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PhD offer at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier

Impact of global change on woody plants diversity from regional to local scale and consequences on forest productivity

PhD offer at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier

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Overview: This 3-year PhD project, will study the impact of global change on woody plants diversity, from species distribution at regional scale to community composition at local scale, and on forest productivity. It will be based at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Montpellier (France), supervised by Xavier Morin and Isabelle Chuine, and in close collaboration with Wilfried Thuiller and Sébastien Lavergne (LECA Grenoble, CNRS). Application deadline: 20 November 2011.
Key words: forest communities, woody species, community ecology, assemblage rules, species distribution models, forest gap models, ecosystem functioning, climate change


Forests are terrestrial ecosystems of global key importance because they both represent an important carbon sink and have a pivotal feedback-mediated role on climate. In the context of global change, obtaining accurate predictions of ecosystems processes such as productivity is thus a decisive and timely scientific task for ecologists. In fact, global change affects directly forest productivity - by modifying the abiotic environmental conditions (e.g. climate), which alter some biological processes of organisms, such as photosynthesis or respiration. But global change also affects ecosystem functioning indirectly, through its impact on the geographic distribution of species and more generally through its impact on biodiversity at the global scale, because ecosystem functioning is tightly linked to species richness and composition. Therefore, forecasting changes in biodiversity and their consequences on forest productivity are crucial requirements to be able to mitigate changes in ecosystem services that condition, promote and sustain human activities and well-being. Yet, direct and indirect effects of global change on ecosystem functioning have almost always been studied separately, because they refer to different spatial scales. The effect of diversity on ecosystems has been considered at the local scale, while change in species distribution and community composition in response to global change has much more been studied at the regional scale. An integrative approach to jointly consider the two kinds of effects of global change on ecosystem functioning (directly and indirectly through biodiversity changes) and relying directly on ecological processes driving diversity at different spatial scales (e.g. assemblage rules), is still missing.
In this project we aim to fill this gap, by conducting fundamental research relying on both modelling and field measurements. Our main purpose is to predict woody plants biodiversity and ecosystem productivity in forests of the Alps, by considering the effects of abiotic and biotic factors from large to small spatial scale, to better assess forest sensitivity and response to global change. Such a development will benefit from recent advances in community ecology, community phylogenetics, and biogeography, to answer both basic and applied questions in ecology and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning sciences.


Objectives and methods
Following the observation about the current lack of an integrative approach to comprehend the direct and indirect of effects of global change on ecosystem functioning, and benefiting from recent developments in community ecology and community phylogenetics, we aim to answer both basic and applied specific questions in ecology and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning sciences:

  • (Objective 1) what drives biodiversity patterns from the regional to the local scale? And what is the relative importance of abiotic factors and biotic interactions in community assemblages?
  • (Objective 2) how community composition affects forest productivity and through what component (e.g. species richness, functional diversity)?
  • (Objective 3) can we establish scenarios of changes in biodiversity and productivity according to the response to global change scenarios?

Note that the relative importance of these 3 objectives in the project should be discussed with the PhD candidate.
More specifically, we will focus on French forests in the Alps, and especially on selected ecological gradients as the targeted study zone of this project, and we plan to then extend the range of predictions to Central and Northern Europe.
To reach these three objectives, this PhD project will rely on a modelling approach and field measurements. We propose to develop a modelling framework coupling a species distribution model (habitat-based model) with a process-based forest succession model. Such a framework will allow taking into account factors and processes (abiotic conditions and biotic interactions) occurring at various spatial scales to predict biodiversity patterns from regional to local scale, and community composition and forest productivity at local scale. This framework will be tested at the local scale against field measurements of community composition and forest productivity. Field measurements will also be used to test species assemblages rules. Note that the project will focus more on modelling or more on field studies depending on the candidate.

Candidate profile
The successful candidate will possess:
 A solid academic background in ecology.
 Strong analytical skills, including knowledge or capacity to learn GIS and programming skills (for example in R).
 Good experience in demanding field work.
 Good interpersonal skills needed for team work.
 Optional: strong background in ecological modeling.
Institutional context and collaborations
This PhD is a part of the ANR-funded project BioProFor: “Impact of global change on woodland diversity and ecosytem productivity in the Alpine region”. The BioProFor project is a partnership between the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionelle et Evolutive (CEFE CNRS
UMR5175; and the Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine (Wilfried Thuiller and Sébastien Lavergne; CNRS UMR5553, Other partners will be involved, e.g. the Cemagref of Grenoble (Georges Kunstler;, as well as a network of international partners (especially in Switzerland: ETH Zürich, WSL Birmensdorf).
Net income is about 1600€/month, including pension and health benefits. The PhD will start the 1st of January 2012.
Useful references
Hillebrand H., and B. Matthiessen. 2009. Biodiversity in a complex world: consolidation and progress in functional biodiversity research. Ecology Letters 12:1405-1419.
Lavergne S., N. Mouquet, W. Thuiller, and O. Ronce (2010) Biodiversity and climate change: Integrating evolutionary and ecological responses of species and communities. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 41: 321-350.
Morin X. and M. J. Lechowicz. 2008. Contemporary perspectives on the niche that can improve models of species range shifts under climate change. Biology Letters 4:573-576.
Morin X., L. Fahse L., M. Scherer-Lorenzn and H. Bugmann. In press. Tree species richness promotes productivity in European temperate forests through a strong complementarity effect. Ecology Letters.
Thuiller W., C. Albert, M. B. Araújo, P. M. Berry, M. Cabeza, G. Guisan, T. Hickler, G. F. Midgley, J. Paterson, F. M. Schurr, M. T. Sykes, and N. E. Zimmermann. 2008. Predicting global change impacts on plant species distributions: future challenges. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 9:137-152.
Thuiller W., B. Lafourcade, R. Engler, and M. B. Araújo. BIOMOD - A platform for ensemble forecasting of species distributions. Ecography 32: 369-373
Webb C. O., D. D. Ackerly, M. A. McPeek, and M. J. Donoghue. 2002. Phylogenies and community ecology. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33:475-505.

Application procedure
Please send a detailed CV, letter of motivation, and name and contacts (email and phone number) of two or more researchers capable of assessing your competence for this position via email to by the 20 November 2011.

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