Neotropical Paleoecology Research Group (NPRG)


PhD student Opportunities for 2022

The paleoecology group at Florida Institute of Technology is looking for 1-2 fully funded Ph.D. students (tuition and stipend provided) to begin either May or August 2022. The research themes for the positions would be to investigate the synergistic influences of climate change, human use of forests, fire histories, and vegetation change in Amazonia over the last 7000 years. Most of the work would be based on fossil pollen and charcoal analysis with opportunities to include diatom, phytolith, and XRF analyses, and integrate unpiloted aerial vehicle data into their study. While prior experience of pollen analysis would be preferred it is not expected, but the capacity to spend long hours at a microscope is a must.

Field work in lowland Amazonia would be required, and applicants should expect to undertake strenuous physical activity in remote and sometimes challenging settings. Applicants joining the laboratory in May would take part in two expeditions in 2022 to the Peruvian Amazon.

You would be joining an active research group and would be expected to work closely with undergraduate volunteers, as well as fellow graduate students and post-docs. Every student in the research group gains experience at some point in their course of study as a Teaching Assistant as this provides excellent training in communication and organization.

Qualified candidates would be highly motivated, hold an MS - or be graduating in the spring - in a related field (e.g., biology, ecology, geography, geology, archaeology, environmental science), and have excellent letters of recommendation.

We treasure diversity and have a strong record of appointing and mentoring students from groups that are underrepresented in STEM and such candidates are especially welcome to apply.

Applicants should send a CV that includes undergraduate and graduate GPA and GRE scores, TOEFL scores if not a native English speaker, a ~500 word statement of interest, and 3 letters of recommendation to Dr. Mark Bush The last date to apply is January 15th, 2022. Interviews of short-listed candidates will be held the following week.

At Florida Tech a PhD in Biological Sciences requires 73 credits, 30 of which can be transferred from a Masters program. Credits are a blend of taught classes (a minimum of 18 credits) and research credits. The expected graduation time for a Ph.D. is 4 years with an MS.

Florida Tech is a private, Tier-1 university on the Atlantic coast of Central Florida. The region has beaches that are excellent for fishing and surfing, large areas of protected lands with opportunities for hiking and kayaking, low crime rates, good schools, and a moderate cost of living. Downtown Melbourne is small and quaint with many eateries. Florida Tech actively supports an educational environment that fosters diversity and inclusion for all and is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer.




Paleoecology is the sudy of past ecosystems. To us, 'the past' can be anything from the last decade to a million years ago, and the period that we study just depends on the question we want to answer. This is an exciting time to work on Paleoecology in South America. There are many unresolved questions ranging from: 'How resilient are rainforests to climate change?' through 'Did humans cause the extinction of the megafauna?' to 'Can super-warm times of the past help us to understand our future?'.  We study the impact of climatic change on plant communities in tropical Central and South America. Successful conservation of tropical biodiversity requires that we understand the mechanisms controlling habitat and species distributions. Two potent forces induce changes in these distributions: climate change and human activities. Our research uses paleoecology to understand the changing patterns of tropical biodiversity and how people have, and are, impacting it.

Through the study of fossil pollen, diatoms, and charcoal, we reconstruct the history of habitats in tropical South America. These paleoecological records allow us to reconstruct past climate change and relate it to patterns of biodiversity, speciation, and human occupation. From these observations we contribute to the current debate on global climate change and species conservation.

Lake Ayauchi, Ecuador. Photo: Bryan Valencia

Figure Caption: Lake Ayauchi, in the lowland Amazonian forest of Ecuador, is one of our research sites

To gain these data we must locate and visit ancient lakes in the neotropics. The lake sediments hold a history of the surrounding landscape since the formation of the lake. A core of those sediments provides us with a complete history of that location. We raise the cores using a backpackable coring rig. As many of these lakes lie in some of the most remote locations on Earth, the fieldwork is arduous and not for the faint-hearted. Although the coring is an important and exciting facet of our work, the great majority of our time is spent in intensive laboratory work counting and identifying fossil pollen, charcoal, and diatoms. We conduct statistical analyses incorporating the latest methodologies, which include geographic information systems approaches and, multivariate and Bayesian analyses.

Coring Lake Yanacocha, Peru

Figure Legend: Raising a sediment core from an Andean lake from a raft of rubber boats.

Our principal goal over the next few years will be to raise new sediment cores that will allow us to test hypotheses of climate change and human history in the Amazon and the Andes. Our work is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, NOAA, and the National Geographic Society.

Ecuador Andes. Photo: Bryan Valencia

Figure Legend: A glaciated setting in the Ecuadorean Andes. This lake will be about 15,000 years old.