PhD Position (m/f/d) in Applied Agroecology

Universität Würzburg

PhD Position (m/f/d) in Applied Agroecology on “Toxicity of Epichloë endophytes in agricultural grass species”


Unlike gene editing and GMO, modifications of crops with endophytes received little attention in agroecological studies. Endophytic fungi of the genus Epichloë occur in many grass species and can protect their host plant by the production of numerous alkaloids. These alkaloids can be toxic for insect pests but also for livestock and can be used by seed companies to enhance the hosts fitness. In Germany such Epichloë – grass associations occur frequently in native grass species in natural habitats. However, it is unknown, if endophyte infection rates and alkaloid profiles differ between natural grasslands and sown pastures. It is also unknown, how frequently Epichloë infected seeds occur on the seed market and if the infected plants produce alkaloids above the toxicity levels for livestock, including horses. This DFG funded project aims to provide a scientific background to an emerging discussion about the distribution of symbiotically modified organisms on German pastures.


Applicants should have a MSc degree (or equivalent) in ecology, biology, agricultural sciences or related disciplines. A strong interest in agroecology, endophytic fungi and intoxications of animals is required. Laboratory skills in GC-MS, HPLC-MS and multiplex PCR are beneficial, as well as basic knowledge of field survey campaigns, field experiments and statistics (preferable in R). Good communication skills in German and English are helpful, too. This project answers applied scientific questions with multidisciplinary approaches and will raise public awareness. Backgrounds in grass species identification, seed breeding and toxifications of livestock will be helpful, but are not a priori compulsory.

English speaking and writing skills are expected. German skills are helpful for the fieldwork and for public relations. A driving license valid in Germany is compulsory, as study sites are distributed throughout Germany.

Your tasks

  • Recording and sampling of grass on meadows, fallows and calcareous grasslands throughout Germany
  • Sowing experiment of seed mixtures
  • Analyses of grass samples with GC-MS, HPLC-MS and multiplex PCR in cooperation with partners
  • Communication with horse breeders, farmers, seed companies and the press
  • Statistical analyses and scientific writing

Salary and conditions

Salaries will be according to the wages-agreement (TV-L) for part-time 65%. The University of Würzburg is an equal opportunity employer. Female scientists are particularly encouraged to apply. Disabled applicants will be preferentially considered in case of equivalent qualification. The position is for three years, with possible extensions of 6 months. The doctoral thesis will be done as a series of English manuscripts. We offer the membership in a friendly, enthusiastic and ambitious research team, modern facilities and the cooperation with researcher across Germany and worldwide. The position will be placed in the student city of Würzburg in southern Germany.

The student can join the Graduate School of Life Sciences of the University of Würzburg with many activities ( Conferences and project partners for example in USA and New Zealand can be visited as part of the project.


Please send your application preferable as a single pdf file per-email to j.krauss@uni- and latest until 30th November. Applications should include a cover letter, a short summary of research interests, CV, complete certificates (A-level, BSc, MSc), and the names (with email addresses and phone number) of two potential referees.

For further information, please contact Prof Dr. Jochen Krauss. Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, Biocentre, University of Würzburg, Germany (Phone: 0931-3182382)

The PhD position will be supervised by Prof. Dr. Jochen Krauss and is located at the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology

Cooperation partners for chemical analyses will be Prof. Dr. Nicole van Dam (iDiv, Jena, HPLC-MS) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmitt (Würzburg, GC-MS)

Further readings on the applied aspect of the project in German:

Giftige Gräser – Eine Gefahr für Weidetiere?

or contact Jochen Krauss to get further literature on the topic.