Researcher Spotlight - Jonathan Yardley

Published: 18 March 2020

It's Jonathan Yardley's turn under the Spotlight! Elle Lindsay grills the recent addition to the IBAHCM community on ticks and Lyme Disease...

This week, Elle has put PGR Jonathan Yardley under the Spotlight. Jonathan has recently joined the IBAHCM community having already completed two MSc courses! Here, Jonathan tells us how these research experiences have now led him to a PhD focused on tick-borne disease. 

Can you tell us about your background?
I had interest and love for animal life from a young age and found the sciences to be the most interesting subjects. I pursued Biology and Chemistry in the final years of school and stuck with Biology to complete a BSc in Animal Biology at the University of Gloucestershire. I enjoyed it there and they have a very good bioscience department, so I stayed on to do an MSc in Applied Ecology. Following that, I did still want to pursue a course involving parasites and conservation somehow. Bristol offered a master’s titled ‘Global Wildlife Health & Conservation’ which covered a lot of topics I was interested in, so I decided to do another master’s and made deer ecology the focus of my dissertation.

Jonathan Yardley pictureWhat can you tell us about your PhD?
My PhD project started in 2019 and is on the role of deer and non-native hosts in tick-borne disease emergence in the Western Isles. In the past decade it was reported that the Uist islands (North Uist and South Uist – two islands forming part of the Outer Hebrides) had very high levels of tick numbers and cases of Lyme disease. The different islands offer naturally varying reservoir and reproductive host communities, facilitating hypothesis testing of how host communities affect tick populations and pathogen transmission. A UofG master’s project in 2018 quantified ticks here and estimated Lyme disease prevalence: my PhD builds on this short project.

What is the focus of your research?
There are 3 main foci:

1) To determine how the spatial distribution and abundance of deer and livestock relates to the density of questing ticks and Lyme disease risk.

2) To identify the Lyme bacteria reservoir species in order to discern how the introductions of certain mammals to these islands has shifted the pattern of pathogen transmission and maintenance.

3) To examine the effect of removing small mammals and deer on the predicted Lyme disease risk.

Why did you decide to do your PhD at the University of Glasgow?
I knew of the University of Glasgow’s academic prowess, but I had never been to Scotland and wanted to explore the country after briefly seeing it when flying in for the interview, where I also discovered that IBACHM seemed to have a good and productive community.

What do you find most interesting about your work?
It is interesting to be working on a real-world problem, and investigate why, how and what may be able to be done to manage it. Also, every day is an interesting experience in the Outer Hebrides - it’s character building to say the least to carry out such large-scale fieldwork there.

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
Working with project partners and volunteers in the Outer Hebrides, talking to the locals about their experience with ticks and Lyme disease and having positive support and feedback from the public and stakeholders.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
The weather and the midges are certainly a challenge during fieldwork. Otherwise, learning R from scratch has been challenging, as has keeping to my own timetable.

What advice would you give to anyone doing or considering PhD?
It’s still quite early for me, but it is clear that you have to be very interested in the specific subject area and be very self-motivated to take one on for 3-4 years in order to contribute to the science (however small or large the scale of this may be).

Can you tell us about your plans for the future?
Just to achieve the doctorate and make use of my degrees in a positive manner for the planet.

Don’t miss Jonathan’s talk (“Managing landscapes for conservation and human health: the role of deer and non-native hosts in tick-borne disease emergence in the Western Isles”) at the PhD Seminar Series on Friday 13th March at 4pm in LT2 of the Graham Kerr Building.

First published: 18 March 2020