Suggestions for Master's Projects

Animal Behaviour

Energetics of movement in terrestrial birds

Movement is a key way that animals to exhibit behaviours. It provides opportunities for organisms to increase their fitness, for example, by moving to new resources or escaping predators. However, the act of moving is also metabolically costly, which can drive the evolution of optimized movement strategies—where to move, how fast, and when. For example, we recently demonstrated that dispersing birds exhibit distinct changes in behaviour that allow them to mitigate the costs of making long-distance movements. However, in social species, the ability for individuals to move efficiently may be constrained by the demands of the social environment—such as the need to maintain cohesion with group members—with implications for their ability to optimize their energy expenditure. This Masters project will combine video, high-resolution GPS, and electrocardiography (ECG, or heart rate) data from wild terrestrial birds (vulturine guineafowl, Acryllium vulturinum) to quantify the energetic costs of moving and interacting within a social group.

Requirements

  • An interest in animal behaviour or physiology.
  • Computer programming experience (e.g. in R) or a strong motivation to learn).
  • A willingness to engage with a large, active, and exciting research team.

Project start

Starting date open

Contact

If you want to know more about us and our projects visit our website: Social Evolutionary Ecology lab.
If you are interested in this work, please send a brief letter of motivation (1-2 paragraphs) outlining why you wish to join the project to:
Prof. Dr. Damien Farine
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich

Last update: 30.05.2022

 

Host finding and repellency of biting midges for vector control (push-pull)

Background information

Biting midges (Culicoides) are very small, blood-sucking insects (‘no-see-ums’) and of huge veterinary importance, mainly as vectors of disease agents. In addition, these insects cause nuisance and insect bite hypersensitivity. Currently, there are no effective methods to control biting midges: screening is impractical because of their small size; the application of insecticides or contact repellents to animals has limited efficacy because they need to be re-applied frequently. In addition, current traps for monitoring are not efficient for mass trapping, and little is known about the mechanisms with regard to host seeking of Culicoides.

We recently obtained promising results in pilot studies on the effects of spatial repellents on Culicoides. Spatial repellents have the advantage over contact repellents that they do not have to be applied to the skin or clothes because they can diffuse through an area and protect from a distance. In addition, we recently managed to video track Culicoides in a behavioural setup. Being the first to do this we can unravel the different aspects of host seeking in detail. The combination of attractants and repellents should lead to push-pull systems.

What you will learn

  • Filming and tracking biting midges in a behavioural setup,
  • Experiments in large cage semi field setups,
  • Chemical analysis with GC-MS,
  • Basic techniques when working with biting midges including rearing.

Contact

Alec Hochstrasser or Dr. Niels Verhulst, National Centre for Vector Entomology, Institute of Parasitology, University of Zurich

Last update: 01.06.2022

 

Innovation and culture in urban-living cockatoos

The capacity for innovation, social learning and culture is vital to the success of humans, facilitating our colonization of almost every habitat on Earth. But has culture been a determinant of success in any other species? Urban environments present a natural experiment to investigate these questions, as cities provide novel challenges and opportunities that animals need to respond to over short time-scales. Our recent research on one urban-adaptor, the sulphur-crested cockatoo, has described the spread of one innovation, flipping bin lids to raid household food scraps in Sydney Australia. In this work, and the help of citizen-science, we mapped emergence and geographic spread of this behaviour to observe the formation of a local ‘bin-opening culture’. However, people have now responded to this behaviour by protecting bins with a variety of methods. Our evidence for social learning of bin protection by people (and anecdotal observations that birds can defeat measures) leads to the potential for an interspecies cultural arms race. This masters project will investigate whether this is occurring by using a combination of observations and experiments to test where, when and how cockatoos can defeat bin protection measures. The project will combine spatial mapping and citizen science approaches with wild fieldwork on habituated cockatoos in eastern Australia

Requirements

  • An interest in animal behaviour and cognition.
  • Experience with programming or statistics in R or Python, or a strong motivation to learn.
  • A willingness to engage with a large, active, and exciting research team.
  • Willingness to engage in urban/peri-urban fieldwork in Australia, and a current passport.

Project start

Starting date open

Contact

If you want to know more about our lab and projects visit our website:  https://sites.google.com/site/lucymaplin/home
If you are interested in this work, please send an email with a brief letter of motivation (1-2 paragraphs) outlining why you wish to join the project to:

Prof. Dr Lucy Aplin (lucy.aplin@anu.edu.au) Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich

Last update: 30.09.2022

 

Sexual conflict in chacma baboons

 

Background / aim
I am advertising MSc projects focusing on wild chacma baboons in the Waterberg district of the Limpopo province, South Africa. The main research goal is to improve our understanding of the role of sexual conflict as a selection pressure shaping behavior and physiology. Together with local and international field assistants and students, you will collect behavioral, endocrinological, genetic and ecological data while following habituated chacma baboon troops.
The study site – also home to vervet monkeys and bushbabies, to name only the primates – is located on the Swebeswebe Wildlife Estate, approximately 50km from the town of Lephalale. You will also contribute to the general running of the research camp set in the rugged bushveld with magnificent wildlife. The research camp provides all necessary amenities including free fast internet access.

Requirements
Previous field experience is desirable, but not essential. You should be physically fit and resilient.

Project start
Start date of MSc Projects is flexible, but a start at the beginning of a semester is preferred. A commitment of 5-6 months in the field is required. Next opportunity to start field work for an MSc project is February 2023.

Contact
For additional information and to apply please contact Dr. Tony Weingrill, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Zurich.

Last update: 09.11.2022

 

Temperature preferences of disease vectors


Background information

Globalization and climate change will increase the risk for vector-borne disease outbreaks and, therefore, reliable models to predict such outbreaks are urgently needed. Temperature is one of the most important parameters in the biological transmission of pathogens by insect vectors (e.g. mosquitoes and biting midges). However, experimental approaches to determine the potential of a vector (vector competence) as well as mathematical models used to predict pathogen transmission by insects overwhelmingly use temperatures that are not representative (i.e. constant, high temperatures). More recently, experimental approaches are using ‘realistic’ temperatures, i.e. daily fluctuating temperatures as provided by meteorological stations. These temperatures, however, are by default measured two meters above ground but insects might prefer specific microclimates. In this study, we will investigate the temperature preferences of disease vectors (mosquitoes and midges) in a temperature preference setup in the laboratory under controlled conditions and also in larger cage setups and finally in the field (localization of the insects in their preferred microhabitat). This study will significantly contribute to better understand the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases.

