Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment
Research School for Socio-Economic and
Natural Sciences of the Environment

PhD position land system scenarios of transformations to plant-based diets, VU University Amsterdam

Application deadline: 9 March 2021

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.

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

> More information

Sunday 28 February 2021