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PhD position in Macroevolution – Disentangling the drivers of plant speciation in the Hengduan Mts, China in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, temporary

The Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-​USYS) conducts research and offers studies into the conditions and functions of environmental systems. It develops solutions and methods for managing them on a sustainable basis.

Project background

Plant biodiversity is affected by both contemporary and historical processes at a range of spatial and temporal scales. Over long time-scales, biodiversity is shaped by evolutionary processes driven by the adaptation to environmental gradients and geographical processes such as the formation of barriers and migration pathways. Over short time-scales, biodiversity responds to the variety of available habitats formed by climate, geology and topographic gradients, land cover and anthropogenic land use, or variability of biogeographical realms. The Hengduan mountains of China (Yunnan, SW Sichuan, E Tibet plateau) are exceptionally rich in plant species and forming a distinct biodiversity hotspot outside of the tropics. The ETH-funded project BECCY aims at studying the processes that shape this exceptional diversity.

Job description

This PhD project will analyze the degree to which niche adaptation along ecological gradients and allopatric speciation in response to barriers and blocked migration pathways have shaped the exceptional and unique floristic diversity of the Hengduan Mountain region in China. The thesis will make use of a rich floristic plant distribution data set available for the region, of genus-level phylogenies, and of field data collected for a range of sister species sampled in two major regions within the Hengduan mountains. In addition, a range of data and model output generated within the collaborative project will be available as well. Phylogenetic trees based on the newly sampled material and sister-species (or sister-genus) analyses will be performed in order to disentangle ecological and spatial processes on speciation both across the whole study area or along climatic or elevational gradients. Some of the analyses will be performed just in the two study regions, while others will be carried out across the whole Hengduan Mts. The thesis is embedded in an interdisciplinary, international project that explores the factors that have resulted in this unique topographic and biological diversity by combining expertise from earth systems, climate and evolutionary modelling, and empirical earth science and ecological analyses of the whole Hengduan Mountain System for the last 60 Million years. The PhD candidate will work both at ETH and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL. The thesis will be co-supervised by Prof. Loïc Pellissier and Prof. Niklaus E. Zimmermann. Additionally, Prof. Zhiheng Wang (Peking University) and Prof. Tanja Stadler (ETH) will be involved as close project partners for this PhD thesis.

Your profile

We are looking for a highly motivated candidate that hold an MSc or Diploma degree (or equivalent) in evolutionary biology, plant biology, macroecology, or a related field. The candidate should have a strong interest in plant evolution, plant ecology and/or plant biodiversity. Good communication skills in English (written and spoken) and the ability to work within a team are essential. Employment will be according to with funding secured for 4 years by ETH Zurich. While employment will be at ETH Zurich, the workspace will be both at the Landscape Ecology group at ETH (located in the center of Zurich) and at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL (Birmensdorf, 30’ from ETHZ, ). The PhD thesis will start as soon as the candidate is selected and available.

ETH Zurich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents: a curriculum vitae, a brief statement of research interests (1 page), copies of bachelor and master transcripts, a list of courses taken and grades received, a summary of the master thesis (if completed/applicable), and names and contact information of 2-3 referees. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

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