What you will learn

  • Filming and tracking mosquitoes in a behavioural setup,
  • Experiments in large cage semi field setups,
  • Basic techniques when working with mosquitoes including rearing,
  • Field experiments at different sites including the mountains (summer only).

Contact

Dr. Niels Verhulst
National Centre for Vector Entomology, Institute of Parasitology, University of Zurich

Last update: 01.06.2022

 

Ecology and Environment

A systematic literature review on insect wing beat frequencies


General outline / aim 
The project aims to create a reference database on (large) insect wing beat frequencies, mass, and length/width ratios. A systematic literature review based on standardised and rigorous methodologies will be performed using the user-friendly online tool www.cadima.info.

Interest in publishing the database and the review in a scientific peer- reviewed journal will be encouraged by the supervising team.

Starting date
Any time

Contact
If you want to know more about us and our projects visit our website Schweizerische Vogelwarte Sempach or contact Birgen Haest, Schweizerische Vogelwarte, Seerose 1, 6204 Sempach, Switzerland

Last update: 30.05.2022

 

Alpine butterfly communities under climate change

 

Background / aim
Climate change is posing a threat to biodiversity, which results in large-scale range shifts of many species. Although alpine species are particularly affected by changing climate, only few studies could address changes in ecological communities of alpine sites.
To address changes in communities through time, data on past community composition is necessary, but only rarely available. For Switzerland, there exists a dataset of butterfly communities in alpine grasslands from the late 1970s, which has been resampled in the early 2000s. Already at this stage, 20 years ago, communities were found to have changed, with lowland species tending to replace alpine species. Given the acceleration of climate change in recent years, a resampling of these sites would allow to quantify changes in recent years and to get a better understanding of the threats that alpine butterfly communities are under. Such information will be key to plan efficient mitigation measures targeted at conserving diverse butterfly communities.

Project work
In this project, we want to assess butterfly communities in alpine grasslands and relate their composition to samples that were taken at the same sites in the past to understand how climate change has affected this diverse insect group. If there is room and interest, the study can be complemented by a small experimental study to test how increasing temperatures affect butterfly larval stages, which will help to understand the mechanisms underlying the observed community changes.
The results of the MSc-project are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements
You should have a strong interest in global change ecology and be interested in doing field work, both as a team but also independently. Basic knowledge in statistics (R) is advantageous, so is a driver’s license (but neither is mandatory).

Project start
You should begin with your work at latest in April 2023.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact:
Dr. Felix Neff or PD Dr. Eva Knop , University of Zurich

Last update: 27.10.2022

 

Amphibian conservation biology


Various projects are possible in amphibian conservation biology. They range from pure data analysis to experiments and field studies and cover a variety of topics from analysing declines to understanding and measuring the effects of conservation action.

Contact
Dr. Benedikt R. Schmidt    For more information, please see: http://www.popecol.org/join-us/

Last update: 24.05.2022

 

Assessing the effects of handling and displacing roe deer neonates during mowing events on their behavior and activity


Background / aim
Mowing related mortalities are among the most important causes of deaths of neonate roe deer in many parts of Europe. However, the impact of these fatalities on deer population dynamics is not well known. Different counter measures to prevent neonates to fall victims to mowing machines exist, the efficiency of these different methods, however, has rarely been scientifically assessed and quantified. This work is part of a longer-term project that started in 2020 with the focus on the effects of agricultural practices on roe deer ecology in Switzerland. It is the aim of the thesis to experimentally quantify the efficiency of different prevention measures in the field and assess the effect of handling and displacement on fawn behavior and activity. The interested student will collaborate with local game wardens and hunter associations during the fawn season in spring. Field work includes capturing, tagging (GPS, activity and sensors) and monitoring of roe deer fawns. In addition, camera traps will be installed to monitor fawn behavior in the hours post-handling. Data analyses include movement models, state-space modelling and time-series analysis.
 

Requirements

  • Fluent in German (student will work closely with hunters and game wardens in the field)
  • Motivation to work long and irregular hours during the 3 months field season in spring
  • Strong interest in statistical modelling using large datasets
  • Driving licence

Project start
Ideally the project will start beginning of 2023. The field season will last from end of April until end of June 2023.
 

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Benedikt Gehr IEU / Wildtier Schweiz or Prof. Dr. Lukas Keller, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

Last update: 21.11.2022

Bird bleeps and calls: Comparing radar and acoustic monitoring of bird migration

 

Background / aim
Every year, billions of birds migrate between their breeding and non-breeding grounds. Using radars, we can quantify these movements in space and time, but they provide only limited information on species composition. Acoustic and visual citizen science data can help fill this knowledge gap. While visual observations have been frequently used for radar target verification, the potential role of bioacoustics as a complement in radar studies in Europe has not been explored much. Our understanding of nocturnal call activity of migrants and thus the representativeness of acoustic data for migratory bird monitoring is very limited.

Project work
Using data from Helsinki (Finland), this MSc project aims to explore synergies between radar and acoustic and visual citizen science data by analysing taxonomic and quantitative spatiotemporal patterns from these data sources during bird migration in 2021. The analysis will also investigate which meteorological factors potentially explain differences between the observations from the different data sources. By combining the strengths of citizen science and radar data, the MSc project will ultimately reveal more details about the observed bird migration patterns than would have been possible by either data source separately. The project can start at any time from June 2022 onwards. Publication in a peer-reviewed publication will be encouraged.

Requirements

  • Basic knowledge on bird migration and familiarity with common bird species
  • Interest in modelling and statistics
  • Previous experience with statistical analyses in R.

Supervisors

  • Dr. Nadja Weisshaupt (Finnish Meteorological Institute)
  • Dr. Baptiste Schmid and Dr. Birgen Haest (Swiss Ornithological Institute)
  • Supervising professor of your choice

Contact
Interested? Please get in touch with baptiste.schmid@vogelwarte.ch & birgen.haest@vogelwarte.ch.

Last update: 08.08.2022

 

Common yet unexplored: Deciphering hidden diversity of a cryptic amphipod species across Switzerland

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on the cryptic diversity within the Gammarus fossarum species complex. The project involves fieldwork, predominantly in western Switzerland, molecular barcoding of specimens in the laboratory as well as genetic analyses. The project is part of a larger research program (based at Eawag, Dübendorf) and funded by BAFU.

Background
Amphipods are a diverse and ecologically highly relevant group of freshwater invertebrates. In a large study program (Amphipod.CH), we have already recorded about 40 different species of amphipods in Switzerland over the last few years. Thereby, we also discovered that the most common amphipod species in Switzerland – namely G. fossarum – is represented by at least three lineages that can only be told apart using molecular methods. Our understanding of the true diversity and distribution of these important organisms is still limited.

