Mathematical Modelling Tools for Conservation and Disease Management

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: S of Mathematical and Computer Sciences

Abstract

As well as being important in human and agricultural populations, it is increasingly recognised that infectious disease has important impacts in natural systems. In particular it is now clear that infectious disease can be important in conservation and may affect the ability of foreign organisms to invade natural communities. Ecological theory has been important in showing the general importance of disease in natural systems, but has only been rarely used to direct conservation programs. The project investigators have a track record in translating established research on disease-mediated ecological invasion into mathematical tools that can be used to direct conservation management decisions and policy. This project will answer current, pressing questions outlined by conservation agencies on the red-grey-squirrelpox system in Scotland. The objectives in the project have been specified by the project partners (Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust) who need to know the potential impact of squirrelpox on remaining red squirrel populations, whether grey squirrel control can prevent squirrelpox spread and the critical locations and effort at which control is required. This information is essential to allow our conservation partners to formulate current and future management plans that allocates limited resources in a manner that maximises red squirrel protection. The modelling framework, which predicts temporal and spatial disease dynamics on large-scale, complex landscapes, is the best tool available to underpin these conservation efforts. Therefore, this NERC Innovations proposal provides a unique opportunity to translate established research into effective conservation strategies that provide direct tangible benefits to end-users.

Planned Impact

The mathematical modelling tools will provide essential information to help safeguard the remaining red squirrel populations in Scotland. As an outcome of this project conservation strategies will be employed with the aim of preventing squirrelpox spread beyond Central Scotland. The model output will also be used to develop contingency plans to minimise the risk and impact of squirrelpox throughout Scotland and the model findings will provide key information for the most efficient use of resources.

Agencies that are responsible for the conservation of red squirrels (Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission Scotland, Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels) will benefit directly from this project. Moreover there will be a two-way transfer of ideas that will allow conservation policy and practice to be underpinned by current research. The work proposed in the project will play a key role in safeguarding the future of red populations in Scotland and in optimising the use of limited resources. The work will play a key role in developing long term sustainable strategies for red squirrel conservation.

The project outcomes will also foster public engagement. Red squirrel conservation is also undertaken by many charitable and voluntary organisations and the outcomes of the model will help coordinate the effort of these bodies (through our dialogue with project partners). The long-term viability of red populations will be of benefit to the general public, who show strong support for protecting red squirrels (the red squirrel was recently voted the 2nd most popular species in Scotland behind the golden eagle).

The modelling tools developed in this project are applicable beyond Scotland and we will showcase the results to conservation agencies in England, Wales, Ireland and mainland Europe (Italy) which all suffer from grey squirrel invasions that threaten native reds. The modelling methodology will also be suitable for understanding and developing conservation practice in other invasive systems. The previous collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage has already been successful in initiating new collaborations and in particular a project that will use similar modelling techniques to manage the spread of bovine TB in wild boar in Spain will begin in March 2015 (in collaboration with Sanidad y Biotecnologia).

The work in this project will therefore have direct impacts for end-users by shaping policy and practice but will also serve to advertise the applicability of the methods for answering key questions in applied conservation and species management.
 
Description The mathematical model of the UK squirrel system has been developed so that it can directly inform on the level and location of grey squirrel control required to protect populations of red squirrels.
Exploitation Route The findings could lead to further project to assess the viability of red squirrel stronghold regions in the UK.

The techniques could be generalised to other systems.
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~awhite/squirrels
 
Description The award was used to undertake research that led to the publication of a report related to red squirrel conservation. "White, A., Lurz, P.W.W and Boots, M. 2017. Grey squirrel control along the highland line."
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description A modelling assessment of grey squirrel control in Galloway and Dumfries and Borders Forest Districts.
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Forestry Commission Scotland
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 12/2020
 
Description Conservation of red squirrels in Scotland 
Organisation Government of the UK
Department Forestry Commission Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research expertise has been used to develop mathematical models that can direct conservation management to protect red squirrel population in Scotland.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have been involved in discussions to direct the research questions - meetings with SNH and SWT in were held in April 2015, October 2015 and April 2016; a meeting with FCS was held in October 2015. SNH, SWT and FCS provided access to data and undertook vital data manipulation.
Impact A report to project partners "White, A., Lurz, P.W.W and Boots, M. 2017. Grey squirrel control along the highland line" has been completed.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Conservation of red squirrels in Scotland 
Organisation Scottish Natural Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Research expertise has been used to develop mathematical models that can direct conservation management to protect red squirrel population in Scotland.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have been involved in discussions to direct the research questions - meetings with SNH and SWT in were held in April 2015, October 2015 and April 2016; a meeting with FCS was held in October 2015. SNH, SWT and FCS provided access to data and undertook vital data manipulation.
Impact A report to project partners "White, A., Lurz, P.W.W and Boots, M. 2017. Grey squirrel control along the highland line" has been completed.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Conservation of red squirrels in Scotland 
Organisation Scottish Wildlife Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research expertise has been used to develop mathematical models that can direct conservation management to protect red squirrel population in Scotland.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have been involved in discussions to direct the research questions - meetings with SNH and SWT in were held in April 2015, October 2015 and April 2016; a meeting with FCS was held in October 2015. SNH, SWT and FCS provided access to data and undertook vital data manipulation.
Impact A report to project partners "White, A., Lurz, P.W.W and Boots, M. 2017. Grey squirrel control along the highland line" has been completed.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Squirrel Wars Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Squirrel Wars workshop explains the change in distribution of red and grey squirrels in the UK over the last 150 years and how mathematics can be used to help conservation efforts to protect the remaining populations of reds. Events have been undertaken at Edinburgh Zoo (Sept 2015) as part of the Curiosity Forest Edinburgh Event (Oct 2015) and the workshop will run for two days at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (April 2016).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~awhite/squirrels/workshops.html