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Mathematical modelling of the community context of host-parasite interactions

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  • Full or part time
    Prof A Fenton
    Dr A Beckerman
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Parasites and their hosts are embedded in species-rich communities, and there is great interest in the structural and dynamical consequences of this community context. Recent observational studies have revealed intriguing but somewhat anecdotal evidence of large effects of parasitism on the structure and dynamics of natural ecological communities. Furthermore, as part of a recent NERC grant, we are manipulating wild multi-host-multi-parasite communities, treating host species with anti-parasite drugs, and assessing the consequences for parasite dynamics within alternative host species. However, key questions remain: How do alternative hosts affect parasite dynamics? Do parasites simply spread through communities or do they fundamentally change community structure, dynamics, and energy flow? To help address these questions we need a general theory of the community context of host-parasite interactions.

This studentship will develop such a theoretical framework. First, motivated by our on-going empirical work, the student will develop simple community sub-models to explore how differential host susceptibility and parasite transmission mode interact to shape multihost-parasite dynamics. Second, motivated by large-scale community-wide surveys, the student will use network theory to explore how parasites not just spread through, but also alter ecological communities. This general framework will greatly aid data interpretation, and provide insight into the potential impact of parasites on ecological communities.

The project will primarily be supervised by a disease ecologist (Dr Fenton) a mathematician (Dr Sharkey) and a community ecologist (Dr Beckerman), and would particularly suit a student with strengths in mathematical or computational biology, and network and/or ecological theory. The student will work closely with ecologists working on natural ecological communities, and mathematicians with expertise in network theory, and so will receive training in both theoretical and empirical host-parasite ecology. Furthermore, they will be part of a diverse and active research environment, both within Liverpool and Sheffield Universities and collaborating institutions (Universities of Edinburgh and Zurich).

Interviews will commence week beginning 10 February 2014

Funding Notes

This PhD is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield and York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.


Knowles, S. C. L., Fenton, A., Petchey, O. L., Jones, T. R., Barber, R. & Pedersen, A. B. 2013. Stability of within-host parasite communities in a wild mammal system. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 280.

Streicker, D., Fenton, A. & Pedersen, A. B. 2013. Differential sources of host species heterogeneity influence the transmission and control of multi-host parasites. Ecology Letters 16, 975-984.

Beckerman, A.P., Petchey, O.L. & Warren, P.H. 2006. Foraging biology predicts food web complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, 13745-13749

Petchey, O.L., A.P. Beckerman, Reide, J.O., P.H. Warren 2008. Size, foraging and food web structure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, 4191– 4196 doI 10.1073 pnas.0710672105.

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