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PhD position in non-pollen palynomorphs at the Research Unit for Palaeontology, Ghent University, Belgium
Analysis of a unique 150,000-year archive of climate and ecosystem history from equatorial Africa (Tanzania): calibration and application of fossil non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) as paleovegetation proxy
Research project — Recent advances in tropical African paleoecological studies involving the study of non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs, i.e. non-pollen micro-remains from fungi and selected groups of algae and vascular plants) have proved very useful to reconstruct past ecosystem dynamics and to separate the paleoecological signatures of natural climate variability from those of human impact more clearly. The exceptionally long and high-quality sediment archive of Lake Challa creates a very promising perspective for the study of fossil NPPs, which may tackle some key issues on (i) the ecological indicator value of the most common NPP types, (ii) the relationship between terrestrial fungi, visible through changes in fungal spore representation, and the current vegetation (i.e. host specificity), and (iii) the patterns and causes of past vegetation response to climate change. By establishing an ecologically indicative linkage between modern NPP types and environmental variables s! uch as vegetation types, soil conditions, herbivore species, and land use practices, we may elucidate past ecosystem responses to climatic variation and human impact more accurately. Within the scope of tracing the complexity of ecosystem dynamics at temporal and spatial scales, the NPP PhD project will therefore mainly focus on:
(i) A calibration study of NPP assemblages in modern soil surface samples along an altitudinal gradient of Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) in order to enhance the palaeoecological significance of NPP assemblages and to infer past environmental conditions more accurately. Using multivariate statistical analyses, NPP distribution along the altitudinal transect will be correlated to available detailed vegetation surveys from Kilimanjaro to establish the habitat preference of the fungi and other microbiota which produced the NPPs, and to reduce ambiguity in the interpretation of other vegetation proxies such as pollen, charcoal and phytoliths.
(ii) Comparing the altitudinal distribution of NPPs in soil surface samples with that in pollen rain collected at the same sites, to discriminate between local and distant components of NPP assemblages in soils (and lake sediments).
(iii) Analysis of fossil non-pollen palynomorph assemblages preserved in the long sediment record of Lake Challa as proxy indicators for past landscape change due to past climate variation. The NPP record will be interpreted in strong conjunction with other landscape-related proxies, such as pollen and charcoal, to clarify the impact of climate change on tropical savanna ecosystems, and its feedbacks to the global carbon cycle.
Profile — We are looking for a highly motivated individual with an MSc (or equivalent degree) in geology, geobiology or biology, and with a strong interest in Quaternary climate and ecosystem history. Research activities will include fieldwork and laboratory analyses using optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. A background in palynology or micropalaeontology is an advantage. Fluency in spoken and written English is required. Candidates should be able to work independently and in a team. The successful candidate will be offered a full-time Ph.D. position for four years in the research project. The applicant must be eligible for PhD studies. The candidate shall devote his or her time primarily to their own research studies, but occasionally be called upon to assist in organising practical exercises for students in the MSc programme. The research will be carried out at the Research Unit for Palaeontology at Ghent University, but the successful applicant will work! in close collaboration with Limnology research unit of the Biology Department at Ghent University.
How to apply — Please send a description of your past work, a statement of your research interest and motivation, a curriculum vitae (including grades, courses followed, the title of your master thesis and a list of any publications) as well as mail and e-mail addresses of two references. Send these by email to firstname.lastname@example.org Applications are accepted until the position is filled, but the applications should be received before September 1st, 2014. Students currently finishing their MSc are also invited to apply. The research project must commence during 2014.
For further informal enquiries on the position please contact:
Prof. Dr. Stephen Louwye
Research Unit Palaeontology – WE13
Krijgslaan 281/S8, 9000 Gent, Belgium
+32.(0)9.264 46 11