Interactions between ageing and disease in a wild social mammal, the European badger Ref: 2649

About the award

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter. This studentship is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with the CASE partner, the National Wildlife Management Centre (NWMC)/Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student will be based in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.


Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Andrew Young, University of Exeter

Professor Richard Delahay, APHA

Professor Robbie McDonald, University of Exeter

Professor David Hodgson, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Late-life declines in components of fitness, termed ageing, are pervasive in human and wild animal populations, but the causes of the often marked variation among individuals in ageing rates remain poorly understood. One potentially important mechanism is the interaction between ageing and exposure to disease. Biomedical studies have highlighted that age-related declines in immune system function can leave older individuals more susceptible to infection and disease progression, and that chronic infection can itself accelerate the ageing process. Moreover, where older parents provide poorer quality care to offspring, there is potential for transgenerational effects of parental age on the disease susceptibility and ageing rates of offspring. However, such interactions between ageing and disease remain virtually unexplored in wild animal populations, despite their implications for our understanding of both individual variation in ageing rates and wildlife disease dynamics.

This project will address this critical shortfall in our understanding using data from a remarkable 40-year longitudinal field study of the life-histories and disease (bovine tuberculosis) dynamics of more than 30 social groups of wild European badgers. The study has sought to capture all individuals (now >2,500 in total) up to four times per year throughout their lives, yielding unparalleled longitudinal data on within-individual age-related changes in disease status, morphological traits and components of fitness. Our research has already revealed compelling evidence of both ageing and age-related changes in immune system function in this model system. This project will now investigate the interactions outlined above between ageing and disease susceptibility, and their likely impact on bovine tuberculosis dynamics. The project’s findings are therefore expected to have implications for our understanding not only of the causes of variation in ageing rates, but of the impact of ageing on the dynamics of the most economically significant wildlife disease in the UK.

The project will be lead-supervised by Dr Andrew Young (University of Exeter), whose research group conduct integrative field studies of sociality and ageing in wild vertebrates (see for more information), with co-supervisory support from Professor Dez Delahay (Animal and Plant Health Agency; Gloucestershire), who leads the long-term badger field study, and Professors Robbie McDonald (Exeter) and David Hodgson (Exeter), providing expertise in wildlife epidemiology, badger biology, and cutting edge approaches to modelling disease dynamics. The successful candidate will be based in Dr Young’s research group at the University of Exeter’s world-renowned Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Penryn, Cornwall.

Please see below for details of how to apply. The closing date for applications is midnight on June 27th 2017. Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus, with the option to attend via Skype, the week commencing July 10th.


This studentship will be funded by the NERC, and is only available to UK and EU nationals. You must have resided in the UK for three years prior to starting the studentship to receive funding for tuition fees and a stipend. Candidates from outside the EU are not eligible for this studentship. Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

For detailed guidance about eligibility please refer to the Research Councils UK conditions of Research Council Training Grants

Studentships will be awarded on the basis of merit and are awarded for 4 years of full-time study (part-time pro-rata) to commence on 25th September.

Entry requirements:

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. A Masters degree in a relevant subject is desirable but not essential.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, see


Application deadline:27th June 2017
Duration of award:per year
Contact: CLES PGR Admin phone 01392 725150/

How to apply

Click here to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”. 

  • Full CV
  • Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project).
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained for each degree secured (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

The closing date for applications is midnight on June 27th 2017. Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, with the option to attend via Skype, the week commencing 10th July.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Dr Andrew Young,