PhD fellowship "la Caixa INPHINIT" in quantifying and modelling the impacts of COVID-19 in flagship conservation areas

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    Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
    Natural sciences
    First Stage Researcher (R1) (Up to the point of PhD)




Group Leader: 

Prof. Esteve Corbera

Research Project / Research Group Description

Human mobility has drastically diminished in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, several calls have been made in conservation science to explore the relationship between the pandemic and any positive and negative effects of human presence and mobility on a range of natural systems, including wildlife, and protected areas. In the global South, the reduction in nature-based international tourism has resulted in lower human presence in flagship conservation areas, e.g. national parks, but also in a drastic reduction of conservation budgets. The consequence of these coupled processes may be a worsening of ecological conditions in conservation sites, driven by local actors exploiting natural resources further, to take advantage of diminished surveillance efforts and to either expand land-use activities or seek for alternative income-generating opportunities other than tourism.

This research will test the hypothesis above by quantifying the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on land-use trends in flagship protected areas of the global South, including at least 10 national parks and biosphere reserves across Latin America, Africa and Asia and their surrounding areas, controlling for historical trends and confounding factors. Additionally, the research will model how any observed trends may evolve, depending on the duration of the pandemic, considering lagged behavioral effects and policy regulations that may limit international tourism in the future. The research will be integrated in the Laboratory for the Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems (Laseg, SGR-2017-0775), co-directed by ICREA Profs Corbera and Reyes-García. Prof. Esteve Corbera (background in environmental sciences and natural resource management) will be the main supervisor: he has extensive supervision experience (8 PhD students graduated to date), research grant management, and has been among the most cited multidisciplinary scientists in the world (2019, according to Clarivate analytics).

Job position description

The PhD project will be about quantifying the land-use effects of reduced human presence induced by COVID-19 in flagship protected areas of the global South. The appointed candidate will integrate in the Laseg (SGR) group and have ample opportunities for mutual learning and collaboration, e.g. in the use of global land-use data collection systems (e.g. Landsat, SPOT) and in the collection and analysis of large datasets. This learning will benefit from a partnership with two non-governmental organizations, i.e. Conservation International and Frankfurt Zoological Society, which will provide data and contacts for the selected sites, and from the co-supervision of Prof. Tobias Kuemmerle (Humboldt University) in the context of the EU-ITN project COUPLED.

To fulfil its goals, the project will (1) survey the relevant literature on the effect of COVID-19 and mobility patterns on biodiversity conservation, (2) develop a spatio-temporal statistical model (Christiansen et al., 2020) to assess if the COVID-19 pandemic has induced any significant change on land-use patterns in the study sites, (3) collect secondary and first-hand data provided by conservation authorities, to discuss and qualify any observed trends, and (4) model trajectories of land-use change based on future mobility and economic growth scenarios. Articles in reputed international academic journals will be published, alongside the PhD thesis. The research will also be presented in international conferences and workshops.

Suitable candidates have completed university studies at bachelor and master levels (300 ECTS credits). They ideally have a background in environmental sciences, land-use system science, applied mathematics or economics. Other social, natural and engineering science backgrounds will also be considered, as long as candidates have an interest in the use of quantitative and spatial methods. Candidates should have an outstanding level of communication and writing in English language.

What is funded

Salary is €34.800 gross, plus €3.564 per year for additional costs (conferences, courses, etc.). An additional prize of €7.500 is paid upon completion of the PhD.


3 years


The selection process is very competitive and candidates should have an excellent academic record.

The candidate will apply through “la Caixa” foundation. Deadline 4 February 2021 at 2 pm (Central European Time - CET).



Eligible candidates must have resided or carried out their main activity in Spain for less than 12 months in the last 3 years, have a B2 English degree, and have a higher education degree that gives access to doctoral studies.


The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona is a research centre accredited with the Spanish Seal of Excellence María de Maeztu in 2020, the perfect place to carry out your PhD project through an INPhINIT Incoming fellowship.

For more information, please contact Ms Silvia Martínez (silvia.martinez.sinibaldi AT uab.cat).



The responsibility for the funding offers published on this website, including the funding description, lies entirely with the publishing institutions. The application is handled uniquely by the employer, who is also fully responsible for the recruitment and selection processes.