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Climate and the distribution of European ticks and tick-transmitted pathogens

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Hannah Vineer
    Dr B Makepeace
    Prof R Wall
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Ticks are globally important arthropod vectors of disease, such as Lyme borreliosis and bovine babesiosis. The distribution of ticks is changing as a result of warming climate and veterinary policy. In the UK, this has resulted in changes in seasonal tick activity, the importation of “exotic” tick species, and potentially also the introduction of non-endemic zoonotic tick-borne pathogens. Previous surveys have characterised the distribution and prevalence of ticks and tick-borne pathogens on UK cats and dogs between March and August. This studentship will extend the previous work in space and time to develop models predicting habitat suitability for a range of tick species in Europe under current and future climatic conditions. Monitoring tick activity overwinter is particularly important given climate warming concerns and the changing patterns of tick seasonal activity. This research will facilitate veterinary, public health and policy risk assessments, and could inform sustainable tick control strategies to reduce the risk of tick-borne disease transmission.
Objectives and methodology:
1. Describe the spatio-temporal distribution of fleas, ticks and tick-transmitted pathogens present in the UK
50-60 veterinary practices distributed throughout the UK will be recruited by MSD Animal Health to submit ticks and fleas collected from 5 random dogs and 5 random cats per week between September 2020 and March 2021. The student will identify the ticks and fleas based on morphology, and test the ticks for Borrelia spp. and Babesia spp. by PCR and sequencing. The data collected between September and March will be combined with data previously collected by the University of Bristol/MSD between March and September, and the distribution of ticks and the pathogens present in the ticks will be mapped, taking into account sampling bias, as described by Chivers et al., (2019; https://doi.org/10.1111/mve.12290)

2. Predict the current and future potential ranges of ticks in the UK and Europe
The data collected as part of objective 1 will be combined with similar data collected by MSD Animal Health’s other European divisions, and used to develop an ensemble of habitat/environmental suitability models (using R programming) for each tick species recorded in the UK and Europe (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2008.05742.x). Models will be projected onto future climatic data to predict the potential future distribution of each species.
The models will allow risk assessments to be made at a broad spatial scale that could be used to guide veterinary policy and inform future field studies aiming to characterise habitat suitability at a finer spatial resolution. For example, the risk of the spread of D. reticulatus could help improve veterinary surveillance in at-risk regions and identify field sites for future studies, and the environmental suitability maps for R. sanguineus could be used to inform biosecurity policy with respect to cat and dog movements into the UK.

The project involves a combination of laboratory (acarology/entomology and molecular biology) and computational (empirical species distribution modelling, R programming) methods. Previous experience in these areas is desirable.

To apply, please submit a CV and cover letter to [Email Address Removed].

Funding Notes

This is a 3-year non-clinical PhD project, fully funded for EU/Home students by MSD Animal Health (see https://www.ukri.org/skills/funding-for-research-training/ for stipend levels).

References

Abdullah et al., 2016 - https://doi.org/10.1186/s13071-016-1673-4
Abdullah et al., 2017 - https://doi.org/10.1111/mve.12257
Chivers et al., 2018 - https://doi.org/10.1111/mve.12290
Thuiller et al., 2009 – http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2008.05742.x



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