German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)

Join the lab

Interested students are welcome to participate in the research conducted in our lab throughout the year. Open PhD and Postdoc positions will be announced at this page. We offer different topics for internships, bachelor and master theses and also welcome your ideas and suggestions for other thesis topics. Please find a selection of topics listed or request further topics by contacting Renske Onstein.


Students can visit our lab to perform internships at any time. Interns can learn a multitude of methods in evolutionary biology and the interchange between ecology and evolution. Interns can learn how to ask scientific questions and set up hypotheses, to design the research and collect data, and to analyse the data with statistical methods (e.g. comparative phylogenetic methods). Please send your CV and motivation to join the lab to Renske Onstein or the respective project leader. 

BSc & MSc theses

We offer many topics for bachelor and master theses in our working group. Finding the right topic is not easy and we are happy to introduce our topics to you in more detail or discuss further ideas.

Megafauna and fruit size evolution

Megafaunal extinctions happened globally with the increase of human populations over the last 2.5 Kyr. In many places (e.g. Madagascar), plants with large, ‘megafaunal’ fruits have been left without dispersers. These plants are suffering from dispersal limitation, hindering gene flow and population viability. Furthermore, with the functional extinction of megafauna, fruit and seed traits of large-seeded plants can experience rapid evolutionary change. In this study we want to assess how megafaunal extinctions on Madagascar affect the megafaunal-fruited palm Hyphaene coriacea. This species naturally occurs both in mainland Africa (megafauna still present) and Madagascar (all megafauna extinct). We hypothesize that a lack of megafaunal dispersers drives adaptation from large, megafaunal fruits and seeds to smaller fruits/seeds in Malagasy H. coriaceae populations, which also coincides with decreased connectivity and gene flow, as compared to H. coriaceae populations on the African mainland. The MSc thesis includes fieldwork in South Africa and learning NGS techniques. For more information, contact Renske Onstein.

The evolution of woodiness

Wood is a central element in plant’s ecological strategies and critical for the global carbon cycle, but the evolutionary drivers of wood formation are still poorly understood. The phenomenon of phylogenetically derived woodiness—the evolution of wood forming species in herbaceous lineages—is a key to answer this question. Recent results suggest a link between phylogenetically derived woodiness and drought, and point to the dry part of South Africa and Australia as hot-spots on the global scale. Yet, little is known on the distribution of phylogenetically derived woody species within these areas. This project aims to clarify the distribution of phylogenetically derived woody species in South Africa and Australia using existing databases. The task will include compiling distribution information for species of these areas and statistical analyses including species distribution modelling. For more information, please contact

Biogeography & frugivory of birds

This project investigates the global biogeography of birds in relation to deep-time geological change and the evolution of frugivory traits. Madagascar, compared to other tropical regions, is extremely poor in frugivorous birds, and we want to know why. We aim to understand when (frugivorous) birds colonised Madagascar and other (tropical) biomes, and how this may have affected in-site bird radiations in these regions. For more information, contact Renske Onstein. 

Trait-dependent extinctions

Due to ongoing climate change and human impact, many species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction. We aim to understand which plant species, which functional groups and which places are most threatened with extinction and therefore need conservation prioritisation. For more information, contact Renske Onstein.


Bromeliaceae evolution

Do shifts in the photosynthetic pathway enable the radiation of wild relatives of the pineapple into dry biomes? The plant species of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae, >3000 species) represent about 3% of all plant species in tropical America. Bromeliaceae are species-rich in habitats from wet evergreen tropical rainforests to semi-deserts and have evolved a variety of different life forms and photosynthetic types. The link between the evolutionary success of Bromeliaceae and their ability to colonise ecologically very distinct habitats is still unclear. This project aims to combine recent information on the geographic distribution of Bromeliaceae with data on photosynthetic pathways and phylogenetic information to reconstruct the evolution of photosynthesis and geographic distribution in the Bromeliaceae. For more information, please contact

The world’s savannas

Do plants in African savannas have larger distribution ranges than those in South America and Australia? If so, why? Savannas cover about one-fifth of Earths terrestrial surface, especially in the tropical parts of Africa and South America. Savannas are geologically relatively young, and many savannah plants evolved from tropical rainforest lineages. It is, however, unclear why especially parts of African savannas have a surprisingly low number of endemic species and if this is the case for across taxonomic groups. This project aims to estimate range sizes for savanna species based on existing distribution data and to compare average range sizes across taxonomic groups and continents. For more information, please contact

Open positions

There are currenty no positions open.

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