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Three PhD positions: North Sea Zooplankton Dynamics

Yerseke, Zeeland, NetherlandsEstuarine & Delta Systems (EDS)

Job description

Three job opportunities at Royal NIOZ: We are looking for three enthusiastic PhD candidates (4 years) within the MonZooSS project to study the functioning of zooplankton in a changing North Sea


NWO-NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research is the Dutch national oceanographic institute and principally performs academically excellent multidisciplinary, fundamental, and frontier applied marine research addressing important scientific and societal questions pertinent to the functioning of the ocean and seas. NIOZ includes the National Marine research Facilities (NMF) department that operates a fleet of research vessels and the national pool of large seagoing equipment, and supports excellence in multidisciplinary marine research, education, and policy development.


The department of Estuarine and Delta Systems (EDS, NIOZ-Yerseke) aims at understanding how the interplay between organisms, hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics and chemistry shapes the estuarine and delta environment in the context of natural and human-induced environmental changes. An important focus of our research is how these abiotic-biotic interactions create value for society, following for example the “Building with Nature” paradigm or investigating sustainable sources of marine biomass for food. We do Frontier Applied science, meaning that we link fundamental understanding to societal usage. In doing so, we aim to actively support managers with insight needed for ecosystem conservation, ecosystem restoration, and enhancing ecosystem services (e.g., creating nature-based flood defence, alternative sources of food, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, etc.) all in the face of global change and accelerating sea level rise.


Several large-scale changes are ongoing in the North Sea. We see major transitions related to energy supply (i.e. the construction of offshore wind farms), food provisioning (fisheries and aquaculture), and nature conservation, superimposed on pressures resulting from climate change. The national North Sea Agreement has recognised the need for an integrated and systematic monitoring and research program on the functioning of the North Sea in these times of change. The resulting MONS program (Monitoring en Onderzoek Natuurversterking en Soortenbescherming, https://www.noordzeeoverleg.nl/mons-programma) will address questions on whether and how the future anthropogenic use of the North Sea fits within the ecological carrying capacity of the system. MONS will clarify and/or predict the extent of these changes, scientifically assess the severity of the impacts, and communicate the results to the parties involved in the North Sea consultation and the general public.

MonZooS is part of MONS and focuses on the functioning of zooplankton in the North Sea. Zooplankton plays an important role in the marine food web as primary node of organic matter transfer from phytoplankton to higher trophic levels. This classical 'herbivorous' view on the marine food web is, however, changing. Recent studies suggest that the role of gelatinous zooplankton is likely larger than previously anticipated. Moreover, the composition of zooplankton is shifting from holoplankton (e.g. copepods) to so-called meroplankton, larvae of benthic organisms such as sea stars or crabs. The importance of this latter group in the marine food web as grazer and prey is however largely unknown. Finally, the construction of offshore wind farms is likely to change water column stratification and thereby primary production in the North Sea. Together, with increasing water temperature due to climate change, this will likely lead to shifts in phenology and the spatial distribution of zooplankton with consequences for the marine food web. A zooplankton monitoring program on the North Sea has recently started, which will provide a data baseline for the PhD projects.

MonZooSS will address the above questions and is separated into three PhD-projects:

  • PhD 1 focussing on the predation of (gelatinous) zooplankton by fish (larvae) and jellyfish,
  • PhD 2 focussing on the trophic role of meroplankton in the pelagic food web,
  • PhD 3 focussing on making predictions on the future state of the North Sea plankton community.

Each PhD-project will use laboratory, field and modelling approaches and extensively use (and contribute to) the MONS-Zooplankton monitoring program that started in 2023. Field work will involve preparing for and participating in multiday research cruises to the North Sea for sample collection. Modelling approaches will amongst other involve applying machine learning techniques, such as artificial neural networks to train and classify hundreds of thousands of zooplankton images that are captured within the monitoring program and the development of habitat suitability models to forecast the future zooplankton composition of the North Sea. Please indicate in your application for which PhD-project (or PhD-projects, in case you want to express your candidacy for multiple projects) you are applying for and provide arguments for this in your cover letter.

The three PhD researchers will be based at the Department of Estuarine and Delta Systems (NIOZ-EDS, Yerseke) and will receive additional supervision from zooplankton experts from Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) and the NIOZ-Department of Coastal Systems (NIOZ-COS, Texel). We foresee extensive collaboration with other MONS research programs, that are focussed on amongst others on phytoplankton, primary production and fish distribution, and with fish experts from Wageningen Marine Research (WMR), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML, UK) and Centre of Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas, UK).

Job requirements


Applicants should have a MSc. degree within the field of marine ecology and proven experience or affinity with numerical modelling and/or data science. The candidate enjoys performing experiments, participating in research expeditions, analysing data and using numerical modelling and data science approaches. In addition to this, the following skills are desirable for different PhDs:

  • For PhD 1: Experience/affinity with techniques and applications for diet studies such as DNA metabarcoding, fatty acid analysis and/or stable isotope analysis, AI-based image analysis.
  • For PhD 2: Experience/affinity for designing and/or running lab- or mesocosm experiments and quantitative food web analysis.
  • For PhD 3: Experience/affinity for designing and/or running lab- or mesocosm experiments, statistical analysis and (predictive) habitat suitability modelling.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of the work, it is important that candidates recruited for these three positions are collaborative and communicative to facilitate interactions with other members of the group and the project consortium. Excellent oral and written skills in English are essential.

We want to be a transparent institute with a healthy working climate and an inclusive culture, where people from diverse backgrounds and gender bring their talents and further develop these talents. We aim for inclusive decision-making processes and expect our leadership to show visible commitment, awareness of bias, and cultural intelligence.


  • Employment of this full-time position at Royal NIOZ is by NWO-I, for a total duration of 4 years. You start with an appointment for the duration of 1 year and, after a positive evaluation in the 9th month (Go-No go), you will be extended to the full period of 4 years.
  • Salary compliant with scales for PhD candidate (OIOs) CAO-WVOI (Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Research Institutes).
  • An appointment at NIOZ as a PhD candidate means working and learning simultaneously conform the NIOZ PhD policy.
  • 338 annualized holiday hours for a full-time 40-hour work week.
  • Pension scheme via ABP, 8% holiday allowance and a year-end bonus of 8.33%.
  • 2nd class public transportation travel is reimbursed 100%.
  • Employment benefits plan to exchange a portion of your salary for days off or vice versa, or can be used to purchase a bicycle with tax benefits.
  • We offer relocation expenses for employees coming from abroad and support with finding accommodation. Yerseke is located on commuting distance from major cities such as Antwerpen, Breda, Bergen op Zoom and Middelburg.


For additional information about this vacancy, please contact Dr. Dick van Oevelen. For additional information about the procedure, please send an e-mail to working@nioz.nl

Closing date for this vacancy is March 20th.