PhD Program in Ecology

PhD studies of the Program in Ecology primarily involve research projects in one of the internationally acclaimed research groups at University of Zurich and ETH Zurich. To enhance student’s PhD experience, the program offers research training in the interdisciplinary field of ecology, general skills training for academic and non-academic excellence and opportunities to interact with other doctoral students. The program includes a curricular part of at least 12 ECTS credits, teaching experience, and is usually completed within three to four years (full-time). It offers yearly graduate schools, courses on subject specific matters and on methods that are of direct use to the work of doctoral students. Additional courses on transferable skills prepare students for professional life, whether this is in an academic institution or not. Research seminars foster international collaborations and the exchange of experiences among doctoral students and experts from different fields of ecology.

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Featured PhD Project: Fall 2018

Wilfredo Falcón

Frugivory and seed dispersal by chelonians: From individuals to communities

Wilfredo Falcón

An Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) starting its morning activities on an ephemeral pool in East Grande Terre island, Aldabra Atoll. A Pandanus stand can be observed in the background. Wilfredo Falcón)

Once common in many islands around the world, most populations of giant tortoises have faced extinction. Aldabra Atoll is home to the largest population of giant tortoises in the world, and is their last bastion in the entire Indian Ocean. Aldabra giant tortoises are important ecosystem engineers, and are increasingly being used for rewilding purposes, with the aims of re-establishing biotic interactions and lost ecosystem functions in degraded islands. Seed dispersal is a particularly important ecosystem function that not only help plants move across the landscape, but also affects the plant population dynamics and community structure, and tortoises are emerging as important seed dispersers. For one of the components of this project, we investigated in situ the role of Aldabra giant tortoises as seed dispersers in the frugivore community of Aldabra, where they are endemic. We performed observations, recorded frugivory interactions with camera traps, and conducted faecal analyses, and analysed the data from the community perspective using bipartite network theory. From 10 frugivore species interacting with 37 plants, surely enough, Aldabra giant tortoises emerged as important seed dispersers in the network. Together with other components of this project, this information will serve to inform the conservation and management of Aldabra Atoll, as well as to inform conservation and rewilding projects using Aldabra giant tortoises.

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'Filmmaking for Scientists' was offered as a course to our students. The students learnt how to prepare their own documentary films, including how to deal with camera and lighting, screenwriting/storyboard and film editing. At the end of the workshop, the PhD students prepared a short documentary film.