PhD student: Land system scenarios of transformations to plant-based diets

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • PhD student: Land system scenarios of transformations to plant-based diets
  • University Graduate
Do you want to contribute to sustainable land use? Do you want to study the impacts on European land use upon dietary change with simulation models and scenarios? Please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE: 1  

Job description

Reducing livestock products in human diets will have large consequences for European land use. But how will this affect European land systems? How does this transition help fulfilling climate and biodiversity objectives? The lower primary production needed for plant-protein based diets reduces pressure on land systems and creates options to reduce imports of animal feed. Lower agricultural production needs could allow either a reduction in high-intensity farming to more nature-friendly farming systems, or spare land for restoration, rewilding or the cultivation of other bio-based products, with climate and biodiversity advantages. While much research has been done on the potential of such dietary shifts, the spatial variability in landscape transformations has not been addressed. Where, and to what extent, would farming systems (need to) change, and where would the largest benefits for climate and biodiversity be expected. How would European land use look like if this plant-protein revolution would take place? Would the new possibilities provide a motivation for enabling this transformation?
The objective of this PhD is to sketch a realistic picture of the opportunities and challenges such a plant-based protein transformation would require by considering different scenarios that address:
  • the dietary changes, by looking at the range from essential to current protein content of diets and potential timelines of transformation
  • the sourcing of plant-based proteins and its relation with environmental footprints of agricultural imports and exports
  • the range of land system options in Europe, ranging from optimal use of agricultural resources within environmental boundaries towards more integrated multifunctional agricultural systems
Scenarios will be based on literature review, analysis of time-series and the spatial analysis of land systems. The scenarios will be simulated with land use models and impacts on climate and biodiversity will be assessed. As a final step, optimization approaches will be used to analyze how optimal outcomes can be obtained trading off transport, health, biodiversity and climate outcomes of alternative ways of implementing the plant-based protein transformation.

Your duties
  • conduct high quality research and publish results in academic journals and a PhD thesis
  • make literature review, data analysis and simulation studies
  • collaborate within and outside the institute with experts in the field
  • make a contribution to teaching


  • Msc degree in environmental sciences, ecology or geography
  • knowledge of and experience with quantitative (spatial) methods
  • good writing skills

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,395 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,061 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 1 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years.
Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • solid pension scheme (ABP)

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavour – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to around 6,000 students.

About the institute
IVM is a leading environmental research institute that is internationally recognized for its high quality research output in a range of environmental disciplines, as well as for its interdisciplinary work. The mission of the institute is to contribute to sustainable development and care for the environment through scientific research and teaching. IVM aims to do excellent problem-oriented research that is useful to a wide range of stakeholders in the Netherlands and internationally. A unique strength of our research is to understand sustainability problems in their social and economic context. IVM’s research community works within four departments: Environmental Economics; Environmental Policy Analysis; Environmental Geography; and Water and Climate Risk. Since 2001 IVM is part of the Faculty of Science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (

The Department of Environmental Geography investigates the role of spatial variation in environmental systems to increase our understanding of environmental change and support environmental management. The focus of the group is on land use change and its impacts on ecosystem services and society. Temporal dynamics and future scenarios are explored with spatial modelling of changes in land use and ecosystem services, including natural, rural and urban systems. Advanced methods for stakeholder participation and ex-ante evaluation are developed and tested to support environmental management and land use planning.


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until March 9, 2021.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Peter Verburg

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