PhD Assistantship in Costa Rica – climate change and avian ecosystem services in coffee landscapes

University of Vienna
Los Santos Highlands and El General Valley, Costa Rica
Job Category
Graduate Assistantships
Transportation to and from the airport upon arrival and departure, as well as to the sampling locations will be covered. Lodging and food expenses in a rustic home could be provided, but preference will be given to participants that are able to acquire funding to cover living expenses.
Start Date
Last Date to Apply
One or two assistants are required for 2-4 months fieldwork of a PhD project concerning the provision of ecosystem services by birds in coffee plantations in Central Costa Rica and the potential influence of climate change. With rampant global warming, montane bird species are experiencing elevational shifts and biotic homogenization. A proper estimation of avian ecosystem services is essential to expose the importance of native vegetation in tropical agricultural landscapes; while presence and abundance data will be needed to project future distribution of the bird species. With small picturesque towns located in inter-montane valleys, the Los Santos region is considered as one of the best coffee-producing areas in the world, with specialty coffee being exported mainly to the USA, Europe and Japan. Most of the harvest is carried out by indigenous Ngöbe people, which come all the way from Panama. Participants will have the opportunity to experience upfront the steps involved in coffee production, from harvest to industrial processing, while contributing to the conservation of the region’s avifauna. Lodging will be at a typical rural town, away from the city centers, where participants can interact with the locals. Tasks will involve performing bird censuses starting at the break of dawn and continuing for several hours during the morning, in point counts located inside shaded (i.e. with tree canopy cover) or unshaded coffee plantations; operating mist nets to retrieve the birds and collect fecal samples inside holding bags as well as pollen from the head of hummingbirds; mounting video surveillance cameras at artificial bird perches inside the farms and analyze recorded videos; assisting with molecular procedures (e.g. DNA extraction and PCR) in a field-mounted laboratory; and maintaining mist-netted birds in cages and assisting with the operation of a metabolic chamber.
B.S. or M.Sc. in biology or related fields is preferred, but exceptional undergrad students may also be considered; applicants must be acquainted with visual and auditive bird censuses (preferably, but no obligatory, with Neotropical avifauna); mist-netting experience is desirable but not essential; applicants may or may not have previous experience with genetic procedures or metabolic measurements; knowledge of the Spanish language is not required (although there will be ample opportunities to learn, if desired). The region’s climate conditions are very stable throughout the year (average 18ºC) but it may get quite hot inside the farms. The terrain is normally rugged and with steep slopes, so be prepared to hike for several hours through rough areas. Applicants should be able to work independently or as a team, have a positive attitude and good communication skills. Development of research questions and/or personal projects are welcome. Interested candidates should submit by email a copy of the CV and a one-page letter of intention clearly stating background and why they should be considered for this position. One letter of reference from an academic/research referee is welcome but not obligatory. Successful applicants will be contacted for a Skype interview prior to the beginning of the project, at the latest by mid-April.
Contact Person
Otto Monge
Contact eMail
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