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PhD Opportunity - Impact of apex predators on savanna ecosystem functioning

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Project description: Your PhD will be part of the larger project "HOTSPOT – Resource hotspots and the role of apex predators in terrestrial ecosystems", granted to VFM by the European Union as a FP7 Marie Curie Career Integration Grant. Within the proposed PhD you are expected to examine impact of predation risk on savanna ecosystem functioning. The effect of mammalian carnivores on ecosystem functioning, through their effects on behavior of their prey, is now strongly debated. Hence, you will work at the very forefront of current ecological thinking by providing novel empirical data on ecosystem impacts of large carnivores in African savannas. You will quantify predation risk landscapes in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, measure herbivore behavioural response across these landscapes and link this behavioural response to vegetation and nutrient dynamics. You will use variable techniques, including GPS-collar animal movement analysis, camera trap studies, isotope ecology and biogeochemistry.

Requirements: You are ideally a South African citizen who holds an MSc degree with an excellent academic record in a relevant discipline of ecology. You have proven experience with ecological field studies, statistical analysis of data, and scientific writing. You have a strong interest in fundamental science.

You are able to work independently under potentially harsh field conditions for long periods of time (6-9 months per year). You are expected to assist in the support of master students within the project. Advantages are experience in handling GPS movement data, working with R, experience with biogeochemistry (isotopes) and authorship of peer-reviewed publications. Good proficiency of English is required, as is the possession of a valid driver's license. You are expected to spend significant periods at VFM in Sweden (~1-2 months per year).

Offer: We offer a fulltime PhD bursary for at least 3 years. The student will be based at ACE and registered at NMMU, receiving the bursary from NMMU. There will be no formal work contract with VFM. The annual bursary amounts to a minimum of 100,000 RAND, pro-rated based on the number of months spent working on the project per year. It is a flatrate, tax free bursary that does not include secondary benefits such as e.g. a pension scheme, holiday bonus or maternity leave. Qualifying students may also receive NMMU and/or NRF doctoral bursaries.

For the periods in Sweden, the project will cover additional living costs for the student, but the student will not be employed by the Swedish host. The offer also includes a budget for operational costs but we expect the student to apply for additional funding. Following NRF and NMMU regulations, students that do not complete their PhD will have to pay back their bursary.

The second and third years of funding are subject to satisfactory progress and based on submission of a progress report two months before the end of each year of study and confirmation by the supervisors and Head of Academic Department that the scholar's progress is satisfactory. There is a possibility for a limited, incentive-based (e.g., delivery of scientific papers), extension of the bursary after the 3d year, depending on progress.

Contact person: For further information we encourage you to contact Dr. Joris Cromsigt ( joris.cromsigt@slu.se; phone: +46 70 676 0097) and Prof. Graham Kerley ( graham.kerley@nmmu.ac.za; phone: +27 41 504 2308).

You can obtain a detailed research proposal from them.

Application procedure: Please send your written application consisting of a motivation letter (max 2 pages), CV (max 4 pages), letters from 2 academic referees (e.g. former supervisors) and full academic transcripts of obtained qualifications to both contact persons mentioned above. Referees should comment on your past academic performance, suitability for the proposed study, and academic potential.

If applicable, attach scientific publications that you (co-) authored. Closing date is 16th of April 2012.

Selection: In addition to the listed requirements, the foremost selection criterion will be scientific excellence of the candidate. Selection will be done by a committee of relevant staff from both ACE and VFM. We reserve the right not to award a student with the bursary if a suitable candidate is not identified.


Centre for African Conservation Ecology


South Africa

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