Aim
In this MSc project, you would build on extensive and existing distribution data of amphipods in Switzerland. While there are already a few hundred molecular barcodes available, some areas (e.g. western Switzerland) require additional sampling. You would perform the fieldwork and the consecutive lab work to generate barcodes to resolve species status. You will generate the first fully resolved map of Switzerland showing the distribution of G. fossarum lineages. You will then link their occurrence to environmental/biogeographic variables. The data will eventually be integrated into public databases (CSCF).

Requirements

  • Interest in ecology and faunistics of aquatic invertebrates,
  • German/French and English language skills,
  • interest to work on a stakeholder relevant project (BAFU funded),
  • Valid driver’s licence and driving practice.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt
Dr. Roman Alther
IEU, University of Zurich & Eawag, Dep. Aquatic Ecology, Dübendorf
More info: www.altermattlab.ch

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

Consequences of artificial light at night for dung communities and decomposition

 

Background / aim
In Switzerland, about 200 species of Diptera (flies) and Coleoptera (beetles) use dung pats as food or habitat, and many of them are active at night. As dung-dwellers, these organisms provide the important ecosystem service of dung decomposition. At the same time, light pollution is rapidly increasing around the globe, with so far largely unknown consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. We therefore offer an MSc project that focuses on the question of how dung communities are affected by artificial light at night and its consequences for dung decomposition.

Project work
The project will be part of a larger project on the effect of artificial light at night on plant-pollinator interactions. Thus, sites for the experiment will already be established (in the Swiss lowlands). Also, there will be a group of people working on the same sites, which facilitates fieldwork and fosters the scientific exchange. Furthermore, we will rent a flat close to the field sites, so that time for travelling can be minimized.
The aim is to publish the results of the MSc-project in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements
You should have a strong interest in global change ecology, be interested in doing field work and working in a team. You should have basic knowledge in statistics (R) and ideally own a driver’s license (not mandatory).

Project start
The field work should start at latest in April/May 2023.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact:
PD Dr. Eva Knop or Dr. Frank Pennekamp, University of Zurich

Last update: 27.10.2022

 

Digging Deeper: Effects of Agro-ecosystem diversification and crop rotation on soil life and ecosystem services


Biological diversity is of pivotal importance for ecosystems. Most studies on the importance of diversity for ecosystem functioning have targeted aboveground communities. However, a large part of biodiversity is literally hidden below ground. The consequences of soil biodiversity losses for ecosystem functioning are still poorly understood. This is particularly true in agro-ecosystems, where soil biodiversity declines upon land use intensification are commonly reported. We have previously shown that belowground diversity is key for maintaining multiple ecosystem functions (i.e. multifunctionality) in model ecosystems, and that particular functional groups of soil biota affect ecosystem sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, immobilizing nutrients and influencing nutrient losses. Here, we build upon those studies and test, for the first time, whether agro-ecosystem diversification can promote soil biodiversity and the delivery of beneficial ecosystem services across Europe. Our central hypothesis is that increased plant diversity will promote belowground biodiversity and related ecosystem services. Digging deeper aims to enhance our understanding of belowground biodiversity and management for ecosystem functioning and service delivery in European agroecosystems through four key objectives:

  • Quantify the impact of land use/agricultural practices, in particular those increasing plant diversity, on soil communities, ecosystem functions and services.
  • Determine the role of soil diversity and biological interactions for multifunctionality of European agroecosystems.
  • Assess the impacts of climate change on the provision of ecosystem services by agroecosystems from different climatic zones, management practices and soil biodiversity levels.
  • Identify innovative land management practices that maximize the delivery of multiple ecosystem services delivered by soil biota.

To address these objectives, we have established a pan-European network (from Sweden to Spain) of 250 agricultural fields that vary in aboveground diversity. This network includes sites from low to high above ground diversity, as well as field experiments where the diversity of agro-ecosystems is manipulated in time or space (e.g. through crop rotation, cover crops, or intercropping). We assess below-ground diversity using high throughput sequencing and we will measure a number of ecosystem functions (plant yield, nutrient cycling, soil aggregation and soil C sequestration, soil N2O sink) acting as surrogates of essential services in agroecosystems. Subsequently, we will use advanced statistical tools to assess the impact of above- and belowground diversity and management on both multifunctionality and individual ecosystem services. This is a multidisciplinary European project and several specific Master projects (with specific themes) are present within the above mentioned framework.

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden at IEU, University of Zurich or at Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich, Switzerland

Last update: 01.06.2022

 


Background / aim
Mowing related mortalities are among the most important causes of deaths of neonate roe deer in many parts of Europe. However, the impact of these fatalities on deer population dynamics is not well known. Different counter measures to prevent neonates to fall victims to mowing machines exist, the efficiency of these different methods, however, has rarely been scientifically assessed and quantified. This work is part of a longer-term project that started in 2020 with the focus on the effects of agricultural practices on roe deer ecology in Switzerland. It is the aim of the thesis to experimentally quantify the efficiency of different prevention measures in the field and theoretically assess the impact of mowing related fatalities on population growth using demographic models (multi-event cause-specific mortality models). For the experimental part the interested student will collaborate with local game wardens and hunter associations during the fawn season in spring. Field work includes GPS-tagging and monitoring of roe deer fawns. In addition camera traps will be installed to monitor fawn behavior in the hours post-rescue. For the modelling part a long-term dataset of a mark-recovery project of the Federal Office of the environment is available.
Additional information (in German) is available here (PDF, 132 KB).
 

Requirements

  • Fluent in German (student will work closely with hunters and game wardens in the field)
  • Motivation to work long and irregular hours during the 3 months field season in spring
  • Strong interest in statistical modelling using large datasets
  • Driving license

Project start
Ideally the project will start beginning of 2022. The field season will last from end of April until beginning of July 2022.
 

