Graduate student positions in climate change ecology research

The Temporal Ecology Lab is looking for 1-2 bright, motivated and collaborative researchers to join the lab as MSc or PhD students. Ideal start dates are May or September 2023 (possibility of 2024 start also). Students would work on a thesis related to the lab’s core research areas of climate impacts on phenology, community assembly via the temporal niche, trophic interactions, forest regeneration, as well as population and variety diversity of domesticated and wild Vitis.
We're looking for students to leverage collaborative and other resources in the lab to advance current research while developing their own projects. Students will join a research team that draws on expertise from community ecology, climatology, evolution, plant physiology and modeling. Graduate students in the lab to date have generally collected their own observational data, conducted greenhouse and growth chamber experiments and all contributed to the lab’s current meta-analysis, with additional opportunities for community assembly modeling work.
The position would be based at the University of British Columbia in the Forest and Conservation Sciences Department, with potential field sites in Smithers, Manning Park and the Okanagan winegrowing region (all in BC), as well as possible work in Quebec and New Hampshire forests. The Temporal Ecology lab works to create a safe and supportive lab environment while also improving the environment of the broader research community. We encourage people from historically underrepresented communities to apply, as well as those needing special accommodations. More details on the lab's values can be found here.
Funding is available through the Faculty of Forestry (see information here), NSERC for Canadian applicants (see ‘Canada’s Tri-Agency Scholarships’ from previous link and note that applications are due in September) and through teaching assistantships combined with support from current grants in the lab. International students should pay attention to the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Future Forests Fellowship, 4YF and review all possible awards.
A successful applicant would have/be:
– An undergraduate degree with some experience in ecology or a related field
– Some experience with R or Python (or similar), and potentially also LaTeX and git; applicants without experience in these languages that are excited to learn them quickly
are also encouraged to apply.
– Excited to work with and mentor undergraduate students
– Ability to be a good lab and community member.
To apply email the following to E. M. Wolkovich at (informal inquiries welcome):
– Email (or include a cover letter) including a brief description of research interests and reason to want to go to graduate school, as well as potential fit in the lab (see ‘successful applicant’ list above; maximum of half page)
– Curriculum vitae or resume (PDF please)
Application review will begin 19 September and continue until the positions are filled.

What we’re working on in the lab currently

Here’s a quick review of current projects in the lab:
Temporal assembly via germination and leafout phenology
The lab is wrapping up a meta-analysis looking at the cues that drive leafout phenology across diverse species. You can check out the following recent papers to learn more:
Ettinger, A.K., Buonaiuto, D. M., Chamberlain, C.J., Morales-Castilla & E. M. Wolkovich. Spatial and temporal shifts in photoperiod with climate change
Ettinger, A.K., Chamberlain, C.J., Buonaiuto, D. M., Morales-Castilla, I., Flynn, D.F.B., Savas, T., Samaha, J. & E. M. Wolkovich. 2020. Winter temperatures predominate in spring phenological responses to warming
Wolkovich, E. M., Auerbach, J. A., Chamberlain, C.J., Buonaiuto, D. M., Ettinger, A.K., Morales- Castilla, I. & A. Gelman. 2021. A simple explanation for declining temperature sensitivity with warming
And we’re starting a new one seed germination.
Modeling phenology assembly
Growing empirical evidence suggests that how species track phenologically is linked to species performance and community structure. Such research tantalizingly suggests a potential framework to predict the winners and losers of climate change, and the future communities we can expect. But developing this framework requires far greater efforts to ground empirical studies of phenological tracking in relevant ecological theory. The lab is working to better understand phenological tracking in empirical studies and through the lens of coexistence theory. While much current theory for tracking ignores the importance of a multi-species context, basic community assembly theory predicts that competition will drive variation in tracking and trade-offs with other traits. Working with Megan Donahue, the lab is working towards integrating priority effects into modern coexistence theory alongside our work on improved empirical estimates of multivariate environmental change.
Read more, including our modeling work in: Wolkovich, E. M. & Donahue, M. 2021. How phenological tracking shapes species and communities in non-stationary environments
Influence of the timing of stress and stimuli on growth performance, phenological development and survival of temperate trees
In 2023, Frederik Baumgarten will join the lab to lead the project “PhaenoFlex” — designed study the ability of temperate forest trees to shift and divide their phenological cycle in response to environmental stressors. Read more here.
Predicting future forests: Understanding diverse phenological responses in North American temperate forests and globally
In recent years increasing attention has focused on plant phenology as an important indicator of the biological impacts of climate change, as many temperate plants have shifted their timing earlier with increasing temperatures. As data have accumulated, researchers have found a link between phenological responses to warming and plant performance and plant invasions. Such work suggests phenology may not only be a major impact of warming, but a critical predictor of future plant performance. These studies, however, often consider phenology as a singular plant trait---one that may critically influence plant performance and spread but is not tied to other major traits. In contrast plant phenology could be considered as one of many correlated traits making up a plant's trait syndrome. I suggest progress can come from explicitly considering phenology as a critical plant trait correlated with other major functional traits.
Previous research highlights a trade-off where earlier phenologies are associated with a suite of traits related to rapid return on investment, but lower competitive ability, while species leafing and flowering later show the reverse. This axis makes sense when considering how stress, disturbance and competition vary across the growing season in temperate systems: early in the season when abiotic stress and disturbance are high (e.g., frosts etc.), but competition low, an early-flowering, rapid growth, and comparatively low-investment strategy allows species to grow and reproduce quickly before periods of strong competition begin. This research program will test for evidence of this trade-off across >100 woody species and how it relates to plant performance with climate change. Such a trade-off would mean phenology's strong links to invasions and performance with climate change may be only one piece of a larger story of how a correlated set of traits are promoted by warming, and contribute to the lab's larger goal of understanding how plant communities assemble and dis-assemble with climate change.
Our current NSERC combines local, regional and global scale approaches to examine how phenology fits within a functional trait framework then tests for the relative roles of phenology and other major plant traits in driving plant performance. In particular this proposal will address the following questions: (1) How can we best predict woody species phenological responses to climate change considering the three major cues of spring warming temperatures, winter chilling temperatures and daylength? (2) What is the relationship between phenology and performance in temperate woody species? (3) How do major functional traits relate to plant phenological responses to climate? (4) What is the relative importance of phenology versus other functional traits in predicting plant performance responses to climate change?
Modeling winegrape phenology for a warming Okanagan
The lab has a suite of projects on grapes, one funded project is summarized below (title above) and you can find more about all our Vitis work: at
Resilient agricultural systems are built on growers empowered by knowledge of how their systems change over days, months and years. Models of phenology (recurring seasonal events such as budburst, flowering and fruit maturity) are critical for growers to plan crop management each season. When used with climate projections, they can help growers decide which varieties are best suited to changing climatic conditions. This project will build budburst to sugar maturity models for winegrapes for the Okanagan region, and is designed to help growers adapt to climate change’s novel environmental regimes on both short and longer-term timescales. In the short-term, it will provide predictions of plant development each season, allowing for crop adjustments, more accurate watering regimes, and improved management of pests and diseases, which often depend on phenology. In the longer-term it will guide planting decisions through future projections. This project has immediate applications to all winegrowers in the Okanagan, with a general approach that applies to diverse crops across BC (e.g., apples, cherries, pears, blueberries).

Temporal Ecology Lab blog
Forest Sciences Centre
2424 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4