PhD project offered by the IMPRS-gBGC in Jan 2024


Understanding impacts of 21st century extreme events on global forest ecosystems through the lens of plant water transport

Phillip Papastefanou , Manon Sabot , Anke Hildebrandt , Sönke Zaehle

Project description

Extreme events such as droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity throughout the globe, threatening many global ecosystems. Terrestrial biosphere models such as QUINCY are powerful tools that can help improve our understanding of current extreme events and project impacts of future climate scenarios. A crucial aspect of these models that determines whether forests survive or succumb to drought stress is their ability to simulate plant water transport correctly. Multiple experimental sites across European forests are dedicated to studying the effects of drought stress on vegetation, particularly the plant hydraulic architecture. These experiments are constantly developed further, for example, novel methods are now able to provide high resolution measurements of sapflow, plant water storage, and growth of individual trees. However, most of the novel knowledge generated by these experiments is not yet picked up by ecosystem models, leaving much room for model improvement. The PhD candidate will undertake two primary tasks: (1) conducting a meta analysis to synergize drought stress impacts on key European tree species across experimental sites and (2) improve the process-based ecosystem model QUINCY’s predictive capabilities by incorporating novel experimental and remote sensing data.

Research program

  • Identification of limitations and uncertainties in our current understanding of plant water transport (modelling)
  • Developing of novel methods to improve the connection between experiments and models: E.g. integrating sapflow measurements in models to better constrain model parameter and processes
  • Applying the enhanced QUINCY model at regional and global scales to assess impacts of extreme events on vegetation under current climate and future climate projections

Working group & planned collaborations

The PhD candidate will join the Terrestrial Biosphere modelling (TBM) at the Department of Biogeochemical Signaling and will also be affiliated with Friedrich Schiller University, Jena. The TBM group consists of skilled process based modelers and (amongst other things) is developing the ecosystem model QUINCY. Intensive collaboration with experimentalists are expected, specifically the Hainich experimental site (Anke Hildebrandt), the KROOF experimental site (Thorsten Grams), the Swiss canopy crane experiment II (Ansgar Kahmen) and the University of Trier (Matthias Arend).


Applications to the IMPRS-gBGC are open to well-motivated and highly-qualified students from all countries. Prerequisites for this PhD project are:
  • Degree: MSc in plant physiology, biology, physical geography, ecology, physics, mathematics, Earth system science, environmental science, or related disciplines
  • Statistical skills or programming skills (e.g. Python, R, Mathematica)
  • One or more of the following skills will be considered advantageous:
    • Experience with low level language such as Fortran or C++
    • Knowledge on plant water transport
    • Experience/Knowledge on drought manipulation experiments]
  • Other skills/requirements: Excellent written and communication skills in English
The Max Planck Society (MPS) strives for gender equality and diversity. The MPS aims to increase the proportion of women in areas where they are underrepresented. Women are therefore explicitly encouraged to apply. We welcome applications from all fields. The Max Planck Society has set itself the goal of employing more severely disabled people. Applications from severely disabled persons are expressly encouraged.

>> more information about the IMPRS-gBGC + application