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QUADRAT DTP CASE: The role of biodiversity in mitigating parasite impacts in farmed landscapes

Project Description

Biodiversity provides a range of benefits for the functioning of ecosystems, but it also helps to limit the spread of disease. This occurs because congeneric species in a community can compete with vectors of disease limiting the abundance of the vector and hence the overall prevalence of the disease. Fasciolosis is one of the largest causes of economic loss to livestock farming in the UK responsible each year for ~£60M nationally and ~$3.2 Billion globally. The intermediate hosts of Fasciola hepatica are air-breathing freshwater snails from the family Lymnaeidae. Although several lymnaeid species are susceptible to F. hepatica, the parasite develops only in one or two major species on each continent world-wide. In the UK, the most prevalent host is Galba truncatula, however, a complex of mud snails is typically present with a wide range of species. How the abundance and distribution of these snails will change with climate remains unknown.

The overall aim of this PhD is to assess the links between management for biodiversity and the improved control of Fasciolosis. Specifically, the following objectives will be addressed across a gradient of agricultural intensification: 1) Quantify the prevalence of F. hepatica in cryptic and congeneric molluscan components of farmland biodiversity; 2) Quantify whether the diversity of molluscan species correlates with the prevalence of Fasciola hepatica in intermediate hosts and livestock; 3) Quantify whether the abundance and diversity of molluscan predators correlates with a reduced incidence of Fasciolosis; and 4) Combine estimates of agrienvironmental management subsidies and costs of Fasciolosis treatments to predict optimum strategies for maximising livestock production and farm profits; 5) Assess how the distribution of mud snails will change with future climate.

In this project, the CASE partner AFBI will provide unparalleled access to a network of sheep and beef farms from both ends of the management spectrum, i.e. intensive production systems to extensively managed farms in upland and hill environments. Some of those farms have been monitored for >18 years providing access to farm level data on disease history and biodiversity of farmland habitats. The network is an excellent platform from which to assess the role of biodiversity in mitigating against liver fluke proliferation. Notably, AFBI will also facilitate access to abattoirs for direct sampling of carcasses for measurement of parasite burdens and estimation of economic losses. The existing data provides a rare opportunity to test hypotheses regarding the role of biodiversity in mitigating parasitic diseases in agricultural landscapes.

You will participate in research with immediate impacts on society, working in collaboration with a government research institute (AFBI) that directly informs policymakers in food production and environmental policy. You will gain skills in survey design, advanced statistical analysis, climate modelling as well as molecular laboratory skills in assessing the presence of F. hepatica in faecal and liver tissue as well as the intermediate hosts.

Start date:

1 October 2020


42 months


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Application procedure:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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