NERC DTP PhD Studentship: Host-parasite population dynamics and environmental change at University of Leeds

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SUPERVISORS – Dr Steven Sait, Dr Sophie Evison

Parasites are a dominant force in nature. Host-parasite relationships are important drivers of ecology and evolution in many populations, such as the impact of zoonoses on wildlife ecology, the threats posed by emerging and re-emerging diseases and the use of natural enemies to control pests. However, growing concern about the response of pests and diseases to environmental change has revealed a fundamental lack of understanding about the impact of such change on host-parasite interactions.

It has long been recognised that there are costs associated with resistance against parasite infections, which impact on fitness determining life-history traits such as growth and fecundity (Cotter et al. 2004) that underpin population growth rates. Understanding the impact of costly resistance on population dynamics is important in understanding how diseases will spread within a population, how it affects whether a species expands its range or whether an invasive pest becomes established in a novel environment (Burton et al. 2010). Particularly important is to understand the sub-lethal effects of parasites on dynamics, as this will directly influence fitness determining life-history traits and well as resistance to other parasites.

The impact of parasites and the resistance mechanisms employed by the hosts to combat the effect of a parasite vary widely across species. This project will use a number of taxa that exhibit variable life history strategies (e.g. bees, ants, moths, beetles, flies), including those of economic interest, either detrimentally due to their status as pests, or beneficially as pollinators. It will investigate the impact of exposure to both generalist and specialist parasites on immune investment.

Whilst a great deal is known about how individual species may respond to environmental change, such as butterflies, birds and amphibians, very little is understood about interacting species. By correlating the responses to changing environmental conditions across taxa, it will be possible to identify how the environment influences disease dynamics (Boots 2011) on a general scale. Understanding how parasites shape this response will ultimately inform pest management and conservation strategies

FURTHER INFORMATION – Visit the project webpage


We will offer around 25 studentships for UK and EU students starting in October 2014. The full PhD studentship consists of a personal stipend at RCUK rates for 3.5 years (at least) and generous support for research costs, fieldwork and conference travel. Eligibility for these may be viewed at:

We also welcome applications from self-funding students (UK/EU/International) or students in receipt of other scholarship funding.


We aim to recruit the overall best applicants based on their academic merit and interview performance.

Application deadline is 24th January 2014 and projects will commence in October 2014. Information on how to apply may be viewed via

The Leeds York NERC DTP

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the Leeds York NERC Doctorial Training Partnership. Our vision is to equip the next generation of earth and environmental scientists with the skills necessary to understand the complex interactions within the Earth system.

Information on all the proposed projects can be found on the projects summary webpage.

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