NERC funded PhD Studentship Population Genetic Impacts of an Emerging Wildlife Disease



Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are increasing worldwide, and have been implicated in amphibian population declines and species extinctions. Diseases can cause major changes to the genetic composition of host populations (e.g. through selection and bottlenecks), which in turn can influence the impact of future disease outbreaks. Furthermore, diseases can lead to changes in mating behaviour, which also alters the population structure, again influencing the impact of future disease outbreaks.

This project will use common frogs (Rana temporaria) and ranaviral disease (an EU notifiable disease) as a model system to examine the interactions between disease, genome, and mate choice. In addition to addressing fundamental scientific questions, this proposal also addresses a direct conservation concern, as disease is one of the major drivers of the current global amphibian mass extinctions. Indeed, Ranavirus causes mass amphibian mortalities in Europe, North America and Asia, and long-term population declines in common frogs in the UK.

Using a combination of field and laboratory approaches, we will establish which genes are under selection in wild common frog populations in the UK, and which genes influence disease susceptibility. We will investigate disease-induced changes to mating in wild populations and establish the selective consequences. This studentship also offers the exciting opportunity to drive the project in directions that interest the student. Possible directions include establishing a comparable field system in Asturias (Spain), epidemiological modelling, behavioural experiments, and experimental co-evolution.

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The studentship will be based at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus in Cornwall, and will be supervised by Dr. Amber Teacher and Dr. Lena Wilfert. Additional support will be provided by the CASE partner, Dr. Trent Garner from the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London. Collaboration with the wildlife charity FrogLife and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust will be integral to the project, and interactions with the broader public are essential as field sites are primarily located in private gardens. An interest in science communication is desirable to facilitate interactions beyond academia.

This studentship is expected to begin as soon as possible. It is anticipated that the student will spend 1-3 months based at the Institute of Zoology in London during Spring 2014.

The College is working towards department Silver Athena SWAN awards as a commitment to providing equality of opportunity and advancing the representation of women in STEM/M subjects: science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

Entry requirements: A strong first degree (at least an Upper Second Class Honours or equivalent, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK) in a relevant subject. This position will involve working at field sites in the South East UK to carry out independent field work for which a driving licence would be an advantage.

This award provides annual funding to cover a stipend (£13,726 per annum for 2013-2014 from NERC, and £1,000 per annum top-up from the Institute of Zoology), research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for students who meet the residency requirements outlined by NERC (see http://www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/available/postgrad/eligibility.asp). 

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Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award. The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for three years of full-time study (part-time pro-rata).

Closing date 28 November 2013.

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