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Disease control and conservation: applying grazing pressure to solve ’The World’s Worst Wildlife Infectious Disease’

  • Full or part time
    Dr D J S Montagnes
    Prof A Fenton
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

BACKGROUND & TIMELINESS: Infectious diseases threaten ecosystem function, biodiversity, and humans through zoonotic infections. Water-borne diseases, in particular, are predicted to increase through anthropogenic factors, including climate-change. Ecologically robust mitigation strategies are therefore needed to tackle this global issue. To date efforts have focused on the hosts (e.g. direct treatment), but this approach has had limited success and can damage ecosystem health. This study will evaluate a new approach.

NOVELTY: One promising, ecologically sustainable strategy is to target the disease’s infectious stages, preventing spread at its source. Many animal-diseases are spread by aquatic spores. These nutritious and vulnerable infective stages are potential prey for aquatic grazers. Enhancing grazing is anticipated to be a valuable means to mitigate such pathogens of wildlife, livestock, and humans. Understanding the role of grazers is, therefore, a new and exciting area of conservation biology.

OBJECTIVES: This PhD will focus on the “worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates”: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This devastating chytrid fungus has caused mass declines in amphibians worldwide. Bd infects via aquatic spores that can be consumed by invertebrates and protozoa. Our initial studies suggest that these small grazers may be manipulated to mitigate Bd infections, but the impact of the diverse grazer community and the extent to which fungal strains are susceptible to grazing remains unknown. To evaluate grazer control, the study will have five integrated components: 1) field work to survey and isolate grazers; 2) laboratory work to parameterize a host-parasite-grazer model; 3) ecosystem modelling to predict grazer impacts on Bd strains; 4) mesocosms to test model predictions; 5) conservation assessment (review), to evaluate impacts of mitigation strategies. The student will be supervised by a team of experts: Montagnes (grazer biology, experimental design), Warren (grazers biodiversity); Fenton (parasite biology, modelling); Garner (host biology, conservation).

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777 tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ACCE, View Website. ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to , deadline: January 9 2019. Interviews in or after the week commencing: 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

This project is also available to self-funded students. A fees bursary may be available.


Salt JL, Bulit C, Zhang W, Qi H, Montagnes, DJS (2016) Spatial extinction or persistence: landscape-temperature interactions perturb predator-prey dynamics. Ecography doi: 10.1111/ecog.02378.

Warren, A et al. (2017) Beyond the “Code”: a guide to the description and documentation of biodiversity in ciliated protists (Alveolata, Ciliophora) J Euk Microbiol doi: 10.1111/jeu.12391.

Fenton, A, Streicker, DG, Petchey, OL, Pedersen AB (2015) Are all hosts created equal? Partitioning host species contributions to parasite persistence in multi-host communities. The American Naturalist 186, 610-622. doi: 10.1086/683173.

Garner TWJ, Schmidt BR, Martel A, Pasmans F, Muths E, Cunningham AA, Fisher MC, Bosch J (2016) Mitigating amphibian chytridiomycosis in nature. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 371, Article no. 20160207.

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