Neotropical Paleoecology Research Group (NPRG)


PhD student wanted

Applications are invited from qualified and highly-motivated students for an exciting PhD studentship in the areas of paleoecology and community ecology of South American lowland rainforests.

The project is part of a collaborative NSF-funded interdisciplinary research effort involving investigators at Wake Forest University, Tulane University and the University of California at Berkeley, to investigate the impacts of Pre-Columbian humans on species composition in tropical forests. The applicant will be responsible for generating paleoecological histories of target forests using fossil phytoliths, and assessing whether modern forest composition results from past human activities. Paleoecological training would involve close liaison with collaborators at the University of Amsterdam. While most of the work will be laboratory-based microscopy, field work in remote areas of Amazonia and the Chocó of Ecuador is anticipated. Applicants that choose to participate in the field work must be comfortable with the prospect of hiking and camping in extremely remote areas.

Applicants who already hold an MSc are preferred, but those with a BSc in a relevant discipline who are exceptionally highly qualified would be considered. Applications from candidates belonging to traditionally under-represented groups in STEM disciplines are especially welcome.

Applicants should have a robust background in ecology, and while prior knowledge of phytolith analysis is not expected, involvement in paleoeoecology, GIS, working with R, and tropical ecology would all be seen as strengths.

Support will include a stipend and full tuition, but a requirement of my laboratory is that all students spend a minimum of one year as a Teaching Assistant; hence, complete fluency in English is expected.

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 is 4 years with an MS or 5 years from a BS.

The start date is flexible, but a target date is August 1st 2021.

Applicants should send a CV and ~500 word  statement of interest to Dr. Mark Bush  Review of applications will begin March 21st, the last date to apply is March 31st, 2021.

Florida Tech is a private, Tier-1 university on the Atlantic coast of Central Florida. The region has surf beaches, large areas of protected lands, low crime rates, good schools, and a moderate cost of living. 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.