PhD scholarship in ecology of soil-plant interactions in tropical grasslands

Deadline: 14.03.2021

Norwegian University of Life Sciences

NMBU has a particular responsibility for research and education that secures the basis for the life of future generations. Sustainability is rooted in everything we do and we deliver knowledge for life. NMBU has 1,800 employees of which about 250 phd scholarships and 6,000 students. The university is divided into seven faculties and has campuses in Ås and Oslo. We will be co-located in Ås from 2021.

NMBU believes that a good working environment is characterised by diversity.

We encourage qualified candidates to apply regardless of gender, functional ability, cultural background or whether you have been outside the labour market for a period. If necessary, workplace adaptations will be made for persons with disabilities. More information about NMBU is available at www.nmbu.no.

About The Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management

The Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management (MINA) works with nature and the environment, sustainable use of natural resources, biological and geological processes.

MINA’s employees undertake teaching, research and dissemination within the fields of geology, hydrology and limnology, soil science, environmental chemistry, forestry, ecology, natural resource management, renewable energy, and nature-based tourism.

Our vision is to be a key actor in knowledge production and dissemination, and our goal is to deliver research of high, international quality, and varied and excellent teaching. The faculty’s employees are significant participants within their respective fields of expertise, both nationally and internationally. The faculty is dominated by a vital research culture and high levels of scientific production.

The faculty has about 200 employees, 90 PhD students and 650 students.

Read more about MINA here

About the position

The Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management (MINA) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) has a vacant 3-year PhD–position within its PhD program “Environmental Sciences”. The position is funded by the Research Council of Norway through the project “Perennial grassland mixtures: a novel approach to forage and food production, land restoration and climate resilience in Ethiopia (2021-2024)”, led by the Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomy (NIBIO). The PhD candidate will study soil-plant interactions in Sub Saharan forage grass mixtures both in field and greenhouse experiments to identify species and mixtures that improve soil functions and quality. The successful candidate will work with an international team consisting of grassland ecologists, soil scientists, agronomists, social scientists and statisticians, carrying out field research in Ethiopia and greenhouse experiments in Norway.

Livestock is paramount for Ethiopian farmers’ livelihoods and central to the Ethiopian economy, but also part of the problem of land degradation. Land is scarce and most of the feed intake by livestock occurs during free grazing on highly overgrazed natural pastures.

Well-managed grasslands, used for forage production with improved forage species can counteract soil degradation in several ways: by improving feed provision, which alleviates the grazing pressure on land used for food crops; by directly improving soil quality through reduced soil erosion and increased amounts of organic matter returned to the soil; by building soil quality and fertility over time, thus supporting increased food crop yields once they are ploughed (legacy effect)

This project will seek to identify grassland species mixtures for more stable and improved feed crop production and determine their legacy effects on food crops.

The aim of this PhD project is to study plant-soil feedbacks for selected grassland species and mixtures to identify effects on soil quality, carbon storage and nutrient cycling.

Main tasks

  • Periodic field work in Ethiopia
  • Follow up field experiments run by Ethiopian partners
  • Plan and carry out greenhouse experiments in Norway
  • Measure soil properties and functions
  • Collaborate with a postdoc in year 2&3 to collect and process data from smallholder surveys
  • Publish peer-reviewed articles

The successful candidate is expected to enter a plan for the progress of the work towards a PhD degree during the first months of the appointment, with a view to completing a doctorate within the PhD scholarship period.


MSc or a comparable degree (5 years; 120 ECTS) in biology, ecosystem ecology, soil science, agronomy, environmental sciences or any related subject.

The applicant must have a documented strong academic background from previous studies and be able to document proficiency in both written and oral English. For more detailed information on the admission criteria please see the PhD Regulations and the relevant PhD programme description.

Required Academic qualifications

  • MSc level degree in biology, ecosystem ecology, soil science, agronomy, environmental sciences or related subjects
  • Knowledge of quantitative research methods and statistics
  • Experience with soil-plant systems (field and/or greenhouse)

The following experiences and skills will be emphasized:

  • Expertise and interest in agroecology of the tropics
  • Documented experience in field work
  • Strong scientific capacity and analytical skills

In addition, you need to:

  • be motivated to work with ecology under tropical conditions and across scientific disciplines
  • have enthusiasm for research, be motivated to learn new things and show ability to work independently while being an active member of a research team
  • have good communication and collaboration skills
  • be prepared to carry out field work

Remuneration and further information

The position is placed in government pay scale position code 1017 PhD Fellow. PhD Fellows are normally placed in pay grade 54 (NOK 482.200,-) on the Norwegian Government salary scale upon employment, and follow ordinary meriting regulations.

Employment is conducted according to national guidelines for University and Technical College PhD scholars.

For further information, please contact:

Information for PhD applicants and general Information to applicants


To apply online for this vacancy, please click on the 'Apply for this job' button above. This will route you to the University's Web Recruitment System, where you will need to register an account (if you have not already) and log in before completing the online application form.

Application deadline: 14.03.2021

Applications should include (electronically) a letter of intent, curriculum vitae, full publication list, copies of degree certificates and transcripts of academic records (all certified), and a list of two persons who may act as references (with phone numbers and e-mail addresses).

Publications should be included electronically within the application deadline. The relevant NMBU Department may require further documentation, e.g. proof of English proficiency.

Printed material which cannot be sent electronically should be sent by surface mail to the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management (MINA) P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, within 14.03.2021. Please quote reference number 21/00968.

If it is difficult to judge the applicant’s contribution for publications with multiple authors, a short description of the applicant’s contribution must be included.

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