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How does ecological community influence livestock parasite transmission?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Hannah Vineer
    Dr J Bro-Jorgensen
    Prof A Fenton
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Parasites and vector-borne diseases (VBDs) are a major cause of ill-health in livestock worldwide. The impacts of infection range from reduced productivity on commercial enterprises, to the total loss of herds on resource-poor farms such as in marginal arid grassland regions in southern Africa. Most parasitological research ignores wildlife and the habitats that wildlife and livestock share. However, in regions of southern Africa, humans and their livestock often live in close association. Although this can give rise to conflict, recent research suggests that livestock-wildlife sympatry could be beneficial by improving forage quality and reducing parasite abundance.

This project will investigate the role of community ecology structure in ungulate parasite transmission in a species-diverse region of southern Africa. The overarching aim of this project is to generate knowledge to enhance food security and resilience of smallholder farmers in Botswana whose livestock are affected by parasitism and whose agricultural productivity is threatened by human-wildlife conflict. The student will use a combination of empirical data collection and computational methods to develop a network model to characterise the ecological community in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana, with the support of the project partner, Elephants for Africa. Potential keystone species influencing livestock’s exposure to parasites and VBDs will be identified by sensitivity analysis and by integrating the network model with existing models of VBD transmission. Observations will be conducted at additional field sites to validate model output. The results could inform the development of veterinary intervention strategies to prevent parasite and VBD transmission, and influence human-wildlife conflict mitigation strategies.

This project presents a unique opportunity for applicants interested in combining field work with theoretical methods. The multidisciplinary nature of the project will allow the student to achieve training in field ecology, veterinary parasitology, and computational methods, while also experiencing how research is applied for the benefit of food security and conservation during their placement with Elephants for Africa. The student will play an active role in project development.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.

In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

The closing date for applications is Monday 18th May at 12noon.

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC CASE studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


(2018). Prediction and attenuation of seasonal spillover of parasites between wild and domestic ungulates in an arid mixed-use system. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55(4), 1976-1986. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13083

(2016). Climate-driven changes to the spatio-temporal distribution of the parasitic nematode, Haemonchus contortus, in sheep in Europe. Global Change Biology, 22(3), 1271-1285. doi:10.1111/gcb.13132

(2015). GLOWORM-FL: A simulation model of the effects of climate and climate change on the free-living stages of gastro-intestinal nematode parasites of ruminants. Ecological Modelling, 297, 232-245. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2014.11.033

(in press) Alarm communication networks as a driver of community structure in African savannah herbivores. Ecology Letters

(2019). Using social network analysis of mixed-species groups in African savannah herbivores to assess how community structure responds to environmental change. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 374(1781). doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0009

(2016). Disproportionate Climate-Induced Range Loss Forecast for the Most Threatened African Antelopes. Current Biology, 26(9), 1200-1205. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.067

(2017). Infections on the move: how transient phases of host movement influence disease spread. Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences, 284(1869). doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1807

(2015). Are All Hosts Created Equal? Partitioning Host Species Contributions to Parasite Persistence in Multihost Communities. American Naturalist, 186(5), 610-622. doi:10.1086/683173

(2015). Why infectious disease research needs community ecology. Science, 349(6252). doi:10.1126/science.1259504

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