Division of
Natural and Applied Sciences

PhD position in agent-based modeling at Purdue 

Title: Implementation of a complex agent-based model to address the effects of interacting ecological stressors and alternative management strategies on an endangered species 

Institution: Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources 

Location: Purdue University West Lafayette, IN. 

Salary: Commensurate with standards for a PhD student in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. The position includes benefits typical for whichever position a candidate is hired for at Purdue University. 

Duration of Appointment:  PhD student for a minimum of three years. The duration of either position is contingent upon completion of ongoing project goals to provide additional funding through 2027. 

Pertinent Websites: https://serdp-estcp.org/projects/details/89fdcf5b-0c44-41f9-af97-fd1d45908863/rc22-3216-project-overview andhttps://www.purdue.edu/fnr/sites/zollner/ 

Start Date:  January of 2024 for a PhD student. 

Project Description: The federally endangered Least Bell’s Vireo (LBVI, Vireo bellii pusillus) nests in narrow riparian areas surrounded by the heavily urbanized matrix of Southern California. Several of the largest remaining patches of LBVI nesting habitat occur on US Department of Defense (DoD) military installations and in US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) flood control basins. Expenses for ESA compliance related to LBVI are among the highest of all listed bird species, with widespread operational and financial impacts on federal action agencies and military installations. A complex array of threats and stressors interact to threaten LBVI populations, including groundwater extraction, loss of streamflow inputs due to water recycling programs, changing flood and fire regimes, nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater), and negative impacts to riparian vegetation from invasive non-native plants and insects. One challenge in developing management strategies for recovery is understanding how different stressors may interact, particularly with emerging threats like new invasive species or major changes in disturbance regimes due to climate change. A ~25-minute video describing this project in more detail can be viewed at this link (https://youtu.be/c0DQPcSk-Qg). The goal of this multi-disciplinary, collaborative research project is to develop an individual/agent-based modeling tool that integrates sub-models reflecting different stressors, and synthesizes those sub-models to understand the relative effectiveness of a range of PI- and stakeholder-generated management scenarios. 

Position Description/Project Role: The selected person will be supervised within the lab of Dr. Pat Zollner and will work with project Co-PIs (see below) to develop agent-based submodels for Least Bell’s Vireo breeding biology and Brown-headed Cowbird Parasitism. These bird-focused submodels will interact with other process-based (e.g., vegetation succession) and behavior-based (beetle effects on vegetation) submodels, which are being developed by other team members. The aggregation of all sub-models into RESET will allow us to investigate the effects of interacting stressors on vireo habitat and population dynamics in a complex ecological system where applied ecosystem management is common. The applicant will work throughout the entire model development cycle to design, document, and analyze complex agent-based models for vireos and cowbirds using best ABM practices. The project already has a programmer, a current post-doc in Dr. Zollner’s Lab, who is responsible for implementing all agent-based models in code. Therefore, the role of the PhD student will be: 1) to focus on designing and documenting structurally realistic bird-focused models 2) interacting with the research team and stakeholders to design and implement simulation experiments and 3) analyzing outputs of simulation experiments to compare potential vireo responses to alternative management scenarios. Finally, the person we hire will prepare journal articles and reports documenting all of the above. Successful applicants will have the following qualifications: 

1)     Strong skills with scientific writing and preparing reports. As well the ability to read and synthesize extensive data from published papers and technical reports and synthesize important trends from that material. 

2)     Experience or familiarity with best practices for documenting Agent Based Modeling research (e.g., ODD & TRACE), as well as a commitment to lead in the application of those principles for vireo and cowbird model development. 

3)     Ability to collaborate with a post-doctoral scholar who is coding this ABM to provide inputs for parameterization, feedback on model design and testing of beta versions of the model. 

4)     Ability to effectively communicate with external partners and other interested parties to inform designs of scenarios underlying virtual experiments implemented with ABM. 

