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Parasite transmission in an introduced species: implications of population structure and heterogeneous landscapes


Introduced exotic species are one of the most important causes of global environmental change. In addition to impacts mediated through competition and predation, introduced species have been implicated in the epidemiology of human, livestock and wildlife diseases.
As landscapes become more heterogeneous, two important questions for both conservation and public health are:
(1) the extent to which sub-populations of introduced species interact and
(2) how this impacts on parasite dynamics. Land use changes will affect the population spatial structure of an introduced species and the dynamics of its parasites.
However, parasite distribution patterns will also depend on other factors and a key question is how the relative importance of individual, population and landscape factors depends on parasite and landscape characteristics. Introduced black rats in Madagascar are an ideal model system to address these questions. The aims of the project are to improve our understanding of spatially structured host-parasite systems and to provide information on the potential for rats to disperse parasites and pose a risk to human and wildlife health. Genetic analyses will be used to determine rat population structure and dispersal patterns in three areas with different landsca pe characteristics. For the same sites, we will also investigate what factors influence infection probabilities for a range of parasite species that infect rats (including helminths, ectoparasites, haemoparasites), and assess variation between parasites in the response to spatial structuring of the host.
The project will enable the fellow to work with a research group that is one of Europe's pioneers in applying molecular analyses to ecological problems. The development of new laboratory and statistical sk ills will increase her independence and enhance her career prospects.

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