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Assessing provenance and disease risk in the wild parrot trade; implications for human health and biodiversity.

   School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Simon Tollington  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Parrots (Psittaciformes) are the most common avian order reported in the wildlife trade and one of the most threatened groups of birds. In addition to the direct implications on wild populations of over-harvesting, the trade in parrots both legal and illegal, has led to invasive populations around the globe and the transmission of non-native diseases, some of which have zoonotic potential.  

Identifying the provenance of traded birds is an ongoing challenge because many illegally traded birds are concealed among ‘legal’ shipments and falsified documents. Understanding provenance and trade routes will help evaluate disease risks associated with trade. The introduction and transmission of exotic, non-zoonotic pathogens is clearly a threat to biodiversity. Whilst the trade in wild animals and subsequent spread of zoonotic disease is generally regarded by experts in human health to be the most likely origin of future human pandemics. There is therefore, an urgent need to assess and monitor the prevalence of pathogens circulating among the most traded wildlife in the interests of biodiversity and human health according to the ‘One Health’ principles.  

African parrots are among the most traded of all birds and illegal shipments of live birds are commonly intercepted by customs officials in Sub-Saharan African countries destined for South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Seizures often comprise numerous species of birds that would not naturally occur together, in poor conditions and in very close proximity. These conditions create the perfect environment for pathogen spill-over events and outbreaks that currently, due to the nature of illegal wildlife trafficking, have not been characterised.  

Through close collaboration with The World Parrot Trust and in-country partners, this project aims to use biological samples, collected from seized birds by local veterinarians to:  

  1. Investigate the geographic provenance of seized birds  
  2. Determine individual prevalence of a suite of pathogens  
  3. Sequence detected pathogens to identify isolate /subtype origin using phylogenetic analyses and online databases  

We will fulfil these objectives by using a molecular approach and a mobile field-lab consisting of a Bentolab thermocycler and MinION nanopore sequencer to generate DNA (RNA) sequence of parrots and pathogens. For parrots, mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA profiles will be compared with existing databases to identify, as far as possible, the country or geographic area of origin. For pathogens, we will determine prevalence and sequence of BFDV (Beak and Feather Disease Virus), avian influenza and Chlamydia psittaci among others. 

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