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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Wildlife disease ecology and gamebird management: A one health approach to Lyme disease - Biological Sciences PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4001

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Barbara Tschirren, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Professor Robbie McDonald, University of Exeter.

Dr Sarah Perkins, Cardiff University

Dr Jolyon Medlock, Public Health England, Department of Medical Entomology

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Falmouth, Cornwall.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project details

Project Background:

Wildlife is an important source of emerging human diseases. A One Health approach that integrates animal, human and environmental health is thus key for understanding the ecology of emerging zoonotic diseases as well as successful disease control and management. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the northern hemisphere. The number of human Lyme cases has increased rapidly in recent years, leading to public health concern. Pheasants are released in large numbers for recreational hunting in the UK. These birds can harbour large numbers of ticks and are particularly competent reservoir hosts for Borrelia, the causative agent of Lyme disease. A growing body of research is investigating the ecological effects of released gamebirds on habitats and native wildlife. Surprisingly, however, the consequences of gamebird releases for zoonotic disease dynamics and human infection risk have so far been neglected.

Project Aims and Methods:

The aim of this project is to test how gamebird releases affect Lyme disease risk across the UK and how management practices can influence vector abundance and transmission dynamics. This multidisciplinary project provides opportunities to combine ecological fieldwork (e.g. sampling of pheasants and other wildlife hosts, monitoring of tick populations), molecular techniques (e.g. detection of Borrelia infection using qPCR) and spatial modelling to addresses fundamental questions in disease ecology and community ecology, with important applied opportunities for wildlife management and human health. You will be encouraged to shape and further develop the project according to your own interests.

How do released game birds affect tick abundance and Lyme disease risk Candidate requirements:


This project suits a highly motivated, creative and independent student with a background in ecology, conservation, veterinary science or related disciplines, and an interest in working at the interface of disease ecology, wildlife management and public health.

CASE partner:

Public Health England (PHE) is a CASE partner in this project. During secondments to PHE you will gain first-hand experience in working at a public health executive organization and obtain training in field-based research techniques and laboratory-based pathogen analysis.


You will join a dynamic, friendly and inclusive research group and obtain training in project design and management, ecological field approaches, molecular laboratory technique, ecological modelling, scientific publishing, outreach, and public health policy. You are encouraged to attend relevant postgraduate courses and to present your research at national and international conferences.

Background reading and references:

Millins C, Gilbert L, Medlock J, Hansford K, Thompson DBA, Biek R. (2016) Effects of conservation management of landscapes and vertebrate communities on Lyme borreliosis risk in the United Kingdom. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0123
Kurtenbach K, Carey D, Hoodless AN, Nuttall PA, Randolph SE. Competence of pheasants as reservoirs for Lyme disease spirochetes. 1998 J. Med. Entomol. doi:10.1093/jmedent/35.1.77
Madden JR & Sage, RB 2020. Ecological Consequences of Gamebird Releasing and Management on Lowland Shoots in England.

Useful links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via

Prospective applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.

Studentships for international students will only cover fees at the UK home fees rate. However, university tuition fees for international students are higher than the UK home fees rate therefore the difference will need to be funded from a separate source which the student or project supervisor may have to find. Unfortunately, the NERC GW4+ DTP cannot fund this difference from out studentship funding Further guidance on how this will work will be issued in November.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How 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”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries