PhD student on multi-stress in complex systems

Research / Academic

Many ecological communities are faced with a range of environmental and anthropogenic stressors, often acting simultaneously. Key stressors include habitat degradation and fragmentation, pollution and climate change related impacts. For example, in urban setting there is fragmentation of habitats, chemical, noise and light pollution, and increased heat stress. In rural settings systems ecological communities need to cope with the impacts of climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation and agro-chemical pollutants. Yet, studying these multi-stressors remains challenges, and, as a result, our understanding on the interactions between stressors remains limited.

Within this PhD project we aim to improve our understanding of potential interactions between stressors: this is critical because stressors co-occur in time and space. We want to focus on i) the predictability of multiple stressor effects, and ii) determine whether there are consistent patterns across systems. This will be done by examining the distribution of stressor effects in different systems, and across ecological scales.

To collect data and build up a body of knowledge on these issues, there are several methods conventionally used: field monitoring and laboratory trial, as well as mesocosm studies or so-called Living Labs. Living Labs is a real-world, open innovation ecosystem which allows scientist to study complex systems. At Leiden University we have three living labs in use [Polderlab (rural), Buurtlab (urban) and Levend Lab(Aquatic)]. This provides us with excellent opportunities to do groundbreaking research on the ecological and environmental consequences of multiple stressors on ecosystems.

Importantly, we also have excellent laboratory facilities, allowing us to combine field-based studies with more controlled experiments to study specific stressors in more detail. This will give us the opportunity to investigate causalities and responses of stressors, both in combination as well as individual. This can be further supported by model development.

Creative PhD candidate wanted!

We are looking for a creative and enthusiastic PhD candidate to explore the complexities of real-life impacts of multi-stress in complex environments. This includes the creations of study designs to effectively measure these impacts. The exact experiments will be based on co-creation between the PhD candidate and other researchers (and potentially stakeholders). Example include how innovative agricultural practices can promote biodiversity, or how pressures within cities can lead to evolutionary adaptation in animals.

Key tasks

  • Design and execute experiments in one or more of our living labs
  • Conduct more controlled experiments to elucidate potential mechanisms of stressors
  • Development of innovative ways to study and quantify multiple stress


Selection criteria

  • A M.Sc. degree in a relevant field (e.g. ecology, environmental science, and/or biology), but we also consider candidates from other scientific fields with good quantitative skills and an interest in studying human induced impacts on ecological communities
  • Passion for field work in either a rural or urban setting
  • Willingness to develop complimentary laboratory skills (some experience of working in a lab are preferred)
  • Good to strong quantitative skills (statistics, modelling)
  • Proficiency in spoken and written English and good communication skills. Willingness to learn Dutch
  • Team player and having a collaborative attitude

Salary Benefits:

Terms and conditions

We offer a 1-year position with the possibility of extension to 4 years based on performance and following the pay scale P in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities. Salary ranges from € 2.770 gross per month in the first year to € 3.539 gross per month in the fourth year based on a full-time position.

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career program. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.


Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.