Research Associate (Empirical Ecology)

Department of Geography

London, Strand Campus


  • Posted on: 11th Feb 2021
  • Salary: £38,304 Per annum, Including London Weighting
  • REF: 015984
  • Closes: 07th March 2021
  • Contract Type: Fixed-Term/Contract
  • Hours: Full Time

Job description

The Department of Geography at King’s College London invites applications for a postdoctoral research associate (PDRA) in experimental plant ecology. The post will be based in the research team of Dr Jane Catford at KCL’s Strand Campus in central London, and will be one of four new PDRA appointments.

The position will be funded by a 5-year European Research Council Consolidator Grant (ALIENIMPACTS). ALIENIMPACTS aims to develop an approach for predicting impacts of alien plant invasions on plant community diversity, using temperate grasslands as a model system.

This post will help to experimentally test hypotheses that describe how alien plants can reduce community diversity. Core research for the PDRA will include: co-designing and establishing a new field experiment at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, Minnesota, US to quantify impacts of sown plant invaders released from natural insect and fungal attack; and analysing existing data from experiments in central Europe to quantify impacts of invaders on grassland communities. The enemy release experiment will involve day-to-day coordination and administration of the experiment, collection of field and trait data (and associated lab work), and supervision of research assistants in the field. Key collaborators include Prof. Mark van Kleunen (U. Konstanz), Prof. David Tilman (U. Minnesota) and other members of the ALIENIMPACTS team. There will opportunities for additional related research.

The work requires extended research visits to CCESR (COVID-permitting, up to 3 months/year, costs covered by project), a large ecological research station owned and operated by the University of Minnesota and one of the oldest Long-Term Ecological Research sites in the USA. Contingency plans are in place if COVID continues to restrict travel and limit lab/fieldwork.

The Department of Geography is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, and has a vibrant, friendly and international research culture, which includes approximately 30 postdocs and 100 PhD students. The PDRA will be part of an active group of ecologists in the department, and will have many opportunities for professional development including funding to attend meetings and workshops, and opportunities to co-mentor students and collaborate with other scientists and groups.

The post will be responsible to Jane Catford. The project and position begin in April 2021, though a slightly later start date will be considered if required. For questions or further information, please email

Contract Type
This post will be offered on an fixed-term contract for 36 months (3 years).

This is advertised as a full-time post (100% full time equivalent), but flexible working arrangements will be considered.

Key responsibilities

  • Co-design, lead and conduct a field-based experiment on enemy release and invasion in grassland plant communities at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CCESR), Minnesota, US
  • Day-to-day coordination and management of field experiment, including supervision of research assistants and interns, and collection of ecological data in the field and lab, including: plant diversity, plant functional traits and pest damage
  • Compile, manage and analyse data in R and GitHub
  • Analyse data using modern ecological statistical and modelling tools, such as mixed effects models and structural equation models
  • Prepare and publish peer-reviewed scientific publications
  • Attend and present research at national and international conferences
  • Contribute positively to an inclusive, diverse and collegial working environment, including co-mentoring (with Jane Catford) undergradate, MSc and PhD students

The above list of responsibilities may not be exhaustive, and the post holder will be required to undertake such tasks and responsibilities as may reasonably be expected within the scope and grading of the post.
Skills, knowledge, and experience

Essential criteria

  • PhD in ecology or related area of biological sciences
  • Evidence of ability to publish peer-reviewed papers in internationally recognised journals
  • Experience with, or the necessary skills to learn, experimental design in the context of observational and experimental field ecology
  • Knowledge of plant community ecology
  • Plant taxonomic and identification training (formal courses or experience working with natural plant communities, experience identifying plants in the field)
  • Ability to manage data, and conduct, interpret and understand common ecological statistics in R
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Willingness to travel to US for extended fieldwork
  • Experience with, or the necessary computing skills to learn, some of the following types of analyses: structural equation modelling, mixed effects models, meta-analysis
  • Commitment to working collaboratively and respectfully with colleagues at all levels of experience, and willingness to be an active participant in lab group activities, such as lab meetings, lab projects and mentoring of students
  • Effective oral and written communication skills

Desirable criteria

  • Knowledge of invasion ecology, plant-enemy interactions, phylogenetics, functional ecology and plant biology
  • Experience with, or the necessary computing skills to learn, project management in GitHub
  • Experience in lab work and chemistry

*Please note that this is a PhD level role but candidates who have submitted their thesis and are awaiting award of their PhDs will be considered. In these circumstances the appointment will be made at Grade 5, spine point 30 with the title of Research Assistant. Upon confirmation of the award of the PhD, the job title will become Research Associate and the salary will increase to Grade 6.

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