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Name of scholarship/program

Ecology and epidemiology of Trichomonas gallinae in the rapidly declining Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur and other sympatric columbiformes

Important description
The Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur is the UK’s fastest declining bird species,where a 93% UK population decline (1970-2011) is paralleled by a 73% decline across Europe (1980-2011). Turtle Doves are ecologically unique in the UK, being the UK’s only migratory dove. A number of factors are likely to be associated with the decline including changes in land use and agricultural practices, together with potential disease impacts.

Trichomonas gallinae is a protozoan parasite that infects the upper respiratory tract of birds, causing morbidity and mortality, although it is not always fatal. The parasite has been linked to recent declines in Greenfinch and Chaffinch populations in the UK but is primarily a parasite of columbiformes (e.g. Bunbury et al. 2008). Recent work has shown T. gallinae to be present at high prevalence in Turtle Doves on UK breeding grounds (~100%), and detected in all species of UK columbiformes (Lennon et al in prep).

To date five strains of the parasite have been detected in UK columbiformes, and shared strains of the parasite between columbiform species suggesting inter and intraspecies transmission on breeding and wintering grounds (Lennon et al in prep; Stockdale et al, in prep).

The PhD project will expand on ongoing work, in conjunction with a RSPB field team in East Anglia, and partners in Africa. The core activities will include sampling and monitoring of birds in the field; laboratory culture and genetic analysis of parasites; ecological and epidemiological modelling of host and parasite

Aims will include:

1) Assess associations between habitat quality and food availability with the prevalence and severity of Trichomonas in adult and nestling Turtle Doves.

2) Establish whether rates of Trichomonas are associated with demographic trends at sites across Britain and Europe.

3) Measure the impact of Trichomonas on nestling growth, condition, behaviour and post-fledging survival, and any beneficial impacts of treatment.

4) Use genetic markers, to identitify Trichomonas strains, origins and transmission patterns, in Turtle Doves and other dove and pigeon species (and galliformes), on the Turtle Dove breeding and wintering grounds to infer origin.

5) Guide future conservation strategy through the establishment of guidelines for management to reduce disease transmission, based on research outputs.

Applicants should hold a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree and/or a Masters degree or an equivalent qualification. Experience of bird handling and ringing would be desirable, although full training will be provided. A full driving licence and access to a car is essential.

Preferred start date is April 2013, however, a September/October 2013 start date may be considered if an applicant is able to participate in summer fieldwork (e.g. through a summer MSc research project to gain prior experience of fieldwork in this system).

Eligibility and other criteria
The project will be supervised by Dr Simon Goodman and Dr Keith Hamer at the University of Leeds, together with Dr Jenny Dunn at the RSPB.

Informal inquiries to Dr Jenny Dunn (Jenny.Dunn@rspb.org.uk).

Application deadline
* 21 January 2013

Additional information, and important URL

The project will be co-funded by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) and external grants. UK and EU students are eligible to apply, non-EU students may be considered if they have funding to cover additional University fees. http://www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/gradschool/research/index.php?tab=1

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