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Landscape epidemiology: understanding real world disease spread in a key pollinator

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, February 10, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Disease spread – in humans, domesticated animals and plants, and wildlife – is a major threat to health and ecosystem services. However, how diseases spread – their epidemiology – across landscapes is poorly understood. Determining how diseases spread across space and time is key to understanding and controlling them. Bumblebees and their parasites provide a model system in which to develop an understanding of such epidemiology. In addition, bumblebees are key pollinators that are undergoing decline across the globe, and one reason for these declines is disease. Consequently, understanding disease spread in bumblebees also has significant applied conservation value.

This project will use the bumblebee Bombus terrestris and its parasites to ask how landscape structure affects parasite epidemiology. It will take an explicitly empirical approach to understanding parasite dynamics. The results will provide a detailed insight into how disease epidemics occur across landscapes, and specifically how these occur in bumblebees. In addition, it will feed into policy and management of pollinators in the UK, and globally.

The studentship will be supervised by Professor Mark Brown (RHUL), an expert in bumblebees and their parasites and Professor Matthew Fisher (Imperial), an expert in the epidemiology of emerging diseases. Together, they will train the successful student in the background knowledge, methodological techniques, and theoretical skills needed for the project.

The successful candidate will have achieved a 1st class honours degree, and ideally a Masters degree, in a relevant subject. You will be enthused about pollinators, parasites, and epidemiology, and eager to learn and discover more about all three. You will join a vibrant research group ( , and be part of the broader Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour within the Department of Biological Sciences.

This PhD project will be supervised jointly by:
1. Professor Mark J F Brown, Department of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London
2. Professor Matthew Fisher, School of Public Health

Applicants are invited to contact supervisor(s) by email ahead of submitting their application. Further information about applying for a postgraduate course at Royal Holloway can be found here:

Applications should be submitted online:

Funding Notes

Shortlisted eligible studentship applicants, will be notified within two-three weeks of the application deadline. Formal studentship interviews will usually be held within three-four weeks of the application deadline.
The funding for the project will cover home/EU tuition fees and a yearly stipend.


Bailes EJ, Bagi J, Coltman J, Fountain MT, Wilfert L, Brown MJF (2020) Host density drives viral, but not trypanosome, transmission in a key pollinator. Proceedings of the Royal Society B in press, online early
Bailes EJ, Deutsch KR, Bagi J, Rondissone L, Brown MJF, Lewis OT (2018) First detection of honey bee viruses in hoverfly (syrphid) pollinators. Biology Letters 14:20180001
Brown MJF (2017) Microsporidia: an emerging threat in bumblebees? Trends in Parasitology 33:754-762
Fürst MA, McMahon DP, Osborne JL, Paxton RJ, Brown MJF (2014) Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators. Nature 506:364-366
Ruiz-González MX, Bryden J, Moret Y, Reber-Funk C, Schmid-Hempel P, Brown MJF (2012) Dynamic transmission, host quality and population structure in a multi-host parasite of bumble bees. Evolution 66:3053-3066
Meeus I*, Brown MJF*, de Graaf DC, Smagghe G (2011) Effects of invasive parasites on bumble bee declines. Conservation Biology, 25: 662-671
Rigaud T, Perrot Minot M-J & Brown MJF (2010) Parasite and host assemblages: embracing the reality will improve our knowledge of parasite transmission and virulence. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277: 3693-3702

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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