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Modelling plant trade networks and their response to plant diseases

Project Description

The dispersal of plant diseases is among the most important side effects of a closely integrated global economy. There are many examples of plant diseases that were introduced to the UK and other countries by trade, including Phytophthora ramorum, Dutch elm disease and ash dieback. The number of new plant diseases appearing in Europe each year more than quadrupled during the 20th and the early 21st century.

The plant trading network of the UK is likely to undergo significant modifications due to policy changes, both Brexit-related and due to potential reorientation of the British agriculture towards more emphasis on conserving the environment. This might result in an increase in long-range trade with more diverse partners, resulting potentially in the rise of the risk of importing pests, or an increase in domestic production where non-compliant businesses create larger risks. Thus, introducing stricter regulation might have an unintended consequence of a rearrangement of trading networks which may lead to a shift in the risk pathways rather than the overall reduction. The diversification and increased short-term dynamics of the trading networks is also associated with the rise of e-commerce. The rise of internet trading affects both the traditional supplier (e.g. plant nurseries) and the individual customer, resulting in a potential loss of traceability and quality.

By combining data analysis with bioeconomic modelling, this project aims to develop a framework to analyse the risks associated with plant trade, to highlight the pathways associated with high risk, and to assess strategies that can be used to minimise the risks at different border points (international and domestic “borders”). Firstly, the research will look to assess the gains from combining different data sources as well as improved data. This might include studying public data such as that held for England & Wales at FERA, as well as a consideration of statutory plant movement data that is currently privately held and unlinked. Secondly, we will use the novel bioeconomic framework to study influence of changes in disease risk on the change of trade decisions on the way buyers and sellers are connected. Finally, we will use the cutting-edge mathematical models of dynamic and adaptive networks to capture the traders behaviour whereby the individuals alter the pattern of with whom to trade and how much to trade in response to the epidemic.

Funding Notes

The studentship is jointly funded by Defra and the University of Strathclyde for a 3.5 years study period. Applicants should have a first-class or a 2.1 honours degree in a relevant subject; Masters degree will be an advantage. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for UK and European applications.

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