The Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) is a member of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) and funded by federal and state government. AWI focuses on polar and marine research in a variety of disciplines such as biology, oceanography, geology, geochemistry and geophysics thus allowing multidisciplinary approaches to scientific goals.

PhD position (m/f/d) to simulate elevational treeline migration and its constraints

Background 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.

We are looking for 1 PhD student (m/f/d) within the Russian-German DFG funded project ˇ§.limate-induced treeline dynamics in the Ural Mountains: drivers, constraints, and the role of genetic adaptationˇ¨ (UralTreelines, ) who is enthusiastic to address timely scientific questions about land surface processes in the Arctic and consequences on ecosystems, especially on vegetation dynamics, starting as soon as possible. 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.

Tasks 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, we expect good skills in communication and writing 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. We support and expect the completion of the dissertation including relevant publication and presentation of gained results at international conferences.

Further Information

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Ulrike Herzschuh (; +49(331)288-2165) or Dr. Stefan Kruse (; +49(331)288-2218).

The position is limited to 3 years. The salary will be paid in accordance with the Collective Agreement for the Public Service of the Federation (Tarifvertrag des offentlichen Dienstes, TVoD Bund), up to salary level 13 (66%). The place of employment will be Potsdam.

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.

The AWI is characterised by

  • our scientific success - excellent research.
  • collaboration and cooperation - intra-institute, national and international, interdisciplinary.
  • opportunities to develop - on the job, aiming at other positions and beyond AWI.
  • a culture of reconciling work and family - an audited and well-supported aspect of our operation
  • our outstanding research infrastructure - ships, stations, aircraft, laboratories and more.
  • an international environment - everyday contacts with people from all over the world.
  • having an influence - fundamental research with social and political relevance
  • flat hierarchies - facilitating freedom and responsibility
  • exciting science topics, with opportunities also in technology, administration and infrastructure

Equal opportunities are an integral part of our personnel policy. The AWI aims to increase the number of female employees and therefore strongly encourages qualified women to apply.

Disabled applicants will be given preference when equal qualifications are present.

The AWI fosters the compatibility of work and family in various ways and has received a number of awards as a result of this engagement.

We look forward to your application!

Please forward your application by April 11th 2021 exclusively online.

Reference number 21/76/D/Geo-b

posted: 24 March 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.