Project Description

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

The project takes advantage of a wide range of supervisor expertise and current ongoing projects and facilities. Captive colonies of gastropod intermediate shots, including giant African snails Lissachatina fulica, and temperate slugs Deroceras reticulatum and Agrolimax ambiguus will allow for behavioural experiments under controlled conditions, while climate-driven computer models of Angiostrongylus spp. have already been developed and will be modified within this project rather than developed from scratch. Field data collection will build on established collaborations with researchers in Laos, and could extend the work in the direction of informal markets and disease risks using additional expertise at QUB. Field projects in Africa led by supervisors at QUB and Aberdeen will provide material to estimate point data on A. cantonensis occurrence as well as additional risk mapping possibilities in little studied environments. Parallel work at QUB in molecular methods, including in situ sequencing platforms, will allow ecological modelling and field data to be brought closer together to challenge predictions. The direction of the project will be increasingly influenced by the student, and the project outline represents a starting point to be influenced as ideas and capabilities develop. Supervisors are on hand to respond to any queries at any stage of the application process.

Essential skills

  • Some level of laboratory experience
  • basic quantitative skills
  • computer literacy

Desirable skills

  • Biological laboratory experience
  • computer modelling.

Photos by Eric Morgan.


Eric Morgan

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Eric Morgan
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Sandra Telfer

Secondary Supervisor:

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

Sarah Helyar

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Sarah Helyar
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Mark Moseley

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Mark Moseley
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


Morgan ER et al. (2009) Canine pulmonary angiostrongylosis: The influence of climate on parasite distribution. Parasitology International 5, 406-410. DOI10.1016/j.parint.2009.08.003

Cable J et al. (2017) Global change, parasite transmission and disease control: lessons from ecology. Transaction of the Royal Society of Biology B – Biological Sciences 372, 1719. DOI10.1098/rstb.2016.0088

Cowie RH (2017) Angiostrongylus cantonensis: Agent of a Sometimes Fatal Globally Emerging Infectious Disease (Rat Lungworm Disease). ACS Chemical Neuroscience 8, 2102-2104. DOI10.1021/acschemneuro.7b00335

Research Methods

  • behavioural experiments under controlled conditions
  • climate-driven computer modelling
  • field data collection
  • risk mapping
  • molecular methods, including in situ sequencing platforms


The lungworms under study are causing serious emerging disease in a range of hosts, including wild and domestic animals and humans. A. vasorum has spread rapidly across Europe in the past 20 years and can cause severe disease in dogs, leading to a ground-shift in the need for preventive anthemintic treatment, while the fitness of wild carnivore hosts including foxes and mustelids is likely to be affected. The sister species, A. cantonensis, has been spreading from its tropical heartland and is now recorded in southern Europe. While this species causes potentially fatal meningitis in most of its range, human disease has not yet been reported in Europe, illustrating the complexities of disease emergence and the potential role of trophic relationships in the dynamics of this parasite. Both species have caused outbreaks of fatal disease in wildlife and in animals in zoological collections. While climate change has been invoked as a factor in parasite spread, this has not been proven or adequately challenged. Outcomes will be improved knowledge of the factors important to the transmission and spread of Angiostrongylus spp., and greater appreciation of the ecological context of climate change driven disease emergence.

Proposed Timetable

Year 1 – model development; pilot experiments on intermediate host behaviour; collaboration and material collection for molecular method development; training in laboratory and modelling skills.
Year 2 – model validation; follow-on experiments on intermediate host behaviour; molecular tool development.
Year 3 – model refinement using experimental results; sampling and construction of trophic networks using novel molecular tools.
Year 4 – climate change projections; thesis preparation and stakeholder dissemination.


  • biodiversity


This project will be delivered in collaboration with:

Collaborators at national microbiological laboratory, Laos
European Scientific Counsel for Companion Animal Parasites (CASE partnership under discussion).

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