PhD Student "Biological nitrification inhibition by Plantago lanceolata to reduce nitrogen losses from agroecosystems"

Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau FiBL

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL is one of the world's leading research institutions in the field of organic agriculture and employs around 300 people in Switzerland. FiBL's strengths are interdisciplinary research, joint innovations with farmers and the food industry, and rapid knowledge transfer. FiBL Switzerland's expertise is also in demand beyond the country's borders. It is therefore involved in numerous international projects - in research, extension and training as well as in development cooperation.

In the Department of Soil Sciences, we are offering the following position starting on March 1st, 2024 or by agreement:

PhD Student (100%) "Biological nitrification inhibition by Plantago lanceolata to reduce nitrogen losses from agroecosystems"

Designing agroecosystems that minimize the loss of nitrogen (N) to the atmosphere and to water bodies is a fundamental challenge for the agricultural sector and for the protection of the environment. The capacity to produce biological nitrification inhibitors (BNI) has been described for several, mostly (sub)tropical plants, and it presents a promising tool to minimize N losses in a systemic way. For temperate climates, there is a growing number of reports on the potential BNI capacity of Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata). However, the underlying mechanisms and drivers of the BNI capacity are largely unknown. In the SNF-funded project “PlantaGo”, FiBL and two Universities in Belgium collaborate to identify BNI active P. lanceolata genotypes and to understand genome-environment interactions of the BNI trait, to quantify P. lanceolata induced changes in systemic soil N fluxes, to offer a mechanistic model on the mode of action including the interaction of P. lanceolata with the soil microbiome, and ultimately to assess the potential of P. lanceolata to manage nitrogen fluxes in arable agroecosystems.

Specific tasks of this position

  • Design and conduct soil incubation studies to assess the mode of action of BNIs produced by P. lanceolata, including stable isotope labelling (15N)
  • Model N flows in an N tracing model (in collaboration with University of Giessen)
  • Conduct greenhouse experiments for evaluating the potential of P. lanceolata to reduce N losses in ley mixtures
  • Characterize the abundance and diversity of functional microbial communities in the rhizosphere of P. lanceolata using molecular biology techniques   

We expect

  • MSc in agricultural or environmental sciences, biology, geoecology or similar;
  • A team player with enthusiasm for research in lab, greenhouse and at the desk;
  • Good understanding of statistics and knowledge in R or Matlab;
  • Very good command of English (oral and written);
  • Experience in working with stable isotopes and/or soil molecular biological methods such as qPCR and amplicon sequencing is an asset.

We offer

  • Opportunity to do a PhD in collaboration with the University of Giessen, Germany;
  • Combination of lab work, modelling, data analysis and international exchange (project partners in Belgium and Germany);
  • An excellent and passionate team of young and experienced scientists;
  • Attractive working environment with flexible working conditions (salary according to SNSF).

Else Bünemann, Head of the Department of Soil Sciences, Tel. +41 (0)62 865 0482, and Hanna Frick, Researcher in the Department of Soil Sciences, +41 (0)62 510-5319, are happy to answer your questions

We will gladly accept your application until December, 5th.

Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau FiBL
Ackerstrasse 113
5070 Frick
Else Bünemann
+41 (0)62 865 04 82
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