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EASTBIO Developing behavioural and sensor-based indicators of disease in small ruminants, using sheep scab as an exemplar

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Prof C Dwyer , Dr Stew Burgess , Dr F Kenyon No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The aim of this project will be to develop practical methods to improve welfare management of sheep. Sheep are often managed extensively and have the opportunity for good welfare through unconfined movement, social interactions and environmental choice. However, these environments can be challenging to monitor, and the risks of poor welfare occurring through prolonged lack of observation or untreated disease is substantial. Use of Precision-Livestock Farming (PLF) approaches, where individual animals can be tracked within the flock, has the potential to allow remote monitoring of small ruminants, and offers a novel opportunity to improve welfare management.
This study will build on previous work, which demonstrated that sheep scab, caused by skin infestation with the ectoparasitic mite, Psoroptes ovis, has a behavioural ‘signature’ which could be a sensitive method to identify disease in sheep and to assess the impact of future treatment regimes. This project will further develop these ideas by assessing the opportunities to use novel behavioural methods and sensor-based technologies to monitor behaviour in this and other disease models, through an ongoing collaboration between researchers at SRUC and the Moredun Research Institute (MRI). The project will study behaviour and other indicators during controlled disease models, and in more natural disease transmission scenarios. The student will have access to existing datasets and resources (video recordings, ethograms, activity sensor data) from animals infested with sheep scab across a range of scenarios and treatment regimes, including controlled challenges and more natural transmission-based infestation studies. The project will also be closely aligned with a large European-funded project, Tech-Care, which will give the student the opportunity to work with partners across 9 European countries, and to develop animal management techniques to improve the welfare of small ruminants across Europe.

The student will be registered at the University of Edinburgh, based at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and MRI, both near Edinburgh, UK and may have the opportunity to work with one other partner in Europe as part of the study. The student will become part of the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Team at SRUC, one of the largest groups of its kind with 15 academic staff and 17 PhD students, and will also carry out their research at the Moredun Research Institute, which specialises in the development of novel control methods for diseases of livestock.

The project is truly multidisciplinary, bringing together the fields of animal behaviour, welfare, health, and engineering. The supervisory team, and links to the TechCare project, will support the student in the development of academic skills within each discipline. The combination of academic training in behaviour and sensors applied to animal health and welfare, coupled with gaining skills in behavioural and welfare assessment on-farm, and exposure to a multi-national research project, is expected to be highly attractive to future employers. The project has the opportunity to develop novel and practical methods to improve the welfare management of a species that plays an important role in Europe and beyond to support marginal farming communities.
Applicants should download the required forms from and send the following documents to [Email Address Removed]:
a. EASTBIO Application Form
b. EASTBIO DTP Equality Form
c. CV
d. Academic transcripts (a minimum of an upper second class or first class honours degree or equivalent is required for PhD study
e. Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to [Email Address Removed].
f. If you are nominated by the supervisor(s) of the EASTBIO PhD project you wish to apply for, they will provide a Supervisor Support Statement.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (Please state if your institution will provide funding to cover the difference in fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.


Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to
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