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Social epidemiology: interactions, networks, and disease spread in a key pollinator

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, January 31, 2017
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Disease spread – in humans, domesticated animals and plants, and wildlife – is a key threat to health and ecosystem services. However, how diseases spread – their epidemiology – in complex social organisms, like humans and bees, is poorly understood. Determining how diseases spread in social networks is key to understanding and controlling them. Bumblebees and their parasites provide a key model system in which to develop an understanding of such epidemiology. In addition, bumblebees are key pollinators that are undergoing decline across the globe, and one reason for these declines is parasites and the diseases they cause. Consequently, understanding disease spread in bumblebees also has significant applied conservation value.

This project will use the bumblebee Bombus terrestris and its parasites Crithidia bombi and Nosema bombi, both of which have significant impact on bumblebee colonies, to ask how social structures affect parasite epidemiology. Importantly, it will combine both empirical experiments and modelling work to understand parasite dynamics. Empirical research will range from controlled laboratory experiments, through controlled semi-field experiments, to observations in wild field populations of parasite dynamics. Modelling work will use the classic Susceptible-Infected modelling framework for parasite epidemiology to explore, explain, and predict the empirical data.
The results of the project will provide a detailed insight into how social networks impact disease epidemics, and specifically how these occur in bumblebees. In addition to its scientific impact, it will feed into policy and management of pollinators in the UK, and globally.

The studentship will be supervised by Professor Mark Brown (RHUL), an expert in bumblebees and their parasites, Professor Matthew Fisher (Imperial), an expert in the epidemiology of emerging diseases, and Professor Vincent Jansen, an expert in the mathematical modelling of disease. Together, they will train the successful student in the background knowledge, methodological techniques, and theoretical skills needed for the project.

The successful candidate will have achieved a 1st class honours degree, and possibly a Masters degree, in a relevant subject. You will be enthused about pollinators, parasites, and epidemiology, and eager to learn and discover more about all three. You will join a vibrant research group, and be part of the broader Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour within the School of Biological Sciences.

Funding Notes

Applicants should already have or be expected to obtain a First or upper Second Class degree in a relevant discipline. This BBSRC DTP studentship is fully funded for four years. It includes a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (currently £16,296 per annum), covers research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate, and is available for UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements View Website

A DTP Studentship is available on either a full-time or part-time basis. A student in part-time employment may be eligible for a part-time award. Students employed full-time are not eligible.


Fürst MA, McMahon DP, Osborne JL, Paxton RJ, Brown MJF (2014) Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators. Nature 506:364-366
Ruiz-González MX, Bryden J, Moret Y, Reber-Funk C, Schmid-Hempel P, Brown MJF (2012) Dynamic transmission, host quality and population structure in a multi-host parasite of bumble bees. Evolution 66:3053-3066
Meeus I*, Brown MJF*, de Graaf DC, Smagghe G (2011) Effects of invasive parasites on bumble bee declines. Conservation Biology, 25: 662-671
Rigaud T, Perrot Minot M-J & Brown MJF (2010) Parasite and host assemblages: embracing the reality will improve our knowledge of parasite transmission and virulence. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 277: 3693-3702

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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