PhD fellowship
Community stability and turnover in changing environments

A 3-year PhD fellowship is available at the Centre for Biodiversity Theory and Modelling, Moulis, France ( Research at the Centre focuses on the development of unifying theories and predictive models of biodiversity changes and their ecological, evolutionary, and societal causes and consequences.

Project description

One of the oldest unsolved questions in ecology is the degree to which ecological communities and ecosystems are integrated entities rather than loose collections of species or individuals. The debate dates back to the early days of ecology, when Clements developed the view that plant communities are superorganisms, while Gleason claimed that they are mere statistical associations of independent individuals. Although empirical evidence suggests that reality lies somewhere between these two extremes, we do not have solid theory to reconcile the two opposite views. This debate does not only have an academic interest, it also has profound implications for understanding and predicting how communities and ecosystems respond to environmental changes in space, time, or both. The superorganismic view predicts that communities should change abruptly and collectively along environmental gradients, while the individualistic view predicts that they should change smoothly as species replace each other gradually and independently along environmental gradients. Thus, this debate is relevant to predicting the response of communities and ecosystems to current climate change and other anthropogenic stressors.

The successful PhD candidate will develop dynamical models of ecological communities to examine how the pattern and strength of species interactions shape the composition, functioning and stability of communities along spatial and temporal environmental gradients. The goal will be to identify the conditions under which smooth or abrupt changes in community composition, functioning or stability occur in space and in time. Different types of communities (competitive, mutualistic, predator-prey,…) will be considered. We expect that the conditions conducive to abrupt changes along spatial gradients will also yield abrupt changes under temporal environmental changes. Empirical data available from the literature will then be used to identify ecosystems that show abrupt changes in space and that might show abrupt changes under future global change. Analysis of the models is expected to be mostly numerical using computer simulations, although some mathematical analysis would be a plus if feasible.

The project will be supervised by Michel Loreau (, in collaboration with Marten Scheffer at Wageningen University, Netherlands ( The starting date should be comprised between September 1 and December 31, 2016.


We seek a highly motivated and creative individual with (1) a background in ecology, (2) a training or experience in mathematical modelling, and (3) a good command of the English language.

To apply, email a letter of application, a CV, and the names and email addresses of two referees to Michel Loreau via Dalila Booth ([email protected]). Review of applications will start immediately until the position is filled.

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