PhD position in agroecology with a focus on South African landscapes – University of Goettingen

PhD position in agroecology at the University of Goettingen (Germany), with a focus on South African landscapes

“A biodiversity hotspot faces intensification of viticulture: The role of fynbos remnants for the conservation of butterflies”


Start: 15th April 2017. 3-year position (TV-L E13 65%)

Biodiversity hotspots are global priority areas for nature conservation, as they contain numerous endemic species and have lost much natural habitat in the past. One example is the Fynbos biome within the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa, which is under pressure due to land-use change. Here, viticulture increasingly expands into remnants of Renosterveld vegetation, with unpredictable consequences for the associated fauna. Whether an integrative conservation approach may offer solutions both for biodiversity and human well-being in these landscapes is yet unexplored and would need profound understanding of the complex social-ecological interactions. This research project aims at understanding both the responses of species towards their environment and the underlying mechanisms that drive anthropogenic land-use change.

Through the lens of interdisciplinary landscape sustainability science, this project uses butterflies as target species, because they are of high conservation concern and offer great potential for ecological and ethno-cultural studies. Biodiversity patterns of butterflies will be tested in response to different and interacting biophysical and socio-economic settings. Moreover, by using butterflies as boundary objects between human and nature in this study, the underlying intrinsic values which humans assign to biodiversity will be unraveled. The three following hypotheses shall be tested: (1) The amount, the size, the connectivity, and the quality of native Renosterveld vegetation patches determine the viability of endangered butterfly populations. (2) Butterfly diversity changes along a gradient of spatial heterogeneity of the agricultural mosaic. (3) Socio-economic settings and the values held by local land managers influence biodiversity patterns.

Existing distribution and habitat data in the Swartland shall be synthesised for endangered butterflies, which will then be surveyed in habitat remnants of Renosterveld vegetation. Butterfly diversity shall then be assessed along a land-use gradient cross the entire landscape. Data on the environment, the socio-economy and the underlying value system of land managers shall be collected. Various aspects of butterfly diversity shall be statistically modelled for responses to different biophysical and anthropogenic settings. The outcome of this research project shall deliver scientific evidence on how to best shape ecologically meaningful and socially acceptable solutions for a sustainable land management in one the most important biodiversity hotspots on Earth.


  • Master´s or equivalent degree in ecology/biology, sustainability science, agriculture or related disciplines
  • Experience in field research, preferably in botany and/or entomology
  • Capacity to formulate and solve research problems and effectively interpret research results
  • Basic knowledge in ecological statistics and GIS
  • Willingness to work interdisciplinary and in collaboration with colleagues in an international setting
  • Fluency in written and spoken English


How to apply

The application should include:

  • CV including information about former academic education and degrees, professional experience, list of publications (if any), fellowships/awards, conference contributions, language skills and further relevant skills and abilities
  • Cover letter stating the candidate´s research interests and motivation to join the project
  • Names (with email address) of at least two references
  • Master´s thesis abstract


The application portal for this position can be found here:

The application period ends on February 28th, 2017. For further information, please contact Dr. Jacqueline Loos, (



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