Disease control and conservation: applying grazing pressure to solve 'The World’s Worst Wildlife Infectious Disease'

Scanning electron micrograph of chytrid fungus by Dr Alex Hyatt, CSIRO  licensed under CC BY 3.0. Image cropped.

This PhD project will examine the role of aquatic grazers in controlling the spread of the spores of the chytrid fungus that has caused worldwide declines in amphibian populations.

The studentship is part of the ACCE doctoral training partnership, funded by NERC and starts October 2020.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to iibapply@liv.ac.uk

Application deadline: 8 January 2020

Background

Infectious diseases threaten ecosystem function, biodiversity, and humans through zoonotic infections. This is especially true for the spread of aquatic borne diseases, which are predicted to be altered by climate-change. Ecologically robust mitigation strategies are needed to tackle this global-landscape issue. 

To date, efforts have focused on the hosts (eg direct treatment) but have had varied success and can damage ecosystem health. Better approaches are required.

A promising, ecologically sustainable approach is to target the disease’s infectious stages at its source, preventing spread across aquatic landscapes. Many animal-diseases are spread by aquatic spores. These nutritious and vulnerable infective stages are then susceptible to aquatic grazers.

Enhancing grazing is anticipated to be a valuable mitigation strategy for pathogens of wildlife, livestock, and humans. Understanding, and potentially augmenting, the role of grazers is a new and exciting area of conservation biology.

Research focus

This PhD will focus on the 'worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates': Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). This devastating chytrid fungus has caused mass declines in amphibians worldwide.

Bd infects via aquatic spores that can be consumed by invertebrates and protozoa. Our initial studies suggest that these small grazers may be manipulated to mitigate Bd infections, but the impact of the diverse grazer community and the extent to which fungal strains are susceptible to grazing remains unknown.

Methodology

To evaluate grazer control, the study will have five integrated components:

  1. Field work to survey and isolate grazers
  2. Laboratory work to parameterize a host-parasite-grazer model
  3. Ecosystem modelling to predict grazer impacts on Bd strains
  4. Mesocosms to test model predictions
  5. Conservation assessment (review), to evaluate impacts of mitigation strategies

Supervision

The student will be supervised by a team of experts: Montagnes (grazer biology, experimental design), Warren (grazers biodiversity); Fenton (parasite biology, modelling); Garner (host biology, conservation).

Eligibility

ACCE studentships are available to UK and EU applicants only.

Residency rules apply. UK and EU students with qualifying residence in the UK are eligible for full-cost awards. Non-UK students from the EU who do not have qualifying residence are eligible for fees-only awards, which covers the tuition fees and Research Training Support Grant (RTSG), but not stipend. 

All applicants need to comply with the registered university's English-language requirements.

Applicants should have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a master's degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the University of Liverpool.

Applications should be emailed to iibapply@liv.ac.uk and include:

  • a CV
  • letter of application
  • the contact details of two referees

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2020.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr David Montagnes

References

Salt JL, Bulit C, Zhang W, Qi H, Montagnes, DJS (2016) Spatial extinction or persistence: landscape-temperature interactions perturb predator-prey dynamics. Ecography

Warren, A et al. (2017) Beyond the 'Code': a guide to the description and documentation of biodiversity in ciliated protists (Alveolata, Ciliophora) J Euk Microbiol

Fenton, A, Streicker, DG, Petchey, OL, Pedersen AB (2015) Are all hosts created equal? Partitioning host species contributions to parasite persistence in multi-host communities. The American Naturalist 186, 610-622

Garner TWJ, Schmidt BR, Martel A, Pasmans F, Muths E, Cunningham AA, Fisher MC, Bosch J (2016) Mitigating amphibian chytridiomycosis in nature. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 371, Article no. 20160207

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).

Funded by 

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