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Invasive infectious disease, climate change and amphibian conservation: current and future threats to Sardinian amphibian biodiversity

About This PhD Project

Project Description


• Prof Trent Garner (Institute of Zoology)
• Prof Richard Griffiths (University of Kent, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
• Dr Stefano Bovero (Zirichiltaggi NGO)
• Dr Giuseppe Sotgiu (Zirichiltaggi NGO)
• Dr Stefano Canessa (Institute of Zoology/University of Ghent)
• Mr Ben Tapley (ZSL London Zoo)

Scientific background

The amphibian extinction crisis is regarded as one of the most significant environmental catastrophes of our time. Tackling the multiple and often synergistic drivers of declines requires imaginative and multidisciplinary approaches, that can disentangle the impacts of threats such as climate change, disease, habitat change and exploitation. The student will join a globally leading research group in this area and will examine how (1) climate change is mediating the life histories and development patterns of vulnerable species; and (2) how the virulence of a fungal pathogen (Bd) that is causing global extinctions interacts with (1). The studentship will tackle these issues using a unique study system in Sardinia, where two amphibian species have been identified as being at severe risk from the combined effects of climate change and disease.

Research methodology

The student will benefit from having full access to a unique long-term data set on amphibian populations and disease impacts in Sardinia, but will be able to build on this by carrying out further fieldwork on the island for several weeks each year, as well as experiments on infection dynamics at IoZ. Collectively, these approaches will:

1. Using a combination of statistical and spatial modelling, identify the drivers of population trends
2. Develop predictive models of amphibian and disease dynamics under different climate change scenarios
3. Carry out laboratory and/or mesocosm experiments to test the mechanisms of the impacts of specific drivers
4. Develop a strategic conservation plan with conservation agencies in Sardinia


The student will work directly with Sardinian NGOs, government agencies and three research partners to ascertain the risk of chytridiomycosis to the Sardinian Brook newt (Euproctus platycephalus) and the Tyrrhenian frog (Discoglossus sardus) and develop strategies to mitigate the impact of disease if justified by the risk analysis.

Person specification

– Excellent social skills, tact, diplomacy and teamworking
– Interest in amphibian conservation and disease
– Affinity for carrying out field population assessments, modelling, and experiments
– Willingness to learn conversational Italian (if not already conversant)

Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements of the ARIES DTP. The successful candidate should have excellent social skills, preferably experience working in a foreign country and language, and a willingness to learn conversational Italian. Scientific ability and motivation to do the best possible quantitative research is a must, but as well the desire to convert research into information useful for developing strategies for conserving biodiversity at local and landscape scales.

Making an application

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. Terms and conditions with details on eligibility can be found on the UKRI website: View Website (

Full details on the funding and how to apply can be found on our website: View Website ( Please note: for this project you’ll need to apply for the PhD in Biodiversity Management at the University of Kent.

There will be a two-stage interview process. The first round of interviews will take place on the 28th or 29th January 2019 at the University of Kent. Successful nominees will then participate in the second round of interviews, with the Aries panel, on 26th/27th February 2019 (venue TBC).


• O’Hanlon SJ, Rieux A, Farrer RA, Rosa GM, Waldman B, Bataille A, Kosch TA, Murray K, Brankovics B, Fumagalli M, Martin MD, Wales N, Alvarado-Rybak M, Berger L, Böll S, Brookes L, Clare F, Courtois EA, Cunningham AA, Doherty-Bone T, Ghosh P, Gower DJ, Hintz WE, Höglund J, Jenkinson TS, Lin C-F, Laurila A, Loyau A, Martel A, Meurling S, Miaud C, Minting P, Pasmans F, Schmeller D, Schmidt BR, Shelton J, Skerratt LF, Smith F, Soto-Azat C, Spagnoletti M, Tessa G, Toledo LF, Valenzuela-Sánchez A, Verster R, Vörös J, Wierzbicki C, Wombwell E, Zamudio KR, Aanensen DM, James TY, Gilbert MTP, Weldon C, Bosch J, Balloux F, Garner TWJ, Fisher MC (2018) A 20th Century Out-of-Asia Origin of a panzootic threat to global amphibian biodiversity. Science, 360, 621-627
• Bielby J, Bovero S, Sotgiu G, Tessa G, Favelli M, Angelini C, Perkins M, Garner TWJ (2013) Geographic, taxonomic and ecological variation in Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis infection within a highly endemic amphibian community. Diversity & Distribution, 19, 1153-1163
• Wombwell E, Garner TWJ, Cunningham AA, Quest R, Pritchard S, Rowcliffe JM, Griffiths RA (2016) Detection of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in amphibians imported into the UK for the pet trade. Ecohealth, 13, 456-466
• Angelini C, Sotgiu G, Tessa G, Bielby J, Doglio S, Favelli M, Garner TWJ, Gazzaniga E, Giacoma C, Repetto R, Bovero S (2015) Environmentally determined juvenile growth rates dictate the degree of sexual size dimorphism in Euproctus platycephalus. Evolutionary Ecology, 29, 169-184
• Canessa, S., Bozzuto, C., Grant, E.H.C., Cruickshank, S., Fisher, M., Koella, J., Lotters, S., Martel, A., Pasmans, F., Scheele, B., Spitzen-van der Sluijs, Steinfartz, S., and Schmidt, B.R. (2018). Decision making for mitigating wildlife diseases: from theory to practice for an emerging fungal pathogen of amphibians. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55, 1987-1996

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