Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

Our ongoing projects are working with 24 communities to conduct and evaluate community-led control trials. In Madagascar, the principal rodent pest is the introduced Rattus rattus, whilst in Tanzania the main rodent pest is an endemic species, Mastomys natalensis.

The student will work with research teams in the field to (i) quantify rodent damage to crops, stored food and personal possessions and assess the costs (direct and indirect) of alternative management strategies; (ii) use experimental economics to investigate attitudes towards risk, uncertainty and community-action and (iii) explore the economic impact of rodent-borne infections using data on incidence and exposure to rodent borne infections in different socio-economic groups (e.g. by age and gender) and the concept of Disability-Adjusted Life-Years.

The student will then investigate how ecological and economic considerations influence the cost-efficiency of different rodent management options. This could include using simulation modelling to investigate how the efficiency of different management options depends on ecological contexts (e.g. rodent distribution in the landscape) and the costs-benefits of management in specific locations.

The relative importance of the different project components will depend on the interests of the student.

Essential skills

  • A background in economics, ecology or development studies, with an interest in developing skills in the other areas.
  • Numerical skills

Desirable skills

  • Competence in French, Malagasy or Swahili would be an asset

Photo by Sandra Telfer.


Sandra Telfer

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Sandra Telfer
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Martina Bozzola

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Martina Bozzola
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Xavier Lambin

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Xavier Lambin
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


Constant, N.L. et al. (2020) Integr. Zool. DOI: 10.1111/1749-4877.12447

Singleton et al. (editors) (2010) Rodent outbreaks: ecology and impacts.

Epanchin-niell, R.S. (2017) Biol. Invasions DOI: 10.1007/s10530-017-1406-4

Expected Training Provision

Statistical analyses of ecological data: determining the nature of the density-dependent relationship between rodent abundance and rodent damage. Likely approaches include generalised linear mixed models.

Design and implementation of surveys and experiments to study economic questions.

Statistical analyses of survey data: summarising patterns in responses related to rodent exposure, rodent damage, approaches to rodent control and exploring relationships between patterns and socio-economic and environmental variables (e.g. age, gender, socio-economic status, spatial location of household in village). Multivariate statistics.


Rodents annually destroy cereals that could feed at least 280 million people and rodent-borne infections are a substantial cause of human disease. Leptospirosis alone is one of the world’s most common but neglected zoonoses with an estimated 1 million cases and 60,000 fatalities each year. Developing effective rodent management strategies applicable to low and middle income settings has therefore significant potential to improve health and well-being.

Despite progress in ecologically based rodent management techniques (EBRM), especially in the agricultural sector in Asia, EBRM approaches are poorly developed in Africa. Working in Madagascar and Tanzania, this studentship will address key questions including assessing the perceived and real costs of rodent damage to crops, and how damage varies with rodent abundance; as well as how a range of factors influence rodent management decisions at individual and community levels.

In terms of scientific publications, it is anticipated this project will produce three to four articles. Possibilities include: (i) Inter-country / inter-species comparison of the relationship between rodent abundance and damage; (ii) Factors influencing rodent control decisions at individual and community levels; (iii) How do environmental and economic factors influence the cost-efficiency of different rodent management strategies?; (iv) Holistic assessment of the impact of rodents on the health and well-being.

This project will work alongside ongoing projects (funded by Wellcome and GCRF) with close connections to local institutes, government and other organisations involved in development, pest management and public health. It is hoped that the student would be directly involved in presenting their research to stakeholder meetings, and generating research summaries to support policy decisions.

Ultimately the outcomes will be relevant to rural communities throughout most low- and middle-income countries facing problems with high numbers of rodent pests and disease.

Proposed Supervision

Sandra Telfer is a Senior Research Wellcome Trust Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, with research focussing on population ecology, disease ecology, the epidemiology of zoonoses (especially rodent-borne zoonoses) and strategies to mitigate zoonotic risk. Her research includes studies in Scotland, Tanzania and Madagascar. ST will provide training in field techniques for population ecology, advanced statistical analyses of ecological data (abundance estimates, generalised linear mixed models).

Martina Bozzola is a Lecturer in the economics of agriculture, food and health, at the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast. Dr Bozzola’s main research and teaching focus is on: agricultural and development economics (decision making under risk, technology adoption, food and nutrition security), climate change economics and sustainable value chains and environmental management. MB has extensive experience in both research and field work in West, East and Southern Africa, and has a current project funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with a focus on enhancing food and nutrition security in Madagascar. MB will provide training in survey design and implementation, economics and stakeholders engagement.

Xavier Lambin is a Professor in ecology at the University of Aberdeen. He is an expert in the population ecology and management of invasive species, with substantial experience in interdisciplinary projects and research across the globe, including the UK and South America. XL will provide additional support in the analysis and interpretation of data, and engagement with stakeholders and policy makers.

Proposed Timetable

The GCRF project started in 2021. Thus, the student will have access to data from the beginning of their project, ensuring they can conduct analyses and start an initial publication, whilst also developing their ideas and planning future work.

Year 1
Months 1-4: Literature review, initial exploration of existing data from rodent and household surveys to facilitate project development.
Months 4-6: Initial training in methodologies and stakeholder engagement, and development of project plan for field work. This may include further quantification of rodent damage, and using behavioural economic approaches to evaluate attitudes to risk and uncertainty.
Months 7-12: Fieldwork in Madagascar and/or Tanzania as appropriate. This will coincide with community-led control initiatives on GCRF project – options could include looking at changes to perceptions of rodent impact or attitudes towards control.

Year 2
Months 13-15: Further analysis of abundance and damage data and drafting of article on quantifying the relationship between abundance and damage in different contexts.
Months 16-18: Evaluation of data from studies on attitudes to risk, uncertainty.
Months 17-18: Planning of additional fieldwork
Months 19 – 24: Further fieldwork if required.

Year 3
Months 25-27: Further analysis of data on perceptions/attitudes and drafting of article on factors influencing control decisions
Months 28-33: Further analyses / modelling. Several options depending on interest of student – e.g. combined impacts of rodent pests on health and well-being; landscape-scale modelling to explore cost-efficiencies of different management strategies.
Month 34-36: Finalise manuscripts

Year 4 (6 months)
Month 36 onwards: Thesis write up and additional papers


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management


This project will be delivered in collaboration with:

Institut Pasteur de Madagascar
Association Vahatra, Madagascar
Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania

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