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On 1 January 2014, the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science and the University of Life Sciences merged and became -NMBU, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. NMBU has 1700 employees and 5100 students, and is currently located on two campuses - Ås, about 30 km south of Oslo, and Adamstuen in Oslo.

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PhD scholarship in tropical vegetation ecology: “Elevation, disturbance and competitive exclusion” -

The Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management (INA) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) has a vacant three year PhD-position investigating the role of disturbance and competition in determining species distributions on tropical elevation gradients. The study will be conducted in Costa Rica in collaboration with CATIE (“Centro Agronómico Tropical Investigación y Enseñanza”), where the field research will be hosted.

Competition among species influences where they persist. Theory suggests, and observations indicate, that release from competition may permit some species to establish and grow outside their normal environmental range. At present however, we know neither how large nor how general such release processes are. Such questions can be addressed by a combination of observational and manipulative studies in tropical mountain ecosystems.

The project will examine how competitive exclusion determines plant distributions and how this might be modified by disturbance. Such studies will contribute to both theory and practice by increasing knowledge of how the impacts of climate change (warming) on biodiversity might be manifested in vegetation communities, and how threats to species in these communities might be ameliorated.  

Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management (INA) has about 100 employees and undertakes teaching, research and dissemination within the fields of biology and ecology, nature management, renewable energy, nature based tourism and forest sciences. Currently the department has approx. 370 students, and in addition about 55 PhD-students. INA also offers courses and education to students affiliated with other departments at NMBU. The employees of the department are very active in their areas of expertise, both nationally and internationally and have a high level of production of scientific papers, books, research reports, etc. For more information:

Research project

The project is financed by NMBU INA.

The PhD supervisors will be:
Associate professor Douglas Sheil (at INA)
Professor Ørjan Totland (at INA)
With additional support from Professor Bryan Finegan (at CATIE)

The project will determine how competitive exclusion varies with elevation in mixed-species tropical vegetation communities, and how manipulations that slow or prevent such exclusion might reduce local plant extinctions resulting from increased temperatures.

Specifically we will assess 1) the degree to which competition determines the upper- and lower-elevation distribution of plant species boundaries; 2) the degree to which disturbance histories influence elevation distributions; 3) the ability of disturbance, and interventions based on disturbance, to modify species distributions and contribute to species persistence in situ .

These questions will be addressed by a series of experimental treatments, cross site transplants, and regional field surveys in a tropical mountain ecosystem. Emphasis will be on the ability of species to grow and persist with and without competitors at a range of elevations. We will also use natural and planned disturbance to examine the impacts of disturbance on the local plant communities.

Fieldwork will be conducted in collaboration with the “Centro Agronómico Tropical Investigación y Enseñanza” CATIE in Costa Rica, where we have access to an extended elevation gradient.

Main tasks

  • Satisfy all the requirements of a doctoral degree in NMBU
  • Complete a doctoral thesis in tropical plant ecology
  • Conduct both field survey and manipulative field studies requiring the candidate to spend several months in the tropics during the first two years.

The successful candidate is expected to enter a plan during the first months of the appointment for the progress of the work towards a PhD degree, with a view to completing a doctorate within the PhD scholarship period.

Academic qualifications

The successful applicant will have either an MSc degree within a relevant scientific area or a demonstrable track record demonstrating equivalent knowledge and skills.
The applicant must document expertise and interest in the research subject.

Applications will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Academic achievements
  • Relevant field experience
  • Evidence of relevant skills (ecological, project management, data handling, analyses, clear writing, good communication)

Desired personal qualities

Personal characteristics important for the position are:

  • Strong motivation for tropical field ecology
  • Enthusiasm and determination
  • Hard working
  • Willingness to learn
  • Able to perform well in a new environment and culture
  • Good quantitative skills
  • Well organized
  • Good communicative abilities

NMBU offers:

  • An internationally recognised research center dedicated to professional development, dissemination and competence in the applied ecological sciences.
  • An interdisciplinary and inclusive environment that provides exciting research- and development opportunities.
  • Daily contact with inspiring students and skilled colleagues.
  • Welcoming environment.
  • Various welfare schemes.
  • Beautiful surroundings just outside Oslo.
  • Easy access to international travel.


The salary for PhD-scholarship start at wage grade 50 (equivalent to annual salary 429 700 NOK) on the Norwegian Government salary scale upon employment and follow ordinary meriting regulations.

For especially well-qualified applicants, alternative salary placement could be considered.

Employment is conducted according to national guidelines for University and Technical College PhD scholars.

Further information

For further information, please contact associate professor Douglas Sheil (project leader) phone: +47 6496 5783 (e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )


To apply online for this vacancy, please click on the 'Apply for this job ' button above. This will route you to the University's Web Recruitment System, where you will need to register an account (if you have not already) and log in before completing the online application form.

Application deadline: September 15th, 2014

Applications should include (electronically) a letter of intent, curriculum vitae, full publication list, copies of degree certificates and transcripts of academic records (all certified), and a list of two persons who may act as references (with phone numbers and e-mail addresses). Any publications should be included electronically within the application deadline.

Printed material, which cannot be sent electronically, should be sent by surface mail to Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, within September 15th, 2014 .  Please quote reference number 14/03717  

If it is difficult to judge the applicant’s contribution for publications with multiple authors, a short description of the applicant’s contribution must be included.

A compulsory contribution of 2% is made to the Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund. A good working environment is characterized by diversity. We encourage qualified candidates to apply, irrespective of gender, physical ability or cultural background. The workplace will if necessary be facilitated for persons with disabilities.

According to the Freedom of Information Act § 25 the list of applicants for this position may be made public irrespective of whether the applicant has requested that his/her name be withheld. Jobbnorge-ID: 104192, Søknadsfrist: 15.09.2014