Transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils

Spatiotemporal, ecological and epidemiological dynamics of two transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils

Degree type

PhD

Closing date

7 March 2022

Campus

Hobart

Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International

About the research project

Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are threatened by two independently evolved transmissible cancers, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD, first detected in 1996 in north-eastern Tasmania) and devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2, first detected in 2014 in south-eastern Tasmania). During the last two decades, devil-DFTD evolutionary interactions led to genetic and phenotypic adaptations to the disease, and a significant decrease in its transmission rate. This suggests that DFTD is transitioning from an epidemic to an endemic disease, a key component for host-pathogen coexistence. However, the recent emergence of DFT2 has the potential to alter infection dynamics and ongoing devil-tumour adaptations. Whilst DFT2 has been only observed in the geographic peninsula where it originated, a rapid increase in its prevalence and spread has been observed over the last three years. To date, there is limited information about the epidemiology and population effects of DFT2, its interaction with DFTD and the extent to which this new cancer represents a significant threat for the already imperilled devil populations.

The project aims to quantify the effects of environmental and population characteristics on infection dynamics and spread of DFT2 in wild populations. Using multiple data sets generated from telemetry, live and camera trapping, and a combination of modelling techniques, the project will evaluate the spatiotemporal dynamics of DFT2, identify parameters associated with disease clusters and conditions for disease fade out or persistence. Model outputs will be used to assess the long-term viability of populations affected by both cancers and evaluate the suitability of potential disease management strategies.

The Tasmanian devil-DFTD-DFT2 study system provides a unique opportunity to integrate recent statistical advances for modelling infection dynamics with fine scale spatiotemporal, epidemiological and ecological datasets to the management of emerging infectious diseases.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Rodrigo Hamede

Funding

This project has been put forward to be considered for The High Family Scholarship in Tasmania Devil Research. Eligible applicants may be assessed for this scholarship. Please visit here for more information about this scholarship.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.

Eligibility

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements and the following additional eligibility criteria specific to this project:

  • The degree must be undertaken on a full-time basis
  • Applicants must already have been awarded a First-Class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills
  • Applicants must meet English requirements or be able to do so before commencement

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • A good understanding in the fields of quantitative  ecology and epidemiology
  • Proficient with quantitative analyses of spatial and  temporal epidemiological data
  • Ability to work with multiple data sets
  • Proven success in developing mathematical models and  coding in R statistics
  • Ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Interest in assisting with wildlife surveys

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Rodrigo Hamede, to discuss your suitability and the projects requirements; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including contact details of two referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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