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Benedikt Gehr.
Dr. Benedikt Gehr Wildtier Schweiz, Dr. Benedikt Gehr or Prof. Dr. Lukas Keller, Departement of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich

Last update: 24.05.2022

 

Effizienz verschiedener Methoden zur Rehkitzrettung und demographische Modellierung zum Effekt des Mähtodes auf die Dynamik von Rehpopulationen


Hintergrund
Mit der mechanischen Modernisierung und Intensivierung der Landwirtschaft wurde die Effizienz von Ernte- und Mähmaschinen stetig erhöht mit, zum Teil verheerenden Folgen für unterschiedliche Tiergruppen (bsp. Insekten, Vögel, Säugetiere), welche in der Kulturlandschaft zu Hause sind [1]. Unter den Säugetieren sind der Feldhase und das Reh die am stärksten betroffenen Arten. Jeden Frühling werden in der Schweiz tausende von Rehkitzen vermäht (Jagdstatistik BAFU). Somit ist der Mähtod eine der Haupttodesursachen von neugeborenen Rehen und hat das Potential deren zu beeinflussen [1]. Des Weiteren stellt die Vestümmelung von Tieren auch aus tierschützerischen Gründen ein Problem dar, dass es zu minimieren gilt [2]. Hunderte von freiwilligen Helfern schweizweit versuchen aus diesem Grund während der Mähsaison Rehkitze vor dem Mähtod zu retten. Dafür werden traditionsgemäss unterschiedlichste Methoden angewendet, welche sich regional unterscheiden können und deren Nutzen jedoch selten wissenschaftlich untersucht wurde [2]. Eine wissenschaftliche Gegenüberstellung der benutzten Massnahmen kann daher helfen, die effizienteste Strategie auszuarbeiten. Zudem kann eine genauere Quantifizierung der Mortalitätsursachen von neugeborenen Rehkitzen dazu beitragen, den Einfluss von Mähmaschinen-bedingten Ausfällen auf die Populationsdynamik von Rehen besser zu verstehen.
Die ausgeschriebenen Masterarbeit ist Teil eines grösseren Projektes, welches seit 2020 läuft und den Einfluss der Landwirtschaft auf die Biologie von Rehen in der Schweiz untersucht. Das Projekt soll einerseits mittels eines experimentellen Ansatzes die Effizienz verschiedener Kitzrettungsmassnahmen quantitativ evaluieren, andererseits soll anhand demographischer Modelle der Einfluss der Mähmortalität auf das Populationswachstum von Rehen untersucht werden [3]. Der erste Teil dieser Arbeit beinhaltet die Durchführung eines Feldexperimentes in den Kantonen Schwyz und Thurgau, in Zusammenarbeit mit Wildhütern und lokalen Jägervereinen. Für den zweiten Teil steht ein Datensatz des Rehkitzmarkierungsprojektes des Bundes zur Verfügung, in welchem seit 1971 schweizweit rund 20‘000 Rehkitze markiert wurden.

Anforderungen
Interessierte StudentInnen sollten sowohl eine hohe Motivation für eine 3-monatige Feldarbeit (mit langen und unregelmässigen Arbeitszeiten) mit sich bringen als auch Freude an der statistischen Auswertung grosser Datensätze (death recovery models, state-space modelling [3]). Ein hoher Grad an Selbständigkeit und einen Führerschein sind Grundvoraussetzung, gute Kenntnisse des Schweizer-Deutschen ein Vorteil beim Arbeiten im Feld. Im Vorfeld der Arbeit soll ein detailliertes Proposal ausgearbeitet werden, in welchem der experimentelle Ansatz genau geplant werden soll (mit Fokus auf Durchführbarkeit). Die benötigte Stichprobengrösse für das Feldexperiment wird anhand einer Poweranalyse ermittelt. Für die Feldarbeit werden neugeborene Kitze mit GPS-Sendern ausgestattet und überwacht. Zusätzlich kommen Kamerafallen zum Einsatz, um das Verhalten nach einer Rettungsaktion mittels Videos festzuhalten.

Projekt Start
Die Feldsaison dauert von April bis Juli 2022.
 

Literatur

  1. Cukor J., Havránek F., Vacek Z., et al. (2019). Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) mortality in relation to fodder harvest in agricultural landscape. Mammalia, 83(5), pp. 461-469.
  2. Jarnemo A. (2002). Roe deer Capreolus capreolus fawns and mowing – mortality rates and countermeasures. Wildlife Biol. 8: 211–218.
  3. Kéry M., Schaub M. (2012). Bayesian population analysis using WinBUGS: A hierarchical perspective. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

Kontakt
Interessierte melden sich bei Benedikt Gehr.
Dr. Benedikt Gehr, Institut für Evolutionsbiologie und Umweltwissenschaften, Universität Zürich, Schweiz

Last update: 24.05.2022

 

Evolution of ecological stability in diverse protist communities


The positive effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning are nowadays well established. More diverse communities show higher functioning and higher temporal stability than communities consisting of a single species, due to their complementary resource use and differential responses to environmental variation. Recently, experiments with plant communities have revealed that diverse communities co-evolve allowing diverse communities to be more productive than monocultures, or even mixtures established from monoculture types.  
Parallel work on diversity effects on stability in protist communities has shown that diversity has positive effects on temporal stability, but can also have negative effects on resistance, a different component of ecological stability. This project aims to combine these findings and understand the effect of community evolution on multiple components of ecological stability and their covariation.  
For this project, we are looking for an enthusiastic student interested in working on the interface between ecology and evolution. The students will design and perform experiments in which competitive protist communities with different richness levels are co-selected and their temporal stability and resistance measured after the selection period.

Requirements

  • Interest in community ecology,
  • Motivation to perform laboratory microcosm experiments with protists using video analysis techniques.

Project start
This project can start any time.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Frank Pennekamp or Dr. Debra Zuppinger-Dingley, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich.

Last update: 30.05.2022

 

Explore unknown groundwater biodiversity using environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on eDNA metabarcoding and groundwater diversity. The project involves molecular biology work (DNA extraction and PCRs for the construction of a sequencing library), and data analyses of complex datasets, and is part of a larger research program based in the Altermatt lab at UZH/Eawag.

Background
Groundwater organisms are largely understudied, and little is known about the fauna inhabiting underground habitats. Reasons for this lack of knowledge are the difficulty to access groundwater, and the apparent scarcity of organisms that can make sampling problematic. One method to solve these issues is the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding. A preliminary study performed by our lab showed that eDNA could be a valuable tool for investigating groundwater biodiversity, and we were able to show different patterns according to the sites geology or land-use. However, we also revealed a high unknown diversity with a lot of DNA sequences that could not be assigned to any species present in reference databases. To confirm these first observations, 20 sites were sampled across Switzerland. With these groundwater samples, we would like to evaluate the effect of different environmental factors (e.g., land-use, geology or depth of the aquifer) on groundwater biodiversity, targeting more specifically metazoan taxa.

Aim
In this MSc project, you would work on groundwater eDNA samples collected all over Switzerland. You would perform all steps of the metabarcoding library preparation, from DNA extraction to sequencing. Once the sequences acquired, you would process the data using dedicated bioinformatics pipelines, and try to identify the species present in the samples. The diversity observed could then be linked to land-use, geology or past glaciation events, for example.

Requirements

  • Interest in environmental DNA and ecology of aquatic metazoans and interest/skills in molecular biology,
  • interest in developing your skills in the molecular lab and in the analysis of complex datasets,
  • ideally some experience in molecular laboratory methods (PCR, Sequencing, etc.).

