Teaching

Ecology & Evolution of Infectious Disease 

(ZLGY10030) 4th year Hons

Evolutionary medicine is a rapidly growing field that uses the principles of evolutionary biology and ecology to better understand, prevent, and treat infections, and that uses studies of disease to advance basic knowledge in evolutionary biology. Pathogen evolution matters because it continually erodes biomedicine's efforts to control disease, but using evolutionary and ecological thinking to examine the life-and-death struggle parasites face with hosts is a surprisingly new area of research. Pathogens are ubiquitous and the success of their lifestyle makes them major divers of host evolution. Hosts must combat, or cope with, their parasites using an arsenal of defences. This course will examine the complex problems faced by both parasites and hosts during infections and examine the solutions found by natural selection. By understanding how evolution and ecology can provide new and important insights into health and disease, we will explore how evolutionary principles can inform human health, veterinary medicine, conservation, and agriculture. We will focus on questions that are the foundations of "evolutionary medicine", including: (i) what strategies have parasites evolved to maximise their success and why are some more harmful than others? (ii) how and why do parasites manipulate host behaviours to their own ends? (iii) why do circadian rhythms dictate life or death outcomes during infection? (iv) how do parasites combat drugs and vaccines and are there novel ways to control infections? (v) why do hosts vary in how they cope with disease or spread infection? (vi) what drives the emergence of new diseases and host shifts?

Recommended reading:
Evolution in Health and Disease, Steven Stearns & Jacob Koella, OUP (2007)
Evolutionary Ecology of Parasites, Robert Poulin, Princeton (2007)
Evolutionary Parasitology, Paul Schmid-Hempel, OUP (2011)

Population and Community Ecology 3 

(BILG09009) 3rd year

Population ecology is the study of how populations of plants, animals, and other organisms change over time and space and interact with their environment. This course explores the interactions between organisms, the dynamics of populations and the environment. It deals with animal, plant and pathogenic organisms, and the structuring and function of communities and aims to develop both a quantitative and qualitative understanding of interactions between organisms and their consequences. The course is broken down into three parts: (1) Population Biology; (2) Species Interactions; (3) Community Ecology. We start at the simplest level: how environmental factors influence the growth of a single species population. We then add further complexity by examining how interactions between species affect their growth. Finally we study the interactions of whole groups of species that make up communities. A central feature of Population and Community Ecology is the use of mathematical models for describing and understanding how populations and communities change. The course therefore introduces some simple models, derived from first principles. We then demonstrate how they help us in our understanding, particularly when they break down thereby forcing us to consider possible alternative explanations.

Recommended reading:

Begon, M., Townsend, C.R. and Harper, J.L. 2006. Ecology: from individuals to ecosystems. 4th Edition. Blackwell.