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PhD scholarships on Restoration of tropical lowland rainforest in Hutan Harapan, Indonesia

Tropical rainforests are being converted to other land uses at a high rate. For the Sumatran lowland rainforest, one of the most diverse forests types in the world, it is estimated that only 2-3% of the original forest remains. Much of this remaining forest has furthermore been exploited by commercial logging, and the remnant forests now appear as islands in the landscape, surrounded by plantations of commercial species such as oilpalm and rubber.

This is especially problematic for long term stability and forest dynamics because small patches of forest are poor habitats for endangered flora and fauna. As a countermeasure to forest degradation, to rehabilitate degraded forest and to expand forest patches, new initiatives are being developed in large-scale forest restoration. One of these is the Hutan Harapan (Harapan Rainforest) initiative.

The mission of Hutan Harapan is to protect and restore 100.000 ha of tropical lowland rainforest in Jambi and South Sumatra. Supported by Danida through the Danida Support to Harapan Rainforest (DSHRF) project, Hutan Harapan, is presently offering 2-4 PhD scholarships for Indonesians in collaboration with University of Copenhagen. The topics are:

Research topic 1: Silviculture of restoration of tropical lowland rainforest

Different forms of forest restoration in South East Asia were developed through the 20th century. A range of techniques have been developed, ranging from little or no intervention (natural succession) to intensive manipulations of the ecosystem. Re-creation of the forest diversity is believed to be dependent on level of degradation, the particular environment (including distance to the nearest forests) and the combination of species applied. However, scientific knowledge that can guide restoration efforts is still scarce. The proposed PhD study will develop silvicultural knowledge relating to restoration focussing on the following topics:

  • Efficacy of different approaches to restoration with respect to re-creation of species diverse forest communities, investments and establishment under different levels of degradation. Based on field trials, species composition of different restoration regimes will be followed to make recommendations for efficient restoration of vegetation and habitats for fauna.
  • Species ecology and performance under different restoration forms. Tree species have differential responses to different biotic and abiotic growth conditions, and knowledge hereof is essential to management decisions on restoration strategies. Field trials will be used to follow growth of – and interaction between – selected species under several restoration regimes, thus characterising optimum conditions for restoration of individual species.

The results will be of great importance to scientists and foresters interested in protection and regeneration of lowland tropical rainforest biodiversity.

Research topic 2: Managing  genetic diversity in restoration

A key element in ecosystem restoration is the re-establishment of trees and other plants through seeding or planting of seedlings or wildings. Such plantings involve use of local species and local genetic origins, implemented as part of a framework planting or as part of a maximum diversity approach. However, it is important to gain knowledge on several gene-ecological aspects in order to be able to guide the seed collection and deployment practices based on local species and seed sources. Examples of questions of high relevance for the management of the programme include:  (i) Can seed for the restoration programme be collected from anywhere in Harapan area – or other parts of Sumatra – or is it important to collect seed from areas with ecological conditions very similar to the planting site?  (ii) What is the minimum number of trees/plants that should be included when collecting seed, and how will this differ between species? (iii) Will regeneration under the framework trees include sufficient species and diversity within species to fulfil the conservation objectives of the restoration programme?  Corresponding key research questions can e.g. include:

  • How local is local? To what extent do selected species consist of genetically differentiated ecotypes within the landscape, and what is the implication of such variation when selecting seed trees for restoration?
  • Genetic diversity in planting stock: What is the effective population size of planting stock based on propagules from selected trees? How is the effective size influenced by collection and propagation techniques? And what level of effective population size should be targeted?
  • Genetic diversity in next generation: What is the expected level of genetic diversity and inbreeding in natural regeneration from trees planted as part of the framework plantings? What is the level of genetic diversity in species that have been established by natural seed dispersal into the framework plantings? How are these aspects influenced by management activities?

The research can combine studies on fertility and phenology with use of DNA markers, ecophysiological tests and common garden growth trials. The research can utilise comparisons between forest patches with varying degradation history and/or studies of genetic implications of alternative seed collection and nursery practices. Also, genetic implications of direct seeding versus seedling production can be analysed.

