We currently work on projects related mainly to:

  • ecosystem modelling and metrics
  • ecological network analysis
  • resilience and biodiversity in ecosystems
  • biodiversity-ecosystem function
  • estuarine and nearshore marine ecology
  • food webs


Presently, we have one PhD opportunity available:


PhD opportunity at UKZN


A PhD bursary is available for a study on estuarine invertebrate resilience and ecosystem function, within a project funded under the Earth Systems Science Research Programme, through the DST/NRF Global Change Science theme. This larger project titled A framework to assess global change in estuaries: past, present and future is a collaboration between the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), University of Zululand, Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI), and CSIR (Durban and Stellenbosch). The aims of the larger project are the following:

Develop methods to better understand and predict estuarine ecosystem health and resilience under future global change scenarios.

  • Advance knowledge on the interaction between biodiversity and ecosystem resilience.

  • Investigate how hydrodynamics, water and sediment quality and ecosystem dynamics translate into health and resilience metrics at various scales (population, community, ecosystem, landscape).

  • Understand how anthropogenic impacts (including global change scenarios, ecotoxicology,…) influence the estuarine ecosystem relative to natural variability.


PhD Project (2019-2021):

The productivity of estuaries depends considerably on its various invertebrate communities, which ultimately support the fish community in these important nursery areas. Global change impacts on estuaries influence the community composition, productivity and resilience of invertebrates. Some of these impacts are known (e.g. species have different salinity, turbidity, oxygen or pollution tolerances), however it remains to be investigated how a combination of different environmental parameters affects specifically the resilience of such communities, how they manage to maintain high abundance and biomass in estuaries, and how a change in species composition translates to resilience at the ecosystem level (biodiversity-ecosystem function).

The PhD project involves fieldwork and sample analysis, and has a strong emphasis on data analysis. There is also an opportunity to engage in ecological modelling in this project, depending on the student’s interest.



  • MSc degree in the Biological or Environmental Sciences, with some background on invertebrate ecology.

  • You are a motivated student with an inquisitive mind, keen to explore scientific questions.

  • You are not afraid of maths, statistics or computers, and are keen to develop your ecology, data science, and scientific writing skills.


The successful candidate will join an existing research group working on complementary themes. Research expenses are covered. The PhD bursary has a value of ZAR 120,000 per annum. The student will be registered at UKZN.

To apply, send (1) a motivation, (2) a CV, (3) a full academic record, and (4) contact details of three referees, in a single pdf to Prof. Ursula Scharler (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).


Closing date: Friday, 15 March 2019