joint PhD. Both candidates are jointly supervised by researchers from CESS and REG. The full-time PhD candidates complete a 48 months training in REG and receive their doctoral degree from Wageningen University. The joint PhD candidates spend 12-24 months in REG and receive their doctoral degree from Tsinghua University.
The selection committee is organized by staff members from CESS and REG. Specific selection procedures will be accomplished through emails and video conferences.
II. Eligibility
Applicants with backgrounds including Ecology, Geography, Geo-information System, Remote Sensing, Environmental Science, Statistics, Climate Science or other relevant disciplines are encouraged to apply. Candidates with relevant research experience or publications are preferred.
For the full-time PhD, applicants need to have a master degree from CESS or at the 2nd or 3rd year master study in CESS. We consider excellent applications from other schools at Tsinghua University or other internal universities. Note: MSc degree should be officially obtained before starting.
For the joint PhD, applicants need to be the 1st or 2nd year PhD students in CESS (including PhD students to be accepted).
III. Selection procedures
During the first-round of selection, applicants need to submit:
1. a CV (in Chinese & English)
2. a covering letter with a full motivation (in English)
3. a copy of the BSc and MSc degree (with English translation)
4. a copy of the BSc and MSc academic records (marks obtained) (with English translation)
5. a pdf of the first page of the passport (optional for the first-round)
a pdf of a TOEFL or IELTS test certificate for English proficiency. IELTS overall grade 6.5 (with a minimum sub-score of 6.0 for speaking); TOEFL internet-based 90 (with a minimum sub-score of 23 for speaking). Details see http://www.wageningenur.nl/en/Education-Programmes/PhD-Programme/Application.htm
6. a pdf of any other diploma or training course certificate (optional)
After a first preliminary selection, the short listed candidates have to submit:
1. a full 2500 word research proposal (with references, but excluding the references in the word count)
? focussing on the an interesting scientific subject of their own choice in line with the research themes (Details see the attachment): modelling and mapping species distribution and dynamics; conservation of biodiversity in fragmented landscapes; global change effect on ecological events/processes; mapping emerging infectious diseases; innovative approaches to process and analyze ecological data for ecological modelling; other relevant themes in global change studies.
? content includes: research background/introduction, research questions, hypotheses, methods, and up-to-date references
2. give a 15 min scientific presentation in English via video conferencing on a previous research project the candidate has carried out. Questioning by the selection committee is about 30 minutes.

IV. How to apply
Please submit your electronic materials for the preliminary selection to email box: cessedu@tsinghua.edu.cn before May 18, 2015. Short-listed candidates will be informed individually via email for the second-round of selection. Tentative date for the submission of the research plan is on June 1, 2015 and for the interview is on June 8, 2015. The confirmed dates will be specified in the notification emails.


Attachment: CESS-REG Innovative Personnel Training in Global Change Studies Research Themes
(1) Modelling and mapping species distribution and dynamics
Natural patchiness and human activities interact to create the contemporary spatial patterns of species. The landscape characteristics are often influenced by human activities, which influences species distribution through changes in habitat suitability, through changes in habitat connectivity, and through changes in species interactions. Understanding and modelling these patterns are more than combining and analyzing different data in a common georeferenced framework: the underlying factors and mechanisms are complex and can be difficult to constrain and comprehend. Moreover, these patterns are not static, either in space or in time. Species distribution modelling develops quantitative rules linking the occurrence or abundance of a species to ecological variables (both physical and anthropogenic factors and their interactions over various spatiotemporal scales) to predict the probability that a given species will be found in a particular landscape unit. The dynamics of species over time and different geographical scales can be investigated by taking advantage of the up-to-date environmental and biological datasets and advanced spatial analysis techniques. The spatial context of the landscape can be incorporated in such an analysis, e.g., through the use of recent developments in graph theory that is able to quantify the connectivity between patches through a network analysis of (dis)connected habitat patches, such that movement of species through the landscape can be studied.

