Supervisor(s): Andy Fenton, Jenny Hodgson, Trent Garner (Institute of Zoology, ZSL) & Ben Tapley (ZSL).
My PhD research is a mash-up of my passion for behavioural ecology and a new-found interest in disease ecology. Broadly speaking I have always been interested in the link between individuals’ social behaviour and their role in mixed-species communities. In the past, I have investigated intra- and inter-specific interactions in a woodland rodent community using social network theory. Currently, I am researching the host behaviours that potentially drive the disease dynamics in amphibian-disease systems.
Two emerging pathogens, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Ranavirus, are threatening amphibian populations globally. Both pathogens, the first a fungal pathogen and the later a virus, have contributed to the rapid and widespread, global decline of amphibian species, pushing some populations to extinction. More recent research into wild amphibian populations has shown that the two pathogens often co-infect the host. This coupled with the pathogens ability to infect multiple host species, being broad host generalists, creates a complex multi-pathogen, multi-host situation.
To help unpick the tangled dynamics I am applying experimental systems, molecular lab techniques, and mathematical modelling to this multi-host, multi-pathogen system. Presently, my focus is establishing the extent different host species, at an individual level, contribute to the environmental pool of infectious particles, and how being infected singularly or co-infected alters this. If we build an understanding of what each host contributes, we can start to define the transmission process between an infectious host and a susceptible individual. In turn, this will provide insight into how these diseases persist, both singularly and as co-infections, at a community level.
The research for this project is split between Andy Fenton’s research group at the University of Liverpool and Trent Garner’s group at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. The Zoological Society of London is also a CASE partner on this project with Ben Tapley providing husbandry, welfare and plenty of amphibian knowledge.