5)     Previous experience or interest in learning how to run agent-based modeling software at scale, so that a complex model with thousands of interacting agents can be run hundreds, if not thousands, of times for different analyses working on a computing cluster and/or using cloud-based resources. 

This is a unique opportunity for individuals interested in the interface of individual/agent-based modeling, quantitative wildlife conservation, and adaptive management. The position provides relevant experience for a career trajectory within a government agency or a research career at a university or NGO. The post-doctoral scholar will be supervised by Dr. Patrick Zollner (Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources). New team members will communicate and collaborate regularly with the larger project’s full research team, which includes: Dr. Richard Fischer from the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center; Mr. Casey Lott, Conservation Science and Data Visualization, LLC; Dr. Jeffrey Holland Purdue University Department of Entomology; Ms. Melissa Rohde of Rohde Environmental Consulting LLC; and Dr. Kai-Yin Lin, Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. 

Specific Duties: The person hired will be responsible for communicating the design, development and application of this ABM. This includes writing and revising ODD model descriptions, contributing to TRACE documentation, and interacting with team members, agency biologists, and the broader scientific community via webinars, conference presentations, and scientific papers. They will play a critical role in engaging with stakeholders to design simulation scenario experiments that integrate sub-models related to different stressors to investigate the implications of management activities. They will collaborate with the research team to prepare and submit manuscripts and reports related describing the results of that research. Responsibility for specific tasks will be assigned on a case-by-case basis but this person will work closely with Dr. Kai-Yin Lin who is coding the model and project Co-PIs on all aspects of this project. 

How to Apply: Interested applicants should indicate clearly if they are applying for this position as a PhD student then they should compile all of the following materials into a single pdf file; a CV that includes contact information for three professional references, a 1-page statement of interest, and responses to the following 7 questions (each of these responses should be 250 words or less).  

1.   Describe a situation that demonstrates your work ethic and ability to complete complex tasks in a timely manner. 

2.   Provide an example of a work/academic situation that typifies how you handle adversity when striving to attain a goal. 

3.   What motivates you to pursue this job, and how will participation in this project help you achieve your career goals? 

4.   Please describe a specific example from your work/academic experience that demonstrates your curiosity and creativity. 

5.   What are your strengths and weaknesses with regard to achieving goals individually and in collaboration with others? 

6.   Why you would be a good fit to fulfill the roles described above for this specific project? 

7.   What do you find particularly interesting about agent-based modeling in general and this project in particular? 

That single pdf should be attached to an email that has a subject line of “Application for Least Bell’s Vireo ABM Project as a PhD student”. That email should be sent to Dr. Patrick Zollner (pzollner@purdue.edu) and applicants should understand that their application materials may be reviewed by other project collaborators as part of application evaluation. Application review will begin as applications are received and continue until a suitable applicant is hired for the position. 

Qualifications: Training in wildlife biology, ecological modeling, ornithology, landscape ecology, conservation biology or a related field as well as an interest in Agent Based Modeling and Simulation Modeling to address complex questions in ecological research or applied conservation contexts. 

When preparing materials (statement of interest & response to the 7 questions) applicants should explicitly address their scientific writing skills, organizational skills, interest/background in individual/agent-based modeling, quantitative skills, and their ability to work in a team. Applicants should be highly motivated with a documented ability to work independently and collaboratively. The person that we hire should be able to readily interact with partners including government agencies across many levels as well as non-governmental organizations. Applicants with excellent interpersonal skills, experience developing and documenting individual/agent-based models, publishing peer-reviewed journal articles or technical documents, and prior experience with collaborative interdisciplinary projects will be the most competitive. Other skills in quantitative ecology, proficiency in R, familiarity with conservation challenges faced by LBVI, and candidates who bring unique contributions to the diverse perspectives within the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources are all additional elements that will make applicants more competitive. 

Contact Persons: Dr. Patrick Zollner 

Contact Phones: (765) 496-9495 

Contact e-mails:pzollner@purdue.edu