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Modelling parasitic disease risk in reindeer

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, February 28, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Semi-nomadic reindeer herding is central to Sami culture and identity. Movement of herds between different seasonal grazing areas exposes them to a potentially wide range of parasites and pathogens including the “brainworm”, Elaphostrongylus rangiferi, which has a complex lifecycle involving development in snail intermediate hosts. Risk of cerebrospinal elaphostrongylosis (CSE; the disease caused by E. rangiferi) is closely linked to climatic factors, and low summer temperatures at high altitudes is generally thought to limit transmission in semi-domesticated tundra reindeer herds in some regions. Under the right climatic conditions, however, development of large numbers of infectious larvae in the snails can result in outbreaks in reindeer, which can be devastating e.g. the deaths of 60-70% of calves in Finnmark County, Norway in 1961/62. Furthermore, climate warming could result in some previously safe grazing areas becoming suitable for transmission. Recent outbreaks in Norway have renewed interest in this parasite.
Up-to-date knowledge about infection risk throughout the reindeer-herding year is required to ensure sustainable herding practices with high levels of animal welfare require. We want to develop an early warning system for infection risk that can be used to inform treatment choices, infection avoidance strategies, and veterinary surveillance.
1) Develop a mechanistic (process-based) model to predict environmental suitability for E. rangiferi development in the snail intermediate host over time and space, based on existing data in the literature,
2) Evaluate the model’s potential as an early warning system by validation using parasitological, environmental and reindeer movement data collected by the Norwegian Veterinary Institute and Sami herders.

You will join the multidisciplinary Department of Infection Biology in the Institute of Infection & Global Health and will be part of the veterinary parasitology research group which has strengths in global health, infection biology and epidemiological modelling. You will be provided with training in R programming and will gain expertise in applied parasite ecology and computational modelling.
You will be based primarily at the University of Liverpool’s Leahurst campus (10 miles outside of Liverpool), with the opportunity to use shared “hotdesk” facilities and attend seminars, training, postgraduate events etc. at the Liverpool campus.

Funding Notes

This is a 1-year MPhil studentship. Funding is available for tuition fees for EU/Home students (£4,327). Loans are available for UK students to cover living costs (View Website), and there may be paid opportunities to assist with undergraduate teaching. The studentship will start in October 2020.


Handeland et al. (2019) Elaphostrongylus and Dictyocaulus infections in Norwegian wild reindeer and red deer populations in relation to summer pasture altitude and climate. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 10, 188-195. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.ijppaw.2019.09.003
Davidson et al. (2011) Arctic parasitology: why should we care? Trends in Parasitology, 27, 239-245 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pt.2011.02.001

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