Project 11: Understanding the implications of temporal dynamics of Protected Area boundaries and designations for Protected Area-based biodiversity indicators

This project will build on and further strengthen the World Database on Protected Areas as well as advance the understanding of the dynamics in the global protected area estate. Based at the University of Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark), with secondments to UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge, UK; 10.8 months).

This is Project 11 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 16 April 2018 (midnight, Brussels time). We are no longer accepting applications to this project. 

PhD topic

Protected Area coverage is a key indicator for measuring progress towards international policy commitments and is calculated using information from the World Database on Protected Areas, WDPA. Yet, Protected Areas (PAs) are not static elements in the landscape: they often change in size and shape, management objectives, and the legislation that regulates their level of protection might also change. Understanding the dynamics of PA boundaries and designations – and of the drivers behind these changes, and of their potential effects – is fundamental to develop robust biodiversity indicators and predict future trends to guide policy decisions.

In response to these issues, this PhD project will build on and further strengthen the WDPA (>230,000 records, 225 countries/territories) as well as advance the understanding of the dynamics in the global protected area estate as outlined in recent research by:

  1. Consolidating and standardising historical versions of the WDPA into a temporal database that reflects the dynamic nature of PAs, and using this to develop and test a method for tracking changes in PA coverage in a spatially-explicit way;
  2. Assessing implications of the dynamic nature of PAs to global measures of PA coverage and performance;
  3. Analysing political, economic and environmental factors explaining variations in the dynamic of PAs across countries.

The expected results will provide better estimates of change in Protected Area coverage with time, with direct applications to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Sustainable Development Goals and EU Biodiversity Strategy, enhancement of the value of the WDPA as the key database for the calculation of these indicators, and better understanding of the factors driving PA dynamics across countries.

Institutional context and Supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the largest research and education institution in Denmark, and enrolled as a PhD candidate at the PhD School of SCIENCE. S/he will be physically based at situated in the Section for Geography as a member of the research group Environment and Society in Developing Countries within the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management. The research group is interdisciplinary and works on a wide range of issues related to complexities of land use and land cover change, natural resource management, earth observation and societal processes. It is composed of eight permanent scientific staff and more than 25 PhD students and Post Docs. The project will be supervised by Ole Mertz (Professor of Human Geography) and Martin Rudbeck Jepsen (Associate Professor of Geoinformatics).

The study will be implemented in close collaboration with UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), a world leader in biodiversity knowledge and the executive agency of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, for biodiversity assessments. The student will spend two secondments of a total of 11 months at WCMC in Cambridge, UK, to improve GIS and database management technical skills and obtain an in depth understating of the WDPA and its derived indicators with the team that manages and publishes the database and has developed the indicators. Moreover, the student will benefit for WCMC expertise in the science policy interface to understand the political, environmental and economic factors driving changes in Protected Areas and their policy implications for conservation. At WCMC the student will be supervised by Brian McSharry (Data Manager and Senior Programme Officer) and Naomi Kingston (Head of Programme) at the Protected Areas Programme.

Ideal candidate

Candidates must meet all the general eligibility conditions applicable to all Inspire4Nature PhD positions, as described under “check if you are eligible” in this page. In particular:

  • At the time of commencement of the PhD study, applicants must not have been awarded a doctorate degree and must be within the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers.
  • Applicants must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Denmark for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to their recruitment.

In addition:

  • The University of Copenhagen requires that applicants have a MSc degree or equivalent of relevance to the advertised position.

Applicants will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Good results in a MSc degree or equivalent of relevance to the advertised position
  • Good English skills
  • Quality of the research proposal submitted with the application
  • Experience with one or more of the following: (i) Geographical Information Systems (GIS); (ii) quantitative data sets and statistical analysis and; (iii) assessment of drivers of land use change
  • Experience with/knowledge of Protected Area-based conservation

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to Skype-based interviews which will be held on May 31, 2018, between 12 am and 6 pm Central European Time. Please save the date.


For any questions regarding application procedures, check this page first. If you cannot find your answer there, contact us. For any questions regarding the scientific content and institutional context of the PhD, contact professor Ole Mertz, or Associate Professor Martin Rudbeck Jepsen

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page. Important: Candidates to this position must follow two particular procedures (different from applications to most other Inspire4Nature projects):

  • Also include a research proposal, describing what you intend to do during the PhD study. This should take up to two pages, and be included in the same document as your cover letter.
  • Submit your application directly to the University of Copenhagen - follow THIS LINK.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted directly to the University of Copenhagen before the deadline (16 April 2018) will be considered eligible.

We are no longer accepting applications to this project. 


Academic Host

    University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
        Ole Mertz
        Martin Rudbeck Jepsen


    UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
        Brian MacSharry
        Naomi Kingston