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Is parasite conservation culturally feasible?

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Dr S Goodman, Prof Alison Dunn, Dr Ellen Clarke  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Parasites represent a major proportion of global biodiversity, with more parasite species than species in herbivore and predator trophic levels combined. Parasites underpin many aspects of ecosystem function through their ecological linkages and influences on host population dynamics. They also drive many of the evolutionary processes that generate new biodiversity through the selection pressures they exert on their hosts. Yet parasites are rarely considered in local and global scale conservation strategy, or are seen as something to be eradicated during conservation programmes for their hosts. This is at odds with the need for parasites to be part of long-term perspectives on conservation centred on maintaining the processes that sustain and create biodiversity.

This doctoral project aims to identify high priority host/parasite systems in need of conservation in threatened vertebrates worldwide, and to assess which parasite traits (from both biological and cultural perspectives) are likely to be associated with successful parasite conservation outcomes. The project looks to examine if cultural influences affect how conservation professionals and wider society view parasite conservation, influencing their willingness to support parasite conservation initiatives. This may include exploring how cultural perspectives impact on decision making when balancing the interests of threatened hosts and parasites over short and long timescales, or what happens if parasites of conservation concern are zoonotic with implications for human and agricultural animal health.

Ultimately these themes come together to address questions such as whether all species are considered ‘equally worthy’ of conservation, what are the overall goals of conservation, whether parasite conservation is culturally feasible, and if cultural factors might bias attempts to conserve parasites that are important from a biodiversity or phylogenetic diversity perspective. Conservation action depends on the societal values placed on biodiversity and in relation to the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss. Successful parasite conservation therefore depends on the potential to change peoples’ values around parasite biodiversity.

Entry Requirements

 In line with the interdisciplinary nature of the Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) and project, applicants should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate science or humanities discipline.  A relevant Masters degree will enhance any application. An interest in the ecology of parasites, philosophy of conservation, social science of conservation etc is desirable. An interest in developing skills in quantitative analysis of ecological data is important.

Please contact Simon Goodman directly ([Email Address Removed]) for informal inquiries about the project or to discuss your suitability.

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How to Apply

For more details about this project and how to apply please go to

Funding Notes

This project is available as part of the Leverhulme funded Extinction Studies DTP at the University of Leeds (see: , and is a fully funded studentship covering the full cost of University fees plus stipend for 3 years, and a research training and support grant (RTSG). Applications are open to UK home rated applicants.


Dougherty ER et al. 2015. Paradigms for parasite conservation. Conserv Biology 30:724-33. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12634.

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