PhD project offered by the IMPRS-gBGC in Jan 2023


Linking phenology patterns with plant functional traits on a global scale to predict variations in ecosystem functioning

Christine Römermann , Jens Kattge , Solveig Franziska Bucher , Robert Rauschkolb , Sönke Zaehle

Project description

The phenology of plant species, i.e. the reoccurring stages in life history events, is an important driver of interactions in ecosystems and the timing is especially sensitive to climate change. Different studies have shown that phenology is not only influenced by abiotic (e.g. climate) and biotic (e.g. competition) environmental factors, but that functional traits of the species also show strong associations with the timing of phenological events. Although there are initial studies that have examined these relationships, most studies focus on local or national scales, as data is mostly available on national or continental scales (e.g., national phenological network in the US (NPN) or the Pan-European database PEP725), but not on global scales. To fully understand spatio-temporal patterns in phenology, their (variable) responses to changes in climate and the link to functional traits, it is crucial to cover the entire distribution range of a species spanning various biomes. In the framework of this PhD project, we aim to combine different large-scale datasets for phenology, climate and functional traits to gain a better understanding of the underlying associations and to make more reliable predictions for phenological changes in the future. More specifically, we aim to (1) collect global publicly available phenological data to generate maps of the global phenology of plant species, (2) combine these data with grid-based temperature, precipitation and soil moisture records to predict spatio-temporal variation in phenology. Finally, we (3) aim to link the patterns of spatio-temporal variations in phenology to plant functional traits (TRY database) and to test whether these broad-scale patterns mirror patterns from smaller scales.
The output of the thesis improves our understanding of the spatial distribution of plant phenology, plant functional traits, as well as their associations for making forecasts for future changes in phenological events and to eventually predict variations in ecosystem functioning.

Working group & planned collaborations

The successful candidate will work in the Plant Biodiversity Group of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena having extensive experience in the collection and analyses of plant phenology data and functional traits and coordinating the PhenObs network ( In this project we closely cooperate with the Functional Biogeography Group and the Terrestrial Biosphere Modelling Group of the MPI for Biogeochemistry. The Functional Biogeography group focusses on understanding the role of plants in the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems and hosts the global trait database TRY. The Terrestrial Biosphere Modelling group studies climate-vegetation interactions using process-based modelling approaches. All three groups are members of the German Research Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. Prerequisites for this PhD project are:
  • Master’s degree in Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology, Geography or a similar discipline
  • Experience in processing and analyzing large data sets, programming and statistics
  • Interest in ecological research and combining different types of large-scale data to better understand global patterns of plant species’ phenology
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English
The Max Planck Society (MPS) strives for gender equality and diversity. The MPS seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply. The MPS is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.

Left: Measurement sites and traits included in the TRY database (<a href=""></a>); Right: Shifts of phenological events in plant species
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Left: Measurement sites and traits included in the TRY database (; Right: Shifts of phenological events in plant species (

>> more information about the IMPRS-gBGC + application