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, University of Zurich and Eawag Dübendorf
Dr. Marjorie Couton, Eawag Dübendorf and day-to-day supervisor

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

Honeybee virus infection in a solitary wild bee and impacts on their foraging activity and offspring

Background
Wild bees provide essential ecosystem functions by pollinating wild plants and crops (Potts et al. 2016). However, they are facing many threats: Conversion of natural land into agricultural fields has caused a loss of floral and nesting resources and intensive agriculture with increased pesticide use negatively affects bee health. The red mason bee (Osmia bicornis) and the European orchard bee (Osmia cornuta, on picture) were shown to harbour several of the known honeybee RNA viruses (Radzevičiūtė et al., 2017; Ravoet et al., 2014). High honeybee densities in a landscape can increase the risk of pathogen spill-over from honeybees to wild bees. It is however not clear, to how often this happens in different landscapes and to what extent an infection influences wild bee health. This project offers the opportunity to investigate the influence of pesticides and honeybee virus infection on O.cornuta female and offspring performance.
Project’s website

Possible research questions

  • Do the infection rates in O. cornuta populations foraging and developing in contrasting landscapes (different honeybee densities and resources) differ?
  • Does infection with honeybee viruses of the mother influence mortality of O. cornuta offspring?
  • Do infected O. cornuta females transmit the virus to their offspring?
  • Does management practice (organic, conventional) and pesticide use in the surrounding of the trap nest influence the foraging activity of O. cornuta females?

Scientific fields
Wild bee ecology, disease ecology, agro-ecology, ecosystem functioning, conservation biology.

Methods

  • Fieldwork for the project was done in April/May 2022. Samples of females, larvae and pollen have been taken for later analysis.
  • iral screening of the samples will be done by project partners, but the possibility to assist in the lab offers a good opportunity to learn molecular methods.
  • In early spring 2023, cocoons of Osmia cornuta will be hatched in a controlled manner to assess mortality of the offspring.
  • Possibility to assess pollen composition of provisions.
  • Data analysis using R.
  • Writing thesis.

Location, Time & Duration

Place: Agroscope Reckenholz, Zürich (& ETH or University of Zurich)
Starting date: flexible, ideally winter 2022/23
Duration: flexible, ideally 6-12 months

Contact
Corina Maurer email  phone +41 58 483 9983
Dr. Matthias Albrecht  email phone +41 58 468 7413

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich

Last update: 07.06.2022

 

How many leaves do amphipods shred? Leaf litter decomposition experiments using amphipods as study organism

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be studying ecosystem functioning, using amphipods and leaf litter as study model. The project could be performed in field-based experiment or in laboratory setting using mesocosms. The project is part of a larger research program (based at Eawag, Dübendorf).

Background
Amphipods are a diverse and ecologically highly relevant group of freshwater invertebrates. In a large study program (Amphipod.CH), we have already recorded about 40 different species of amphipods in Switzerland over the last few years. The leaf litter decomposition by amphipods is essential for the functioning of freshwater ecosystems in many regions. While some aspects such as density- dependence or diversity effects on the functioning were already studied, there are still many aspects that need a deeper understanding to support conservation efforts.

Aim
In this MSc project, you would build on previous experiments using amphipods as study organism. Performing a field-based experiment would involve extensive preparation and fieldwork. Running an experiment in the lab would require setting up many replicate mesocosms and high frequency monitoring. Both approaches require extensive laboratory processing of leaf litter and weighing amphipods. You will analyse the resulting data using appropriate statistical approaches.

Requirements

  • Interest in ecology of aquatic invertebrates and ecosystem functions,
  • English language skills,
  • interest to work on a theory-driven experiment,
  • some prior statistical knowledge.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt
Dr. Roman Alther
IEU, University of Zurich & Eawag, Dep. Aquatic Ecology, Dübendorf
More info: www.altermattlab.ch

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

Indirect effect of artificial light at night on diurnal plant-pollinator communities

 

Background / aim
Light pollution is rapidly increasing around the globe. In our group, we have shown that it can disrupt plant- pollinator interactions at night with negative consequences for plant reproductive output (Knop et al. 2017). Recently, we have shown that it indirectly also alters plant-pollinator interactions during daytime (Giavi et al. 2021). We now offer three MSc projects that focus on disentangling the underlying mechanisms driving the change of diurnal plant-pollinator interactions due to artificial light at night. The three projects are distinct projects on a) plant phenology, b) pollinator-plant-herbivore interactions, and c) predator-pollinator-plant interactions.

Project work
All projects will be part of a larger project that involves a PhD student and will be supported by field assistants. Fieldwork will be conducted in the Sealand (BE, VD und FR) and a field apartment will be provided. The results of the MSc-project are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements
You should have a strong interest in global change ecology, be interested in doing field work and working in a team. You should have basic knowledge in statistics (R) and ideally own a driver’s license (but neither is mandatory).

Project start
You should begin with your work at latest in April 2023.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact:
Vincent Grognuz, PhD student or PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 27.10.2022

 

Lake tributaries as safe haven? Long-term temporal patterns of amphipod communities in tributaries of Lake Constance

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on macroinvertebrate communities of tributaries to Lake Constance. The project involves extensive fieldwork, morphological identification of specimens in the laboratory and statistical analyses of diversity patterns. The project is part of a larger and long-term research program (based at Eawag, Dübendorf).

Background
Amphipods are a diverse and ecologically highly relevant group of freshwater invertebrates. In a large study program (Amphipod.CH), we have already recorded about 40 different species of amphipods in Switzerland over the last few years. At Lake Constance we have recorded amphipod communities in a dozen streams since 2012. While most of the data were targeted to answer specific research questions, the data now also allow looking at temporal patterns of amphipod communities and inferring conclusions about their persistence and ecological stability.

Aim
In this MSc project, you would build on existing macroinvertebrate data from tributaries to Lake Constance. These should be complemented with recent samples taken by you. You would perform the fieldwork and the consecutive lab work to identify all macroinvertebrates, and the amphipods specifically. You will thereby build a long-term dataset, allowing to perform diversity analyses across time and space, getting insights into driving forces of amphipod community composition.

Requirements

  • Interest in ecology and faunistics of aquatic invertebrates,
  • German and English language skills,
  • interest to plan fieldwork and to identify invertebrate samples under the stereomicroscope,
  • keen to implement statistical models covering temporal and spatial aspects,
  • valid driver’s licence and driving practice.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, University of Zurich and Eawag Dübendorf
Dr. Roman Alther, Eawag Dübendorf
IEU, University of Zurich & Eawag, Dep. Aquatic Ecology, Dübendorf
More info: www.altermattlab.ch

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

Modelling transport of environmental DNA in river networks

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on the development and testing of species distribution models based on environmental DNA collected in rivers. The project involves extensive computational tasks and is part of a larger research program (based in the Altermatt lab at Eawag/UZH).

