Postdoc in spatial ecology and ecosystem service modelling

Eth-zurich_logoPostdoc in spatial ecology and ecosystem service modelling

Ecosystem Management, Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Expected Start Date: January 2017


The Ecosystem Management group at ETH Zurich is offering a 3-year postdoctoral position in spatial ecological modelling, with a focus on land cover and ecosystem service dynamics. The research is part of the EU-funded DAFNE project (DAFNE: Use of a decision-analytic framework to explore the water- energy-food nexus in complex and trans-boundary water resources systems of fast growing developing countries).

The research will involve (1) spatial modelling of land cover changes, drawing from historical land cover and remote sensing data, (2) projecting future plausible land cover scenarios, (3) modelling biodiversity, carbon, and water resource distributions across current and future land cover scenarios, and (4) quantifying feedbacks and trade-offs across land cover and ecosystem processes, and their implications for food production, biodiversity, carbon, and hydrological services across alternative land use scenarios. Models will draw upon, and are to be validated by, field data as appropriate. Quantifiable indices of land cover and ecosystem service change are to be identified as input variables for other models developed by the DAFNE consortium.

The project will involve collaboration with experts working on different components of the DAFNE project in fields such as remote sensing, hydrological modelling, and social science. This includes collaboration with the Hydrology and Water Resources Management group at ETH Zurich, led by Prof. Paolo Burlando, as well as other institutions across Europe and Africa. The overall objective of the DAFNE project is to develop a decision-analytic framework to quantitatively assess social, economic, and environmental impact of expanding energy and food production in complex physical and political contexts. The work will be centred on two case studies, the Omo and Zambezi River Basins. These are expected to provide exemplary conditions for transboundary rivers in which management strategies are either (a) under development following the recent construction and the planning of large infrastructures and irrigation schemes, or (b) generally established, with major infrastructure having been in operation for some decades.


We are looking for a candidate who will be responsible for leading the described project in collaboration with Prof. Jaboury Ghazoul and partners across the DAFNE project. The postdoc should be confident in developing their own research ideas with a large degree of independence, and is expected to be contributing innovative ideas and approaches to this project. The postdoc should expect to interact with other project partners and their postdocs and students. Excellent organizational and oral/written communication skills are therefore required. Experience in project management and team leadership is an asset. Some periods of field work in Africa might therefore be necessary, and field work experience in tropical regions would be beneficial. The successful applicant must also expect to travel to meet partners in European institutions.

The candidate should have a PhD degree, preferably in the field of ecosystem service, land use or biodiversity modelling, or a related discipline that includes specific and broad knowledge in the areas of land use and ecosystem service dynamics. In addition to a relevant PhD, the successful candidate is expected to have published their work in ISI peer reviewed journals. Strong quantitative and modelling

experience, including programming skills, are a prerequisite for the position. Experience of hydrology or soil-vegetation-water feedbacks would be advantageous.

Essential expertise includes:

  • spatial land use and land cover modelling
  • strong and demonstrable mathematical skills for modelling and statistics
  • experience of biodiversity assessment and biomass modelling
  • excellent communication skills and experience of working as part of an interdisciplinary team
  • good spoken and written English (good spoken German is advantageous, but not essential)Location

    The postdoc will be based in the Ecosystem Management group (, within the Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich. The Ecosystem Management group is led by Jaboury Ghazoul, and currently includes two senior scientists, three postdocs and six PhD students, as well as administrative, teaching and technical staff. The group is highly international, and the working language is English.

    Conditions of Employment

    The three year appointment will initially be offered as a one-year contract, with possibility for extension by a further two years subject to performance. The ETH Zurich postdoctoral salary scale will apply, which starts at CHF 86,300 (correct at the time of writing). There is a 3-month probation period.


    Please send, in English, a letter of motivation, a full CV, a pdf of most significant paper published under your name, and names and addresses of two academic referees to Prof. Jaboury Ghazoul by email: We can only consider electronically submitted applications.

    Deadline 24 July 2016 (deadline might be extended in the event of a suitable candidate not being found).

    Interviews for successful candidates are expected to be held between 22-26 August, 2016. The successful candidate will be invited to attend the project initiation workshop (Zurich, 6-8 September), although the position is expected to begin in January 2017.

