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PhD Project: Microbial Ecology and Climate Change

PhD Project: Microbial Ecology and Climate Change

Agroscope, Switzerland



As a result of global climate change, some of the most severe weather events, including drought events, will

become more frequent in Europe over the next 50 to 100 years. Thus, farming practices have to be developed

that ensure food security, but so far, it is unclear which farming systems are most resilient against climate

change and whether microbial communities make farming systems more resilient to drought. Here, we will compare the main Swiss arable farming systems (organic arable farming with tillage, organic arable farming with reduced tillage, conventional arable farming with tillage and conventional arable farming without tillage) and investigate their response to simulated summer drought. It will be tested which farming system is most resistant to drought and which mechanisms are responsible for this. Next generation sequencing tools will be used to analyze how microbial communities and belowground biological diversity responds to climate change. In addition functional assays will be performed and it will be tested whether nutrient uptake by plant associated beneficial soil fungi (mycorrhizal fungi) varies among farming systems and depends on drought.


  • Test which farming system is most resilient to drought
  • Investigate whether belowground biodiversity, microbial community structure and soil structure varies among farming systems and whether these factors can be used to explain differences in drought resilience.
  • Test whether the mycorrhizal fungal contribution to plant nutrient uptake varies with drought and depends on farming system.


  • MSc in ecology, agronomy, microbial ecology, botany or biogeochemistry
  • Expertise with one or two of the following research fields: Agro-ecology, nutrient cycling, molecular profiling of microbial communities and soil science
  • Experience with statistics (R) in ecology and microbial ecology is advantageous
  • Achievement-oriented, open-minded personality with good capacity for teamwork
  • Communication and IT skills as well as knowledge of two official Swiss languages. Working language is English.


Agroscope is an innovative research institute for agriculture and nutrition, run according to the principles of New Public Management. Agroscope is part of the federal administration and is attached to the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER. It has research stations at a number of sites around Switzerland but its head office is in Bern (Liebefeld).

The Plant-Soil-Interactions group ( focuses on plant-soil-microbe interactions, soil biodiversity, soil ecosystem services and sustainable farming systems. The advertised project is part of a collaborative research project between ETH Zürich (Prof. Nina Buchmann) and Agroscope (Prof. Marcel van der Heijden & co-workers) and funded by ETH Zurich World Food System Center and the Mercator Research Program. The project makes use of the Swiss Farming Systems and Tillage Experiment at Agroscope (see Wittwer et al. 2017, Scientific Reports) and it builds upon earlier work of the host groups (e.g. Bender et al. 2016, Trends in Ecology & Evolution; Prechsl et al. 2014, Rapid Communication in Mass Spectrometry; Prechsl et al. 2015, Oecologia; Schlaeppi et al. 2016, New Phytologist).

We offer you varied work in a young and multidisciplinary research team as well as thorough initial training. Agroscope has excellent research facilities with well-equipped laboratories, greenhouses, climate chambers and agricultural fields. You will enjoy flexible working hours and good employee benefits. You will be enrolled as a PhD student at ETH Zürich.


Place of Work

Agroscope, Zurich-Affoltern

Salary Category

According to the guidelines of the Swiss National Science Foundation

Employment Level




If this challenge appeals to you and you meet our requirements profile, we look forward to receiving your online application ( Online applications consist of a single PDF containing an application letter, CV, copy of certificates/Diplomas (MSc &BSc) and Email addresses of 2 referees.

This position is open until filled.

For further information: Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden, Head of the Plant-Soil-Interactions research group, phone +41 58 468 72 78, (Do not send applications to this e-mail). Start date: Spring/Summer 2017 - Duration: 3 years.


Agroscope, CH
Until filled

Printed from on 25/06/17 09:44:43 AM

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