Background
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a method for biodiversity assessment consisting in the detection of genetic traces of organisms from environmental samples (in particular, stream water). In rivers, eDNA measurements are hard to interpret because DNA molecules are transported downstream by stream water, and because they are impacted by decay. A recently developed model (eDITH – eDNA Integrating Transport and Hydrology) makes use of hydrological concepts to correctly interpret eDNA data and produce species distribution maps and biodiversity assessments across river networks.

Aim
The following possible MSc projects on this topic build upon the eDITH model: • Model-based evaluation of optimal strategies for biodiversity assessment in river networks that merge eDNA measurements and direct observation of organisms. This study is mainly simulation-based (with the possibility of analyzing existing datasets). • Production of an R package that implements the eDITH model. This project is based on existing chunks of code that need to be expanded and merged.

Requirements

  • Interest in ecological modelling,
  • programming skills (R language),
  • robust mathematical background.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, University of Zurich and Eawag Dübendorf
Dr. Luca Carraro, Eawag Dübendorf and day-to-day supervisor

References

  • Carraro L., Mächler E., Wüthrich R., Altermatt F. (2020). Environmental DNA allows upscaling spatial patterns of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems. Nature Communications, 11:3585. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17337-8

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

Movement and behavioural ecology of juvenile golden eagles

 

Outline
Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are among the most charismatic birds of the alpine environment. Yet due to their high mobility and their remote occurrence, large aspects of their lives remain elusive. Tagging juvenile golden eagles with the newest generation of GPS and tri-axial accelerometer (ACC) tags allows us to bring together individual space use, habitat characteristics and specific behaviours.

Research aims
The present MSc project will investigate the behaviours of juvenile golden eagles across space and time and asses their drivers and potential consequences.

Methods
The candidate will apply a ground-truthed machine learning algorithm for identifying golden eagle behaviours onto an extensive database of accelerometer-data of ca. 80 juvenile golden eagles. This will allow assessing the abundance and composition of specific behaviours in space and time. Relating these to different intrinsic and environmental factors, as well as individual performance, will allow to infer about proximate and ultimate drivers and consequences of these behaviours. The results of this thesis shall be published in a high-quality scientific journal. The project will be embedded in an ongoing PhD-project (ETHZ/Swiss Ornithological institute) and a multinational Alpine golden eagle project led by Max-Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour. The MSc thesis will not involve any fieldwork. However, visiting the study area and potentially joining a golden eagle tagging event may be possible.

Requirements

  • Background in biology, environmental sciences, geographical sciences or similar
  • Strong interest in investigating ecological questions
  • Experience with R statistical language
  • Interest in learning and applying machine learning methods, working with large datasets and the analysis of movement data.
  • Very good knowledge of English language and scientific writing
  • Knowledge of bird and raptor biology will be an advantage

Contact
Dr. Matthias Tschumi
Swiss Ornithological Institute
email: matthias.tschumi@vogelwarte.ch


Phone: +41 41 462 9924

 

Last update: 24.10.2022

 

Population-genomic study of worldwide dispersal of the yellow dung fly

 

Background / aim
The yellow dung fly Scathophaga stercoraria is a long-standing model organism in evolutionary ecology. This species occurs world-wide in the northern hemisphere, and populations are reported from southern Africa, which most likely are the closely-related species Sc. soror. Yellow dung flies are common around cattle dung, into which they lay their eggs and which their larvae consume, to help decompose livestock excrements (coprophagy). These flies’ mating behavior and ecology is well-described. This species is suspected to have reached world-wide distribution in the course of human agriculture, but also because it is very cold-resistant for an insect of its size. Previous population genetic studies based on microsatellites have not resolved their possible population expansion routes – either westward from Europe to reach North America via Siberia & Japan; or eastward, likely by human transport from Europe to North America. We have world-wide population samples which could serve to investigate the species’ expansion using more detailed genomic, SNP-based methods offering higher resolution. This study would primarily involve molecular methods and subsequent bioinformatic analyses.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact:
Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich

Last update: 30.05.2022

 

Spatio-temporal use of farmland habitats by insects

 

Background / aim
To complete their lifecycle many insect species require different habitats, such as habitats for feeding, habitats for breeding, or habitats for overwintering. Yet, most conservation efforts that aim at improving habitats for insects focus on the habitat they need as adults. This is partly because the spatiotemporal use of habitats within a landscape has long been neglected.

Project work
The aim of this MSc project is to improve our understanding of the spatio-temporal use of farmland habitats by insects. Based on the information on the spatial occurrence of farmland habitats gained as part of the Swiss farmland biodiversity monitoring program (ALL-EMA) the use of selected habitats for insects that overwinter in the soil will be assessed. To do so, insects will be sampled between spring and summer when they emerge from the soil. Filling this knowledge gap will be imminent for being able to design appropriate landscapes that also offer habitats to overwintering insects.
The MSc-project benefits from the infrastructure and support of the ALL-EMA.

Requirements
You should have a strong interest in global change ecology and be willing to engage in field work, both as a team but also independently. Basic knowledge in statistics (R) is advantageous, so is a driver’s license (but neither is mandatory).

Project start
You should begin with your work at latest in February 2023.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Eliane Meier or PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 27.10.2022

 

Susceptibility of cold- and warm-adapted butterfly species to global change

 

Background / aim
Insect decline has been observed for various insect groups and in different regions. While many potential drivers have been proposed, such as land use and climate change, only few studies experimentally related the observed declines to drivers. There exist good data on historical records of butterflies in Switzerland. The data shows that depending on the species, the density has remained stable, increased, or decreased over the past 50 years. While decreases have been mainly observed for cold-adapted, alpine species, increases were found for warm-adapted species. This suggests that climate change and other global change drivers play an important role for past and future trends of butterfly populations in Switzerland, but there is not much experimental evidence proofing it. Filling this knowledge gap will be imminent for being able to forecast the effects of future climate change and to plan mitigation measures targeted at conserving diverse butterfly communities.

Project work
In this project, we aim to test the effect of climate change and other drivers on the larval survival and performance of both cold- and warm-adapted butterfly species. The study is planned to be conducted as a field experiment, in which caterpillars of different butterfly species are grown at different sites and under different global change treatments. The results of the MSc-project are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements
You should have a strong interest in global change ecology and be interested in doing field work, both as a team but also independently. Also, basic knowledge in statistics (R) is advantageous, so is a driver’s license (but both are not mandatory).

