The infection dynamics of the parasites of invasive species: population comparisons using genomic tools

A monk parakeet in a tree

A monk parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus, in Brazil, image by Bernard Dupont (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It is essential to understand the biological mechanisms of invasion to inform management strategies and understand the future impacts of alien species.

Invasive alien species are a major threat to global biodiversity, ecosystem health and economies. It is essential to understand the biological mechanisms of invasion to inform management strategies and understand the future impacts of alien species.

Although frequently overlooked, there is growing evidence that parasitic infection can play a key role in invasion success. However, whole communities of eukaryotic parasites that are ubiquitous in nature remain unstudied.

Monk parakeets Myiopsitta monachus are native to South America but are establishing invasive populations across Europe, North America and Asia. This system provides a unique opportunity to understand how parasitic infection covaries with the invasion dynamics of pest species.


The student will use metabarcoding and High-Throughput Sequencing (HTS) of faecal samples collected from the monk parakeet to characterise eukaryotic parasite communities across populations to address the following objectives:

  1. To determine whether loss of parasitic infection increases invasion success by comparing native and invasive populations of alien species.
  2. To determine whether currently invading populations have differing parasitic faunas compared to established populations.
  3. To understand the potential for invasive species to impact the parasitic faunas of native species via cross-infection.


The influence of parasitic infection on invasion dynamics is starting to be addressed, but most work has focused on single parasite systems. Metabarcoding and HTS are new technologies making it possible to look at the whole eukaryotic community. These methods will help to build an entire picture of the infection dynamics in an invasive species and expand beyond the current common focus on bacteria and viruses.


Monk parakeets continue to establish new populations across Europe providing an opportunity to look at examples of native, established and establishing populations. There are also opportunities for collaboration at the Natural History Museums of Barcelona and London.


To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or  
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter  

 If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.

How to apply

Please send the following documents to Anna Hutson (

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD project, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Transcripts of undergraduate and Masters degree results.
  • Two academic references including (if applicable) Masters project supervisor.

The deadline for applications is 15 January 2021.

Apply for this project

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: 15 January 2021

Any questions?

Natural History Museum

Lead supervisor: Prof Beth Okamura


Sheffield University

Prof Ben Hatchwell

The Natural History Museum

Dr Andrew Briscoe

Natural History Museum of Barcelona

Juan Carlos Senar 


Hartikainen, H., Bass, D., Briscoe, A.G., Knipe, H., Green, A.J. and Okamura, B., (2016). Assessing myxozoan presence and diversity using environmental DNA. International journal for parasitology, 46(12), pp.781-792.

Pereira‐da‐Conceicoa, L, Elbrecht, V, Hall, A, Briscoe, A, Barber‐James, H, Price, B. (2020). Metabarcoding unsorted kick‐samples facilitates macroinvertebrate‐based biomonitoring with increased taxonomic resolution, while outperforming environmental DNA. Environmental DNA; 00: 1– 19. 

Mori, E., Sala, J. P., Fattorini, N., Menchetti, M., Montalvo, T., & Senar, J. C. (2019). Ectoparasite sharing among native and invasive birds in a metropolitan area. Parasitology research, 118(2), 399-409.

Martínez-de la Puente, J., Díez-Fernández, A., Montalvo, T., Bueno-Marí, R., Pangrani, Q., Soriguer, R.C., Senar, J.C. and Figuerola, J., (2020). Do Invasive Mosquito and Bird Species Alter Avian Malaria Parasite Transmission?. Diversity, 12(3), 111. 

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

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