Fully Funded Positions Available in Modelling Land Change and Estimating Ecosystem Function

We are seeking two PhD students (and may consider highly skilled students interested in obtaining a Master’s) with deep interests in geography, computer science, statistics, ecosystem modelling, or agent-based modelling to join our research team and model the ecological impacts of land use and land cover change (project summary below). Applicants do not need to have expertise or backgrounds in each of the above disciplines as unique expertise and depth in each of these disciplines is required to make novel scientific and modelling advances and contribute to the success of the larger project. We are seeking specific knowledge and skills in using GPGPUs, agent-based modelling, ecosystem models, geographic information systems and spatial analysis, statistics and statistical modelling, Census and Statistics Canada data. However, we are in search of the best applicant and fit with our research team. Successful applicants will have additional opportunities to work on other research projects related to land change science, which includes working with a newly acquired commercial grade unmanned aerial vehicle in combination with ecological field equipment and social surveys to derive data to ingest into agent-based models.

Applicants are asked to submit the following details

  • Cover letter (1 to 2 pages) outlining your fit for the position as based on your knowledge, skills, and how those fit within the context of agent-based and statistical modelling of land change and its subsequent impacts on ecosystem function. Links to the PIs research agenda as outlined in the papers listed here: http://env-emp-vlnx1.uwaterloo.ca/?page_id=306
    would also demonstrate an understanding of the broader project goals and its situation in land change science.
  • Full CV
  • Unofficial grade transcripts from Undergraduate and Masters degrees
  • Writing sample (paper submitted for publication or thesis)

The positions will remain open until filled and their start date is flexible. Please submit application contents via email to

Derek Robinson
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Geography and Environmental Management
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON
N2L 3G1 Canada
EMAIL: derekthomasrobinson@gmail.com

Website: www.derekthomasrobinson.com

Project Summary

The effects of land-use and land-cover change on how ecosystems function has become a critical issue of local, provincial, national, and global concern. Over 30% of the Earth’s surface has been altered by human activities and while the extent of alteration by natural disturbances is uncertain, these disturbances may have greater ecological impacts than human activities in countries with large areas and relatively small populations (e.g., Canada). Because human and natural activities driving land-use and land-cover change are so pronounced, land-use and land-cover change is inexplicably linked to ecological processes and often guides the quantity and quality of ecosystem function.

To incorporate biogeochemical (e.g., nutrient cycling), biogeophysical (e.g., heat flux, evaporation), and other process effects on ecosystem function, scientists use ecosystem process models (e.g., Century, Biome-BGC, CBM-CFS3). These models account for heterogeneity in soil, climate, and other factors that drive vegetation growth and other ecological processes. However, they are typically applied at coarse scales (e.g., 0.5 degree resolution). At this resolution they offer useful estimates of national scale ecological conditions, but results do not coincide with land units at which humans make decisions or at which policy is made. Furthermore, these models are ill equipped to address changes in land cover, land management, and among other issues, landscape fragmentation. Contemporary ecological modeling efforts use prescribed land-cover data and are unable to account for dynamic changes in land use, land cover, or land management. New models are needed to integrate a dynamic representation of land-use and land-cover change and ecosystem process to improve our understanding and quantification of how land-use and land-cover change affects ecosystem function.

This research program uses a bottom-up modeling approach to create a land-use and land-cover change model for Ontario that integrates with ecosystem process models for the explicit purpose of estimating the effects of different quantities and patterns of land use and land cover derived from socio-economic and policy scenarios on ecosystem function. Results from this research will 1) garner an improved understanding of the interactions, feedbacks, and thresholds associated with ecosystem function due to different quantity and patterns of land use and land cover, 2) identify sensitive ecological areas vulnerable to specific patterns of land use and land cover, 3) provide methodological advancements in terms of model integration and conceptual issues in coupling land-use and land-cover change with ecological processes, and 4) advance land-use and land-cover change modelling and ecosystem function assessment.


Funding is available for one Canadian resident and one International student for a 4-year PhD. The successful applicant would be funded through a combination of teaching assistant positions in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo and research assistant positions funded by NSERC-Discovery Grant. Teaching assistant positions would be in the field of Geography and Environmental Management and may require additional preparatory work for applicants without the relevant background.

Applicants must meet the minimum requirements for admission to the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo (http://geograd.uwaterloo.ca/programs/phd.php).

Additional Research Opportunities

Successful applicants will join a growing graduate student and post-doctoral research team under the guidance of Dr. Robinson and part of the Geospatial Innovation Centre co-managed with Dr. Pete Deadman, Dr. Peter Johnson in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. Access to servers and a wide range of software (e.g., ESRI and ArcServer, Alteryx, Oracle Spatial, among others) and new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Socio-Ecological infrastructure acquired from funding provided by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation will provide additional state-of-the-art learning opportunities to develop additional skills to complement those under the presented project.