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NERC-funded PhD studentship on Lyme disease ecology @UofGlasgow with @rbiek @SNH_tweets @CarolineMillins @MafaldaSViana @JamesHuttonInst

Managing landscapes for conservation and human health: the role of deer and non-native hedgehogs in tick-borne disease emergence in the Western Isles

Where? University of Glasgow and Scottish Natural Heritage

Supervisory Team: Roman Biek, Caroline Millins, Mafalda Viana (Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow), Des Thompson, Johanne Ferguson (Scottish Natural Heritage)

Funding Source: Natural Environment Research Council Industrial CASE PhD studentship. This is one of three NERC CASE studentships awarded to the Institute that will start in October 2018

Project Details: Changes in biological communities affecting disease emergence is a timely and vital research area. Island systems are particularly prone to abrupt changes in species composition and abundance, and thus provide exceptional research opportunities as well as management challenges when it comes to understanding the interaction between biodiversity and disease risk.

This PhD project investigates this problem on the Uists in the western Isles of Scotland. Two mammal species, the European hedgehog and red deer, have recently increased in abundance on the Uists. Hedgehogs are not native to the islands but were introduced in the 1970s and have since become widespread. Red deer have also increased markedly in abundance over the past decades. Simultaneously, human cases of Lyme disease, caused by the bite of an infected tick, have increased on the Uists to exceptionally high levels. Deer are known to support high numbers of ticks, but do not transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial agent causing Lyme disease. Hedgehogs on the other hand can carry high tick burdens and can be infected with B. burgdorferi. We therefore hypothesise that the combination high deer and high hedgehog numbers is contributing to an increased risk of Lyme disease in this system.

Our project will test this hypothesis and provide much needed information for management by forging an interdisciplinary team of academic researchers, conservation groups, tick specialists, and public health officials. The project will run over four years and has three major aims, to: 1) test how the spatial distribution and density of deer relates to the density of questing ticks and Lyme disease risk; 2) establish the role of introduced hedgehogs as hosts for ticks and tick-borne diseases by live-trapping and sampling hedgehogs for ticks; and 3) incorporate these field data into mathematical models to examine what effect the removal of hedgehogs and deer may have on Lyme disease risk.

This work represents a unique partnership between the University of Glasgow, Scottish Natural Heritage (industrial CASE partner), the James Hutton Institute, and National Health Services - Western Isles. In addition, we will work closely with local land managers and communities to ensure local people benefit from this research. Our project offers an excellent opportunity to test pertinent ecological hypotheses while also influencing land management decisions with the aim of reducing the risk of tick-borne disease.

Funding Details: Research Councils UK standard stipend (£14,764 pa + full fees)

Duration: 4 years

Who is eligible? The candidate must have been ordinarily resident in the UK throughout the 3-year period preceding the date of application for an award, not wholly or mainly for the purposes of full time education.

How to apply? Applicants will have a first or upper second class degree in a relevant scientific discipline (e.g. organismal biology, ecology, zoology, veterinary science, parasitology, or related fields). A strong interest in applied and quantitative ecology will be essential, prior experience with ecological field work or mathematical modelling will be considered an advantage. Application should include full CV, contact details of at least 2 referees, and a cover letter indicating motives and qualifications for undertaking the project.

Who to send applications to – Please initially send a CV and cover letter to Roman Biek ( Eligible applicants will be asked to submit a formal application to the University.

Deadline: Initial shortlisting for applications for those received by January 15th, but applications will be reviewed until the position is filled.

Selected Publications by the Supervisory Team:

Millins, C., Gilbert, L., Medlock, J., Hansford, K., Thompson, D. B.A. and Biek, R. (2017). Effects of conservation management of landscapes and vertebrate communities on Lyme borreliosis risk in the United Kingdom. Phil Trans Royal Soc B: Biol Sci., 372(1722), 20160123.

Viana, M., Mancy, R., Biek, R., Cleaveland, S., Cross, P.C., Lloyd-Smith, J.O. and Haydon, D.T. (2014). Assembling evidence for identifying reservoirs of infection. Trends Ecol Evol., 29(5):270-279.

PhD position
University of Glasgow
Closing date
January 15th, 2018
Posted on
December 5th, 2017 16:53
Last updated
December 5th, 2017 16:53