Understanding plant disease risk under environmental change and biodiversity loss

4-year PhD position in community ecology at the University of Zürich

Applications are invited for a 4-year PhD position to study biodiversity loss, environmental change, and the community ecology of infectious diseases by combining experimental and observational field approaches, using plants and their foliar pathogens as a model system.

Plant pathogens and their host plants often occur together in complex communities with many interacting partners. These host and pathogen communities and ensuing host-pathogen interactions often change predictably as habitats are disturbed and species are lost. But how do these processes interact with changes in environmental conditions? One possibility is that changing environmental conditions might affect these processes by altering host traits related to growth, reproduction, and defense against enemies.

The aim of this PhD project is to study how changes in key host traits affect host susceptibility to infection across an elevation gradient in Switzerland through a combination of experiments and observational surveys. This project shares a research setting with a study aimed at using mountain ecosystems to understand the interaction between biodiversity and global change, which will provide students with an opportunity to interact with researchers from a variety of backgrounds (and a beautiful backdrop for fieldwork).

Students with interest in disease ecology, community ecology, plant biology, or other related fields are encouraged to apply. Prior expertise in trait-based approaches, experimental design, statistical analysis, or basic molecular and disease diagnostic skills are a bonus, but your most important assets are enthusiasm for research, motivation to learn new things, and ability to work independently while being an active member of a research team.

The project is supervised by Dr. Fletcher Halliday in the research group of Prof. Anna-Liisa Laine at the University of Zürich. The Laine lab has broad expertise in studying the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of species interactions in natural populations (e.g. Halliday et al. 2021 eLife, Laine et al. 2019 eLife, Sallinen et al. 2020 Nature Communications).

To apply, please send a single PDF file merged from the following parts to fletcher.halliday@ieu.uzh.ch:  CV (with possible publications included), a copy of your academic transcript records, contact details of two references (e.g. MSc thesis supervisor), and a cover letter (MAX 1 page) with a description of your research interests and why you would be a suitable candidate for the project. Please include the word “PhDDISEASE22” in the subject line.

Applications will be considered until the position is filled. The position is available from January 1, 2022. For more information, please visit https://fletcherhalliday.com/ or contact fletcher.halliday@ieu.uzh.ch. The working language is English. German skills, although not essential, are helpful. Zürich is a highly attractive city in beautiful surroundings, with a multinational population, and many educational and recreational opportunities.

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