(2) Conservation of biodiversity in fragmented landscapes
Biodiversity is a basic component of sustainability. In order to make resilient conservation plans for a patchy and dynamic landscape characterized by land cover changes, climate changes, human population growth and infrastructure developments, we need to be able to understand the processes which are affecting the diversity of species within these landscape. A number of land use types, and under influence of particularly habitat fragmentation, are leading to species reductions and extinctions. We intend to quantify the effects of human-induced habitat loss and degradation on species richness and examine the processes that drive large-scale patterns of species richness and abundance scale. We investigate the effect of land use types, matrix quality, patch size, edge effects, isolation and compactness on species richness and will predict the consequences of habitat fragmentation on species occurrence and abundance. We aim to develop new approaches and skills to manage to mitigate the effects of exploitation of natural resources on species richness and species conservation. These analyse can be carried out at species level (e.g. focusing on an endangered species), or at species richness (i.e. the combined effect over multiple species, with/without their value with regard to biodiversity indices).

Take bird migration as an example. China is pivotal in linking northern Asia to southern Asia when it comes to bird migration. The vast stretches of land from the borderlands with Pakistan and Kazhakstan in Central Asia to the Pacific encompass the Gobi Desert, the Tibetan Highlands, the Mongolian steppes, and the vast mountain ranges from the Pamirs till Kuchin. Much of these lands are barren but they are punctuated with oases, wetlands and rivers which are the backbone of the bird migratory flyway, and important hotspots for certain plant and animal species. The conservation of nature may easily fall victim to the ever increasing demands from industry and agriculture, and hence the Government, at all its levels, needs a deep understanding of the requirements of the network of suitable habitat for these plant and animal species that have to be preserved. Conservation planning, including the development of an ecological network, bufferzone development, and wildlife crossings in combinations with landscape planning to support China’s growing economy should be one of the research themes.

(3) Global change effect on ecological events/processes
Global change is a central environmental challenge and the key question is to understand how plants, animals, and ecosystems will respond to predicted changes. With high confidence, climate change would result in the extinction of species and a reduction in ecosystem diversity through species-specific responses to changes in habitat suitability, species interactions, and/or landscape connectivity. Moreover, human-induced land cover changes can directly or indirectly impact resources and thereby affect ecosystem services. We mean to generate climate and land cover data layers and quantify environmental changes over varying spatiotemporal scales, and then link it with the spatial patterns (e.g., movements) of indicator species over different levels of mobility (e.g., poor dispersal species such as amphibians/reptiles vs highly mobile species such as many migratory bird species) to access their impacts and develop mitigating strategies.

(4) Mapping emerging infectious diseases
Within our program we will focus on zoonotic diseases, characterized by parasites that can infect both animals (wildlife and/or livestock species) and people. Parasites are heterogeneously distributed within host populations. This spatial heterogeneity is partly attributed to various ecological factors (e.g., temperature or host habitat suitability) and species interactions that are themselves spatially structured. Improved understanding on the spatiotemporal patterns of infection risk and disease occurrence, and the processes behind these, can contribute to the prediction of the spatial distributions of the parasite species in unsampled areas, assist in the geographical targeting of monitoring activities and control interventions and planning for earlier preventions. By measuring, modelling, and analyzing potential climatic and geospatial data, we describe the distribution of emerging infectious diseases, factors potentially affecting further spread of a disease, and areas with higher risks for future outbreaks. Moreover, we will predict how global environment changes in environmental factors and changes in landscape connectivity alter the distribution and transmission of infectious diseases.

(5) Innovative approaches to process and analyze ecological data for ecological modelling
From mapping individual organisms to modelling species’ distributions, community composition, and species diversity at local, regional, and global scales, environmental data layers are essential components for ecological modelling. Reflectance, surface temperature, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, and other spectral indices from a variety of sensors and platforms have been used to estimate habitat quality as well as species richness for different taxonomic groups. The potential of using satellite-obtained environmental data in ecological modelling is not fully explored, especially for those with relative high spatial and temporal resolutions. Innovative approaches in quantifying the complex and dynamic environment and advanced data mining skills are still needed for a better understanding of contemporary ecological problems and the development of sustainable solutions. Moreover, species occurrence and movement of a species through a fragmented landscape is influenced by environmental factors that operate over different spatial and temporal scales. This scale-dependent selection of different environmental factors is hardly addressed in spatial modelling and is particularly important for the spatial modelling of parasites, where it is not only the presence of hosts that are important, but also their spatial distribution in a metapopulation context and their movements over the fragmented landscape that ultimately drive disease spread.
(6) Other relevant themes in global change studies

 

 

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