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Transferability of plant pest models

Project Description

The studentship is supported by the University of Salford and DEFRA

Academic Supervisor: Professor Stephen Parnell
Academic Co-Supervisor: Dr Katherine Yates
Industrial Supervisor: Sam Grant

The studentship is fully funded and includes:

• A fee waiver
• A stipend of £15,824 p.a. for three and a half years
• All bench fees and consumable costs
• Funds specifically allocated for conference travel

Final date for applications: 22nd February 2019

Interviews will be held on: 15th March 2019

The candidate must be in a position to register by a preferred start date of May 2019


There has been a substantial rise in invading plant pests and disease in recent times with changes in climate and global trade and travel. Recent examples include ash dieback and the emerald ash borer, which threaten Ash in the UK, and Xylella fastidiosa which is currently devastating olive crops in Italy and is a threat to multiple host species in the whole EU region. Disease distribution and spread models are commonly used to map the risk of potential invaders in new areas1. This relies on parameterising and validating models using data in areas where a pest already exists, and then transferring predictions to areas where the pest does not occur2. This project will address the extent of this transferability, which has significant implications for pest risk assessment and effective targeting of surveillance programs.

The student will develop skills in spatial analysis, distribution modelling and R, as well as having the chance to be involved in multiple international collaborations. Candidates should have a degree in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, or similar, with strong quantitative skills. The student will spend part of their time working within Defra (based in Defra offices in London, Bristol or York depending on project needs). Candidates with degrees in quantitative subjects (maths, physics etc) and a demonstrable interest in environmental applications will also be considered.


Applications are invited for a fully-funded PhD studentship partnered with the Department for environment food and rural affairs (Defra) exploring the transferability of epidemiological models for improved plant biosecurity.

Enquiries: Informal enquiries may be made to Professor Stephen Parnell by email:

Curriculum vitae and supporting statement explaining their interest should be sent to

Funding Notes

This studentship is only available to students with settled status in the UK, as classified by EPSRC eligibility. Please visit: View Website


1 Parnell, S., van den Bosch F.,Gottwald, T.R. and Gilligan C.A. 2017. Surveillance for emerging plant disease; an epidemiological perspective. Annual Review of Phytopathology.
2 Yates, K., Bouchet,P., Caley, J., Mengersen, K., Randin, C.F., Parnell, S. et al. 2018. Outstanding Challenges in the Transferability of Ecological Models. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

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