Modelling disease, demography and dispersal in the Woodchester badger society.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Our overarching goal is to estimate the rate of transmission of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) between badgers and cattle, and to identify the key environmental stressors demographic processes of badger populations that influence this critical epidemiological parameter. Current wisdom states that bTB transmission between badgers is driven by behavioural parameters (movement and colonisation) rather than population densities per se. To test this hypothesis we will use empirical models of badger demography based on the Woodchester Park longterm dataset, coupled with local- and national-scale databases of cattle herd breakdown rates. Key epidemiological parameters will be reverse-engineered from Bayesian statistical analyses of these coupled datasets. The student will receive training in simulation and projection matrix population modelling, in spatial and Bayesian statistics and in wildlife epidemiology. Results should inform policy on strategies for the management of bovine TB. Other outputs will include key contributions to the literature on statistical links between phenotypic traits (e.g. disease susceptibility), demography (population and sett age/stage structure) and population dynamics. The Woodchester Park project was initiated in 1976 and is a unique combination of longitudinal demographic study and standardised clinical sampling. The project is based on the histories of >3000 individual badgers and >14000 sampling events. It has resulted in >100 peer-reviewed publications.


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