Project 4: Remote sensing of human impacts on South African ecosystems

The effect of anthropogenic activities on South African ecosystems is profound and highly diverse. Human settlements are sprawling rapidly over rural South Africa, associated with land conversion to crop cultivation, livestock grazing, and fuelwood collection. The intense and varied ways in which land and natural resources are used by people have serious implications for the ecosystems of South Africa and the services they provide. Hence, mapping and observing the status of these environments and understanding their response to human behaviour is fundamental to conceive and implement appropriate strategies for sustainable development. The open PhD position focuses on assessing the impact of selected anthropogenic processes and activities on South African ecosystems. Particular emphasis is put on: (1) long-term monitoring of savanna land use/ land cover and vegetation change at disturbed and undisturbed project test sites; (2) investigating the effect of human firewood extraction on the productivity of savanna vegetation; and (3) identifying influences of grazing type and intensity on grassland development in the Great Karoo, South Africa. The main data source and analysis tool will be remote sensing data and methods, respectively. The chosen candidate is expected to take full advantage of multi-sensor and -temporal Earth observation data sets collected either from the ground, via plane or by satellite. The outlined research agenda will be conducted in close collaboration with all German and South African project partners.


  • Master’s degree in remote sensing, GIScience, informatics, mathematics, geography or related fields
  • Strong interest in multi-sensor (i.e., optical, SAR, LiDAR) and -temporal remote sensing for environmental applications and/or human impact assessments
  • Excellent skills in computer programming (e.g., R, Python, MATLAB) and statistics
  • Experience in digital image processing (e.g., ENVI, Geomatica, eCognition) and GIS (ArcMap, QGIS) is beneficial
  • Motivation and willingness to conduct field work
  • Team spirit, flexibility, and ability to work independently
  • Scientific curiosity and willingness to work on a doctoral thesis
  • Full written and verbal fluency in English, some knowledge of or at least willingness to learn German


Host institute: Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena, Germany

Supervision: Prof. Dr. Christiane Schmullius (FSU), Dr. Christian Berger (FSU)

Contact: Prof. Dr. Christiane Schmullius,