    Requests for additional information on the position offered, or other informal enquiries, should be directed to Prof. Jaboury Ghazoul:

DAFNE Project Summary

Global trends in population growth and rising economic prosperity will increase the demand for energy, food and water, with more severe impact in fast-growing economies, such as in several African countries. The constraints on water, energy, and food could well hamper economic development, lead to social and geopolitical tensions, and cause lasting environmental damage. DAFNE advocates an integrated and adaptive water resources planning and management approach that explicitly addresses the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus from a novel participatory and multidisciplinary perspective. The includes social, economic, and ecologic dimensions, will involve both public and private actors and is socially inclusive. A decision-analytic framework (DAF) will be developed to quantitatively assess the social, economic, and environmental impact of expanding energy and food production in complex physical and political contexts, where natural and social processes are strongly interconnected and the institutional setting involves multiple stakeholders and decision-makers. The DAFNE approach will be demonstrated by analysing two cross-boundary case studies, the Zambezi and the Omo river basins. The WEF nexus will be quantified and analysed as the trade-off between conflicting objectives, such as hydropower production vs. irrigation, land exploitation vs. conservation, etc. Ultimately, the project seeks to enhance resource use efficiency and minimise the loss of ecosystem services in regions where large infrastructures and intensive agriculture are expanding. The WEF nexus will therefore be translated in economic values and impact on growth, ecosystems and ecosystem services.

Geographical context

Transboundary case studies in two rapidly growing African regions will be considered: the Zambezi and the Omo River basins.

The Zambezi River is the longest east flowing river in Africa and flows from Zambia through DR Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania. Four large hydropower dams (Kariba, Cahora Bassa, Itezhi-Tezhi and Kafue Gorges) are operational since the 1970s, and have had negative ecologic effects. Demand for WEF resources is expected to grow in this region, putting more pressure on land and natural resources, and potentially impacting local people.

The Omo River flows from Ethiopia to Kenya and is being heavily dammed for hydropower production. This has potentially serious consequences for the environment and for local people who rely on the river for their livelihoods, but also brings opportunities for people relying on water extraction for agriculture.

Both transboundary basins are characterised by rapid population growth and development. Despite similarities, the two case studies differ in the way they manage WEF resources. The Zambezi River basin represents an established context, where the major infrastructures have been in operation for decades, and several large scale initiatives for managing water resources have been implemented the river basin scale. By contrast, large infrastructures are still under construction in the Omo River basin. This is creating political and institutional tensions.

The social, economic, and environmental impacts of infrastructure and agricultural development will be quantitatively assessed, with a specific focus on the impacts on local stakeholders, on upstream and downstream users, and on the ecology of the system. Through the establishment of a decision-analytic framework, the growing demand for water, energy and food in the Zambezi and the Omo basins will be better understood, and solutions based on the cooperation of public and private stakeholders in the riparian regions will be generated, which will, in turn, foster the profitable and equitable use of resources without transgressing environmental limits or creating societal conflicts.

DAFNE Project Objectives

DAFNE advocates an integrated water resources management approach, which addresses the water- energy-food (WEF) nexus. The project aims at promoting a green economy in regions where

infrastructure development and expanding agriculture have to be balanced with the local social, economic, and environmental dimensions. DAFNE will quantify and analyse the WEF nexus with respect to the trade-off between conflicting objectives, such as hydropower production vs. irrigation, land exploitation vs. conservation, and so forth.

The overall objective of DAFNE is to establish a decision-analytic framework (DAF) for Participatory and Integrated Planning (PIP). The DAF is a multi-step procedure that will enable the extensive, quantitative analysis of the anticipated effects of alternative planning options on the broad range of heterogeneous and often competing interests in transboundary river basins ultimately facilitating comparison and negotiation based on (a) active engagement of stakeholders in the process from the outset of the project, and (b) the integration of disciplines including ecological science, water engineering, and environmental economics, to water governance and laws.

The DAFNE framework will address the following challenges:

1) Understanding the natural system, including historical hydrometeorological and land cover/use data, as well as contemporary surveys, climate change predictions, WEF resource requirements (current and future), and ecological constraints;

2) Understanding the socio-economic system and its dynamics through historical analyses and stakeholder engagement, and assessing the impact of foreign investment, and national and international water laws in the region;

3) Identifying existing and potential feedback mechanisms in the WEF nexus, given data and information collected in 1) and 2);

4) Formulating the decision-analytic model of the two case studies and developing the scenario analyses to investigate and quantify the WEF nexus.