Job Vacancies, News

PhD position in biology at the University of Iceland with emphasis on evolution and biogeography of arachnids in Caribbean caves

The Agnarsson lab ( has funding for a 3 year PhD project in biology with emphasis on the collection of specimens and data, and data analyses, regarding speciation and biogeography of arachnids (spiders and others) in Caribbean caves (CarBio, A master’s degree or equivalent is required, hence the 3-year duration of the project which is entirely research, with no required teaching. However, the student will be expected to contribute to teaching in order to gain the necessary career skills. The project will be done within the Biology section of the Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Iceland. The position is funded for three years by a University of Iceland Research grant and other existing and pending funding.

Major projects and responsibilities

A major goal of the CarBio project is to investigate the biogeography, speciation history, and biodiversity of arachnids on Caribbean islands. The PhD project focuses on the role of caves in speciation at this famous biodiversity hotspot. The goal is to collect and analyze specimens from over 100 caves across the Caribbean archipelago and test the hypothesis that caves are speciation ´turbo engines´ that lead to an extraordinary diversity of lineages that inhabit Caribbean caves. In order to reach that goal the PhD student will use samples from the Caribbean that the CarBio project has collected since 2011, in addition to new samples that the PhD student will in part collect in the field. We will employ powerful Next Generation Sequencing techniques (UCE´s 3RAD seq) to analyze genomic variability in order to establish the relationships among individuals and species of at least four unrelated lineages that have replicate history of colonizing caves. With these data, we will estimate geneflow, number of species, speciation history and biogeography (when and how species colonized islands and caves) and ultimately test the above-stated hypothesis. Another major goal is the description of new species from the project and evaluating the conservation importance of Caribbean caves. The project will collaborate closely with Drs. Jason Bond (University of California Berkeley) and Jonathan Coddington (Smithsonian Institution), two of the world´s leading arachnologists in the fields of systematics/phylogenetics, evolution, biogeography and speciation patterns.

Background: Detecting the fundamental factors underlying the generation of biodiversity is a central goal in evolutionary biology. Many recognized hotspots of biological diversity are island archipelagos that combine richness with exceptionally high endemicity. Habitats, like mountaintops and caves, can be effective ‘islands’ when surrounded by a matrix of ‘non-habitat’. If the nature of islands drives diversification, geographically nested ‘islands within islands’ should generate high levels of spatially structured diversity. The >7000 caves of the Caribbean islands are an ideal arena for testing this prediction. Preliminary data indicate that many arachnid lineages in caves have undergone radiation among cave ‘islands’. Thus, Caribbean caves represent a vast but largely uncharted dimension of diversity within this biodiversity hotspot. The project performs the first systematic inventory of Caribbean cave arthropods (emphasis on arachnids) to test the hypothesis that cave systems on archipelagos—islands within islands—act as biodiversity ‘turbo engines’. The PhD student will complete work on existing specimens, and lead new sampling efforts and research to greatly expand the CarBio project. This project opportunistically banks on an ongoing mega-transect of epigean Caribbean arachnids setting the ideal stage to study the origin, biogeography, and comparative diversification patterns of related subterranean and epigean lineages.


• A master’s degree (or comparable) in biology, molecular biology, computer sciences with emphasis on biology, or related disciplines.

• Good knowledge of evolutionary biology, genetics, and ecology is preferable.

• Thorough understanding of the main tools of molecular biology in relation to systematics (DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, sequence analyses).

• Good programming skills and/or experience in the use of the R statistical environment.

• Excellent control of English, both spoken and written.

• Excellent communicative skills and the ability to both work in groups and highly independently.

• A determination that you want nothing more than a career in biology!

Hiring is conditional on a formal application for PhD studies at the University of Iceland within the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences, and on the student’s acceptance into the program.

Further information on the position

The project is funded for 3 years of research, with no TA requirements. However, the student will be expected to contribute to teaching to acquire necessary skills for the job market. Salaries are based on existing collective agreement between the ministry of finances and the union that the PhD student joins. Currently the monthly gross salary is 435K isk, approximately $3,230. After taxes and other fees (retirement, union fees) the net pay is approximately $2,120. An additional $2,200 annually is provided for food, computer use, and other costs, including transport. Students are responsible for an annual registration fee of around $600, however, tuition is free.

It is preferable that the student can start no later than January 2024.

Please provide the following documents and information with the application:

• Description of how the applicant meets the above-mentioned requirements, why they are interested in the project, how they believe they can contribute to the project, and what expectations they have for the doctoral program (maximum 1 page).

• Curriculum vitae (CV).

• Copies of transcripts from undergraduate and master’s studies, including grades.

• Information about two referees (name, workplace, email address) along with their connection to the applicant.

• Applicants are also invited to submit a PDF version of their master’s thesis (in any language) and other relevant publications (maximum 5 documents).

All applications will be answered, and applicants will be notified about the employment decision once it has been made.

In the hiring process at the University of Iceland, the school’s equal opportunities plan will be taken into account. See here:

Attention is drawn to the language policy of the University of Iceland, see here:

The University of Iceland is the largest educational, research, and scientific institution in Iceland. It fosters a thriving knowledge society and provides a diverse and vibrant work environment. The values of the university include academic freedom, expertise, and equality, with a strong emphasis on flexibility and staff participation in shaping the educational and research landscape.

Within the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences, around 400 individuals engage in research and teaching in the fields of engineering and natural sciences. The work environment is international, with a continuously growing proportion of foreign staff and students in the field, and a quarter of both staff and postgraduate students are international. There are about 2,000 students in the field, of which approximately a quarter are postgraduate students. The School of Engineering and Natural Sciences thrives in a diverse and innovative environment where the emphasis is on knowledge creation and dissemination. The Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences ( is diverse and with particular strengths in evolutionary biology and genetics of speciation. Facilities include full ecological and genetic laboratories and powerful equipment for photodocumentation (BK lab system, SEM, and various other imaging techniques), suitable for the proposed project. An extensive collaborative network with scientists in Europe, USA, South America, and China exists within the Agnarsson lab.

Employment rate is 100%.

Application deadline to the Agnarsson lab is until and including October 1, 2023. If selected, the applicant should immediately formally apply for the PhD program.

For further information contact

Ingi Agnarsson – [email protected]