Research topic 3: Estimation and monitoring of carbon pools in tropical lowland rainforest

On a global scale the conditions and options for collection of carbon storage and sequestration varies significantly and the challenge is to develop scientifically robust indices of state and development across multiple scales – in time and space. Because of the large carbon pools in tropical rainforest, there is a need to find scientifically robust monitoring methods that provide consistent and efficient estimators of forest characteristics with an optimal usage and combination of inventory methods. State of the art may further develop through combinations of national forest inventories with ground truth data, LIDAR data and image analysis of satellite images. Developments of such methods are central to the future large scale forest restoration, and will strongly support the implementation. Reliable, consistent and updated information on the forest resources and their composition and response to management is therefore of pivotal value for sustainable management of forests.

In Hutan Harapan, a range of different forest and land cover types are available, and the PhD project will, based on Hutan Harapan as a case study, answer the following key research questions:

  • consistent estimators and statistical properties across sampling scale and time applying state of the art statistical methods,
  • spatial statistics specifically related to combination of multiple scale inventories and components,
  • evaluation and documentation of the estimated carbon pools and the relation to the different forest and land cover types in the Hutan Harapan.

The end product of the case study is to provide a reliable estimate for carbon storage and sequestration in Hutan Harapan related to forest and land cover types, considering the requirements of carbon standards used to develop REDD projects. The results and the methods developed and tested will be of great importance to scientists and foresters interested in protection and restoration of lowland tropical rainforest and the impact on carbon pools.

Research topic 4: Socio-economics of restoration

Over the last decade, increasing attention has been paid to socio-economic aspects of rural development in developing countries. There has been growing recognition of the needs to understand social dimensions of development to ensure that interventions lead to improvements in the livelihoods of households. One key area where greater understanding of social dimensions has been sought is with regard to the values of goods and services derived from indigenous plants. Forests can make a significant contribution to local and national production and economic growth as well as provide a range of services and benefits to local people. Many of the products collected from forests are consumed at home or traded only locally, and few products find their way into formal markets. Consequently, there is little appreciation in government or planning for their importance in rural livelihoods and their potential to local economy.  The proposed PhD study will investigate the role of forest products, in particular non forest timber products, in rural households and examine markets for forest goods.

Key research questions are:

  • Document useful plants of Hutan Harapan and estimate household dependence on and incomes from these resources. This may include use in nutrition, medicine, culture as well as generation of monetary income,
  • Investigate trade chains and market potentials for a number of indigenous forest products.

The ultimate objective will be to devise strategies leading to improved benefits from restored tropical forests.


The student will be employed and supported by Hutan Harapan and enrolled at University of Copenhagen. Expenses during studies in Denmark will be covered by the project. Field work will be conducted at Hutan Harapan in collaboration with project staff. The student is expected to follow experiments established by the Hutan Harapan project, as well as conduct independent experiments.


Applicants should be of Indonesian nationality. An MSc in Forestry, Biology or another plant-related topic is required, as well as a level in English corresponding to IELTS level 6


The application (in English) should include:

  • A motivation letter
  • A two-page description of proposed research activities of the PhD study,
  • A full CV
  • Copies of Exam certificate with exam results.

Applicants are invited to send their applications as pdf files by email to Deadline is August 30, 2012.

Assessment of candidates:

The assessment committee will be composed of representatives of University of Copenhagen, Hutan Harapan Management Unit, Burung Indonesia and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Based on applicants’ qualifications as outlined in the application, a number of applicants will be selected for Skype interviews.

Key criteria for the assessment of candidates include a master’s degree related to the subject area of the project, the grade point average achieved, professional qualifications relevant to the PhD programme, previous publications, relevant work experience, other professional activities, language skills and interpersonal skills.

After recruitment, the candidate will follow a procedure of formal enrolment at University of Copenhagen. A part of this is to prepare a final PhD project description in collaboration with researchers at Hutan Harapan and supervisor at University of Copenhagen.

Job description

Your key tasks as a PhD fellow will be:

  • Manage and carry through your research project,
  • Take PhD courses,
  • Write scientific articles and your PhD thesis,
  • Participate in international congresses,
  • Teach and disseminate your research.

For more information:

You can find more information about Hutan Harapan at

Information about PhD programmes at University of Copenhagen is available at