Project start
You should begin with your work at latest in February 2023.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Felix Neff or PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 05.07.2022

 

Sustainable Food Production with Biologicals – Testing the effects of plant growth promoting mycorrhizal fungi and other microbial consortia on crop yield


Modern conventional agriculture relies heavily on high fertilizer inputs and pesticides to reach high yields. However, easily available phosphate fertilizer sources will be depleted in about 50-100 years and there are concerns that we will face a phosphate crisis endangering agricultural production. Moreover, the production of nitrogen fertilizer is energetically expensive and high levels of nitrate in the ground- and drinking water can pose a significant health risk and have a negative impact on downstream ecosystems. There is, therefore, an increased interest and pressure from society and governments to develop more sustainable agricultural practices and search for alternatives for fertilizer and pesticide use.
There is increased interest to use soil microbes that naturally associate with plants for enhancing plant growth and fitness. One group of microbes with huge potential are the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. AM fungi form symbiotic associations with two-thirds of all land plants and have been repeatedly shown to positively influence plant nutrition and health, as well as enhancing pest resistance. Up to 80% of plant P and up to 25% of plant N can be provided by these plant root symbionts. AM fungi form associations with major crops including wheat, maize, and soybean, as well as with a number of cash crops (crops with high revenues) including tomato, cucumber, apples, and grapes. In this project, you will test the impact of various mycorrhizal fungi and plant growth promoting microbes (e.g. Trichoderma and nitrogen fixing bacteria) on plant yield and plant nutrition under greenhouse and field conditions. The results of this work will help to develop sustainable production systems with reduced fertilizer input.

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden at IEU, University of Zurich or at Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich, Switzerland

Last update: 01.06.2022

 

Synchrony and persistence of populations in river networks

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on the development and testing of metapopulation models in river networks. The project involves extensive computational tasks and is part of a larger research program (based in the Altermatt lab at Eawag/UZH).

Background
River ecosystems promote the persistence of species by favoring spatial dynamics among branches, in which synchrony plays a major role. Yet, our understanding of how network topology influences population synchrony in these ecosystems remains limited. This project builds on a model of virtual constructs reproducing the topology of river networks (so-called Optimal Channel Networks - OCNs), and aims to identify the drivers of species persistence in river networks.

Aim
Development of a mechanistic model for a riverine population in an OCN, and assessment of synchrony/persistence dynamics as a function of habitat and species dispersal characteristics. This is a fully simulation-based study.

Requirements

  • Interest in ecological modelling,
  • programming skills (R language),
  • robust mathematical background.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, University of Zurich and Eawag Dübendorf
Dr. Luca Carraro, Eawag Dübendorf and day-to-day supervisor

References

  • Carraro L., Bertuzzo E., Fronhofer EA., Furrer R., Gounand I., Rinaldo A., Altermatt F. (2020). Generation and application of river network analogues for use in ecology and evolution. Ecology and Evolution, 10(14):7537-7550. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6479
  • Jacquet C., Carraro L., & Altermatt F. (2021). Meta-ecosystem dynamics drive the spatial distribution of functional groups in river networks. bioRxiv. DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.04.447105

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

The impact of pesticides on soil life, plant symbionts and ecosystem functioning


Pesticides display a corner stone of modern agriculture and are applied in large quantities to agroecosystems across the world. Depending on their application, only a minor fraction of pesticides applied reaches its targets, leading to a vast amount of potential persistent and toxic residues in the environment that might harm non-targeted organisms and affect human health. While the impact of pesticides on human health is increasingly being addressed, their persistence and impact on soil health remains poorly explored. So far, it is not clear, how the exposure to pesticides residues act as potential stressor for soil ecosystem functioning.

Background / aim
In this project, you will conduct greenhouse experiments and perform laboratory work, in the fields of ecology, microbiology and analytical chemistry. Plants will be grown in different soils and pesticides will be applied, in order to assess the impact of pesticides on the abundance as well as the activity of soil microbes (including beneficial soil microbes such as mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen fixing bacteria). In addition, the effects of pesticides on specific soil ecosystem functions (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycling) will be investigated. The result of this work will help to gain a better understanding about the behaviour and bioavailability of modern pesticides in soils, and provide insight about whether they pose a threat to soil organisms, beneficial soil life, soil functioning and thus are of long-term concern for healthy and productive agroecosystems. The student will obtain experience in ecology, microbiology, statistical analysis and scientific writing. The results have relevance for policy and legislation.

Project start
Starting date is flexible.

Duration
6-12 months.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden,  Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich and Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich.

Last update: 21.06.2022

 

Unraveling community structure of aquatic insects in a river catchment

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on the assessment of the community structure of aquatic insects in a river catchment. The project involves extensive species identification tasks and is part of a larger research program (led by Dr. Luca Carraro at UZH/Eawag).

Background
Aquatic insects belonging to the orders Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera have been collected via kicknet sampling at several locations and different time points across the Necker catchment (Cantons St. Gallen & Appenzell Ausserrhoden), as part of a research study aimed to evaluate the suitability of environmental DNA-based biodiversity assessments. The combined use of eDNA and kicknet data will allow predictions of biodiversity patterns in space and time at high resolution.

Aim
A relevant part of the MSc project will consist in supporting the activity of species identification from the samples collected in the Necker. Subsequently, these data will be used to analyze several aspects of the community structure of aquatic insects (such as species distribution, co-occurrence patterns) and to produce a metacommunity model at catchment scale. Comparative analysis of kicknet and eDNA data is a possibility.

Requirements
Interest in community ecology, aquatic insect identification skills, good command of R, interest in species distribution modelling.

Starting date
The MSc project can start any time.

Contact/Supervision
Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, University of Zurich and Eawag Dübendorf
Dr. Luca Carraro, Eawag Dübendorf and day-to-day supervisor - data analysis
Remo Wüthrich, day-to-day supervisor - species identification

References

  • Carraro L., Mächler E., Wüthrich R., Altermatt F. (2020). Environmental DNA allows upscaling spatial patterns of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems. Nature Communications, 11:3585. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17337-8
  • Mächler E., Little CJ., Wüthrich R., Alther R., Fronhofer EA., Gounand I., Harvey E., Hürlemann S., Walser J-C., Altermatt F. (2019). Assessing different components of diversity across a river network using eDNA. Environmental DNA, 1(3):290-301. DOI: 10.1002/edn3.33

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 06.09.2022

 

What’s buzzing through the air? Linking insect field reference data to entomological radar data

 

Background / aim
Insects make up the most numerous animal taxon, both in terms of species and number of individuals. Most insects at least partly spend their lives flying through the skies, including up to sometimes dazzling altitudes and over vast distances. Using radars, we can quantify these aerial insect movements but untangling the actual types of insects that are detected by the radar, requires field or air reference data.

