PhD position on impacts of (feral) cats on meadow bird populations


Faculty of Science and Engineering


University of Groningen

Founded in 1614, the University of Groningen enjoys an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative centre of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. Flexible study programme and academic career opportunities in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 36,000 students and researchers alike to develop their own individual talents. Quality has been our top priority for over four hundred years, and with success: the University is currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists.
GELIFES, Faculty of Science & Engineering
The Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), one of the larger institutes of the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), fills a special niche in the life sciences by covering and integrating mechanistic, evolutionary and ecological approaches, aiming to understand adaptation on all levels of biological organization. Researchers pursue fundamental questions while collaborating with partners from nature conservation, industry, medicine and other realms of society. Our research fields include ecology, conservation biology, evolutionary biology, behavioural biology, chronobiology, genetics and genomics, neurobiology, physiology and theoretical modelling, using a wide array of research tools.

Job description

Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Live Sciences, GELIFES , Institute of the Faculty of Science and Engineering invites applications for a fully-funded, four-year PhD position on the impacts of (feral)cats on meadow bird populations. The position is within the Conservation Ecology Group.

The student will conduct research on the impacts of (feral) cats at meadow bird populations in the Netherlands. The tasks of the PhD student will be the development and setting-up of the field studies, collection of the data, the processing and statistical analyses of field data, and the writing of scientific papers. Field work will primarily be carried out in the northern part of the Netherlands (provinces Friesland and Groningen). At the island of Schiermonnikoog (ca. 3-4 field seasons) the effects of (feral) cats at ground breeding bird species – and other prey species – are quantified, and the effects of removal of (feral)cats at these different prey species is assessed. At (at least) two meadow bird areas in Groningen and Friesland, data will be collected on habitat use by (feral) cats, and others mammalian predators, and directly linked to survival of (tagged) meadow bird chicks. Other key tasks are to coordinate and perform the collection of faecal samples in the study areas, as well as carrying out metabarcoding analyses to assess the diets of feral cats, and other mammalian predators. The PhD student will closely collaborate with a field technician at the RUG, and with a team of well-trained field ecologists of different organizations (consortium partners). Supervision is by Professor Chris Smit and Professor Christiaan Both (both CONSECO group). In addition to conducting research, there will be some teaching duties (up till ~10% of your time).

Meadow bird populations have been declining dramatically over the last decades in the Netherlands. Predation by various species (mammals, birds of prey) plays an important role. The role of (feral) cats in this is probably considerable, e.g. by predation of chicks and breeding birds, as well as by disturbance during the breeding season. However, the magnitude of these effects has thus far not been properly quantified; the available evidence is little and mostly indirect. Hence, there is a large need of scientific studies that quantify the impacts of (feral) cats on meadow bird populations.

Aims of the project are to quantify the impacts of (feral) cats at meadow bird populations at national level, and assess the effectiveness of conservation measures (e.g. removal of predators). The project should lead to evidence-based concrete advise to the Dutch government about effective measures. The project consists of three main pillars:

i) ARTS (automatic radio tracking station), high-resolution tracking of tagged meadow bird chicks and (feral) cats,
ii) eDNA analysis of faeces of (feral) cats and (remains of) prey items to determine the share of meadow birds in cat diet,
iii) experimental field study, manipulation of number of (feral) cats to assess the effectiveness of removal on meadow birds populations.

Our project has important links with other research programs on the spatial dynamics of predators in relation with landscape factors, with the desire to reach sustainable conservation of ground breeding coastal and meadow birds in more robust systems.


The candidate is expected to have a (research) master degree in biology/ecology, or an equivalent discipline. The ideal candidate is highly motivated, has a strong background in (field) ecology, profound knowledge of statistical analyses, proven experience with DNA techniques, is able to set-up and run large (field) experiments, has good scientific writing / communication skills, and is able to work independently, as well as in a team.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

We offer you in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

• a salary of € 2,434 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 3,111 gross per month in the fourth and final year,
• a full-time position (1.0 FTE)
• a holiday allowance of 8% gross annual income
• an 8.3% end-of-the-year allowance
• minimum of 29 holidays and additional 12 holidays in case of full-time employment.

Substantial tax benefits apply to non-Dutch citizens, conditional on permission granted by the Dutch Tax Office.

Fulltime is considered to be 38 hours per week.

The position offered is for a period of four years. First you are offered a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years. Prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the contract period is to be expected. A PhD training programme is part of the agreement and you will be enrolled in the Graduate School of the Faculty.

The conditions of employment are available at the University of Groningen website under Human Resources:

The preferred starting date is 1 December, 2021.

Job Application

Do you want to become a member of our team? Please send your application to us, by submitting the following requested documents:

1. a motivation letter
2. a complete curriculum vitae
3. names and email addresses of two referees
4. if available, an example research paper

You can submit your application until 17 October 11:59pm / before 18 October 2021 Dutch local time (CET) by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).

We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity. We have adopted an active policy to increase the number of female scientists across all disciplines of the university. Therefore, women are encouraged to apply. Our selection procedure follows the guidelines of the Recruitment code (NVP), and European Commission's European Code of Conduct for recruitment of researchers,

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.

Additional information

For additional information, please contact:

Chris Smit

Christiaan Both

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 221561

Digital application form