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Experimental epidemiology using water fleas and their parasites

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, September 05, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

I am looking for a motivated and creative PhD candidate who would be interested in applying to the Irish Research Council (IRC) for a 4-year PhD fellowship to be conducted at the Zoological Department of Trinity College, the University of Dublin.

Project description

The research project complements current research which aims to understand host density thresholds and the abiotic and biotic factors by which they are influenced. These thresholds are an emergent property of epidemiological models and represent the host density under which a disease is unable to spread. Although this theory forms much of the basis for vaccination and culling programs experimental evidence is limited. Furthermore it’s likely that disease dynamics may be more complex than portrayed by simple theoretical models. By performing experimental epidemiology with Daphnia and their parasites the candidate could test factors that may influence host density thresholds to provide more realistic epidemiological models. Details of the project can be worked out with the candidate, to accommodate interests and strength.

Potential questions addressed by the research project could include
1) Understanding how the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events associated with global warming influences host-parasite interactions and disease dynamics.
2) How biotic interactions (e.g. competitors and predators) alter the evolutionary trajectory of host-parasite interactions and how this in turn affects disease outbreaks (eco-evolutionary feedback loops).
3) Whether and how variation in host resistance and tolerance affect the outbreak and severity of epidemics.

I am also open to building a project based around other questions related to the ecology and evolution of infectious disease. The research could combine any or all of the following approaches; experimental evolution, genetics, field work, analysis of existing data and experimental epidemiology using mesocosms. A project with a more theoretical focus or from community ecology perspective is also possible in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Jackson or Dr. Ian Donohue.

If you are interested in applying together for an IRC PhD fellowship please send a (i) CV and (ii) cover letter outlining your research interests and why you would like to do a PhD to:


The deadline for submission of the grant proposal will likely be 1 Nov 2019 so ensure to contact me well in advance if you are interested, so we have sufficient time to develop the proposal together.

Research group

Research in my group addresses questions about the evolution and spread of disease using Daphnia and their natural parasites. An important driver of our research is to provide empirical evidence for ecological and evolutionary theories with limited support. For example, past work has provided evidence for the genetic architecture assumed by the Red Queen Theory. This theory suggests that coevolution between parasites and their hosts may maintain genetic variation and favour sexual reproduction (see Luijckx et al. 2013 Current Biology). Other work has shown that sexual reproduction may also be favoured over asexual reproduction when organisms adapt to new environments (Luijckx et al. 2017 PNAS). See my website (https://sites.google.com/site/pepijnluijckx/home) for more information on current and past research projects. Besides my research group the Zoology Department of Trinity College Dublin is also home to groups with expertise in theory, community ecology, global change and aquatic biology providing ample opportunities for collaborative work.

Funding Notes

Currently I am seeking a motivated and creative student to apply for funding from the Irish Research Council. The IRC funds 4-year PhD fellowships which cover a €16,000p.a. stipend, tuition fees and research costs. The IRC is competitive and uses the caliber of the student as one of their main assessment criteria. Therefore excellent grades, research experience and publications will improve chances of success. The next deadline for applications is the 1st of November 2019, with a start date for the PhD of 1st October 2020. Applications are submitted by the prospective student together with their supervisor.

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