Postgraduate Student Opportunities

Exciting funded post-graduate student opportunities to study the impacts of burrowing animals on soils and plants

Fully-funded MSc and PhD positions on the influence of burrowing and trampling animals on soil and vegetation characteristics are available at the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology (University of Pretoria) under leadership of Dr Natalie Haussmann, starting in 2015.

We are looking for skilled and enthusiastic post-graduate students to study the influence of animal disturbance on plants and soils. These student projects will form part of the larger BIOGEO programme, aimed at understanding the impacts of animal-induced disturbance on ecosystems across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.

The effects of animal-induced soil disturbance on vegetation and soil characteristics have been examined for several species and across a variety of environments. The majority of these studies, however, have either considered a single species in isolation, or have examined a few species, but without a clear hypothesis linking the species. An understanding of how the impacts of animal-induced soil disturbance vary between environments and species is thus largely lacking.

The BIOGEO programme aims to provide a synthesis of the impacts of mammal disturbances, by comparing the effect of three burrowing and one grazing species on vegetation characteristics, including invasive plant species, across both body size and soil moisture gradients. In addition, the project will investigate the potential geomorphological mechanisms (e.g. soil compaction, altered soil thermal and hydrological regimes) through which these animal species directly and indirectly drive changes in vegetation.
The PhD candidate will test if the effects of animal disturbance differs between xeric and mesic environments, assessing variation in impacts across broad spatial scales. The candidate will also consider the effect of animal body size on disturbance-related impacts. MSc projects will focus on fine-scale variation in animal impacts, examining the role of local abiotic heterogeneity in mediating the impacts of animal-induced disturbances.


  • Appropriate degree (completed Hons for MSc, and completed MSc for PhD)
  • Excellent writing and numerical skills (strong statistical background recommended, e.g. experience in R)
  • Competency in Excel (or related software)
  • Willingness, self-motivation and adequate physical fitness to conduct field work
  • General field experience, with familiarity with vegetation surveys and/or soil analyses
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a small team
  • South African citizenship
  • Driver’s licence preferable

Please note that candidates must be able to start early in 2015.

To apply, please send a cover letter outlining your research interests and suitability for the position, a CV (including the names and contact details of three referees), and a copy of your academic record to:
Closing date:  30 April 2015

Please include the text “BIOGEO Project” in the subject line of your email. Please note that preference will be given to equity candidates.

Value of bursaries: R60 000 p.a. (PhD); R40 000 p.a. (MSc

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