Project work
This project aims to disentangle the aerial insect movements detected with a vertical-looking radar into several insect subgroups, e.g., butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and beetles. Ground or air reference data will be collected in the vicinity of the operational radar at the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempach (Switzerland), and subsequently coupled to the insect phenology and abundance estimated with the radar. The project can start at any time. Field work should take place sometime between March and October. A similar project call has been posted in Latvia, Finland, the Netherlands, UK, and Switzerland. Collaborations between the several MSc projects will be encouraged and supported by the supervising teams.

Requirements
An interest in insect identification and handling. Interest in insect field / air sampling design and execution. Previous experience with statistical analyses in R.

Contact
For application or additional information, please contact:
PD Dr. Eva Knop, Agroscope & University of Zurich
Dr. Birgen Haest, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Last update: 05.07.2022

 

Wild bee diversity buffering impacts of climate change on the delivery of crop pollination services?


Wild bees are an important component of agro-ecosystems’ biodiversity and provide vital pollination services to wild plants. Together with honeybees and other managed bees, they also play an important role as pollinators of many crops. Many wild bee species are not only considered to be more efficient pollinators of some crops, moreover crop pollination may also benefit from the broader climatic niches of wild bees, visiting crop flowers also under weather conditions not suitable for honeybees, for example. Overall, more diverse pollinator communities are expected to cover a broader climatic niche and thereby may provide critical insurance functions under projected climate change scenarios. However, there is scarce empirical evidence for this hypothesis.
Detailed information (PDF, 172 KB)

Contact
Dr. Matthias Albrecht  Dr. Louis Sutter

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich

Last update: 07.06.2022

 

Evolutionary Biology

Expression of alternative reproductive tactics relative to social context

Species with intense male-male competition for access to females often show alternative reproductive tactics (ARTs), with males of lower competitive ability trying to steal mates from courting rivals. In Drosophila prolongata, for example, non-courting males sometimes intercept the female from a courting male. This ART appears to be condition-dependent, but little is known about how the social context might influence its expression. We plan to test how varying local densities and sex ratios influence the expression of interception in D. prolongata in the context of frequency- and density-dependent selection. Evaluating the environmental and social factors promoting the expression of this ART is important to understand the maintenance of phenotypic variation on secondary sexual traits.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Stefan Lüpold

Last update: 19.07.2022

 

Fitness consequences of heat stress across generations

Climate change is causing more extreme temperature fluctuations, including more widespread, longer, and more intense heatwaves. Extreme weather events can have damaging effects on organisms and cause species declines, extinctions, or range shifts across ecosystems. Animals like insects, whose physiology and metabolism are directly linked to their ambient temperature, are particularly affected. For better predictions of population distributions and persistence, we need to know how extreme conditions not only affect the survival of individuals but also their ability to reproduce. For example, there is growing evidence that heat stress can cause infertility in insects (e.g., due to sperm damage), but individuals below the sterility threshold may be affected in their own, but unexplored, way. Using experimental heatwaves at different life stages in our insect model systems (e.g., Drosophila), this project will explore (1) the short- and long-term fertility loss in exposed individuals, and (2) the health and fertility consequences for their offspring (i.e., transgenerational effects). A Master’s student will work alongside PhD student and conduct their independent research as part of a bigger project.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Stefan Lüpold

Last update: 19.07.2022

 

Fitness effects of hybridization between European wildcats and domestic cats

 

Background / aim

European Wildcats are currently recovering in Switzerland after having almost completely disappeared in the middle of the 20th century. The species is spreading from the Jura towards the Central Plateau. In the process, they increasingly get into contact with domestic cats and mate with them. This results in fertile hybrids.

Project work
How well do the hybrids cope with their mixed ancestry of a wild and a domesticated species? Is fitness reduced in hybrids?
This master's thesis addresses these important species conservation questions applying state-of-the art genomic tools combined with existing and possibly newly acquired field- based data..

Requirements

  • Experience in programming in R or similar (e.g. python, matlab)
  • Fluent in German or French for field work

Project start

  • September 2022 onwards
  • Possible field work: December to March

Contact
Dr. Beatrice Nussberger, email, T +41 44 635 6138, Wildtier Schweiz

Dr. Christine Grossen, email, WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research)

Last update: 25.08.2022

 

Sepsis cynipsea and S. neocynipsea are two closely related dung fly sister species that both develop on fresh cow dung and have a broad geographical distribution. While S. cynipsea is found in Europe and Asia, S. neocynipsea occurs mainly in North America but also lives in sympatry with S. cynipsea in Europe. European S. neocynipsea populations are most commonly found at higher altitude but appear to be less competitive than S. cynipsea in lowland locations. While the life history, phenology and morphology of these two species (as well as others) has already been studied to some extent, we are lacking information about the importance of direct competition during development on survival, development and other life-history traits of both species. Such information is needed to understand the ecology, geographic distribution and population dynamics of sympatric and allopatric populations in nature. However, such an endeavour is complicated by the high morphological similarity of the two species. For these reasons, we will (1) use recently generated whole-genome sequencing data to design unambiguous species-specific markers that will permit high-throughput genotyping of experimental flies. Then (2) we will compete sym- and allopatric populations of both species during their development in cow dung by setting up mixed clutches and measure various fitness- traits such as body size, egg-to-adult survival or stress resistance of emerging adult flies. We will additionally modify environmental parameters such as food availability, temperature, etc. to test for environment-specific fitness differences between the two species. These results will help better understand the effects of ecological interactions and genetic variation on the distribution of species sharing similar ecological niches.

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn  or Dr. Martin Kapun

Last update: 30.05.2022

 

Sexual selection in the context of resource quality and distribution

The density of individuals can affect the strength of sexual selection through the rate at which individuals encounter potential rivals or mates. The local density can be influenced by the quality and spatial distribution of critical resources. Clumped resources often lead to individual aggregation and thus more encounters of conspecifics. Individuals may thus plastically respond to the different encounter rates. Using two fly species, Drosophila melanogaster and D. prolongata, we will manipulate the resource distribution and quality to explore the effect of local density on social interactions, sexual selection and fitness outcomes. This project will rigorously test fundamental theories around the environmental and population-dynamic factors contributing to the evolution and maintenance of mating systems and selection on pre- and postmating sexual traits.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Stefan Lüpold

Last update: 19.07.2022