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PhD project: Quantification of biotic and abiotic impacts on soil carbon dynamics

PhD project: Quantification of biotic and abiotic impacts on soil carbon dynamics

International Max Planck Research School for Global Biogeochemical Cycles logo

International Max Planck Research School for Global Biogeochemical Cycles

In cooperation with the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry houses a unique and flexible research program that grants German and foreign students a broad selection of learning opportunities while still maintaining a research focus.
The IMPRS-gBGC offers a PhD program specializing in global biogeochemistry and related Earth System sciences.


Jena, Germany


Relevant divisions
Biogeosciences (BG)
Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology & Volcanology (GMPV)
Soil System Sciences (SSS)

Full time

Entry level

Doctoral researchers receive either a scholarship which is free of tax and social insurance or a support contract.

Required education

Application deadline
11 September 2018

6 July 2018

Job description

by Gerd Gleixner , Markus Lange

Project description
Soils store more than two third of the terrestrial organic carbon. It is therefore important to understand soil organic carbon dynamics as soils can act as both as carbon source and sink, depending on the environmental conditions. Carbon dynamics are driven by abiotic and biotic factors. Abiotic factors like temperature and precipitation are driving plant growth and thus carbon inputs on the one hand and are responsible for organic carbon stabilization e.g. by soil mineral interactions or carbon leaching by heavy rain events. In contrast, destabilizing and decomposing effects are mainly driven by biological processes. However, the relative importance of biotic and abiotic factors for soil organic carbon dynamics are still under debate and the interactions of these factors are not fully understood.
Focus of this project are long-term observations of organic carbon stocks, soil water, soil gas and weather data, gathered at different land use types. These observations will be used to quantify the impact of the weather and soil properties (abiotic) as well as vegetation type and plant growth (biotic) on carbon dynamics. These data will unravel the possible interactions of climatic drivers, vegetation and soil characteristics on soil organic carbon dynamics.
The PhD candidate will use classical univariate statistics (e.g. ANOVA, LMM) multivariate techniques (e.g. ordination techniques, variation partitioning) as well as path modelling to gain detailed insights of the drivers of soil carbon dynamics. By combining statistic-derived knowledge and process modelling this project will increase our understanding of soil carbon dynamics.

Possible collaboration
Prof. Dr. Beate Michalzik (Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Co-supervision)
Dr. Jens Schumacher (Friedrich Schiller University Jena)

* Requirements*
Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. For this particular PhD project we seek a candidate with

  • a Master’s degree in Biostatistics, Biology, Geography, Ecology or Environmental Sciences
  • experience in processing and analyzing large data sets, in particular skills in univariate and multivariate statistics are mandatory
  • background in soil science and knowledge of stable isotopes are of advantage
  • good English language skills (written and spoken) and readiness to work within a multidisciplinary research team

The Max Planck Society seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The Max Planck Society is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.