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Epidemiology and Modelling

Head of Group: Professor Chris Gilligan

Chris Gilligan

Our research is focused on developing and testing a theoretical framework to understand the mechanisms that control invasion, persistence, scaling and variability of epidemics within changing agricultural and natural landscapes. Our models are used to predict the spread of disease and to identify and optimise economically and ecologically sustainable strategies for disease management, encompassing genetical, chemical, biological and cultural methods. The research involves a synthesis of epidemiological theory, population and evolutionary genetics, landscape ecology and economic modelling. The models are tested using data from extensive field and regional data-sets.

Food Security

Plant pests and disease pose a significant threat to global food security. Accurate predictions of how pest and pathogens will spread are vital for the planning and efficient control of such threats. Using a range of mathematical and statistical methods we are developing models that can forecast where the pathogen/pest is likely to occur and how rapidly it will spread and cause losses once introduced in a given location. These models take into account the environmental suitability of the host landscape as well as the epidemiological dynamics of the pathogen. Such forecasts can be used to help identify strategies that will reduce the risk of spread and to determine optimal monitoring schemes. These types of models are been used by members of the group to predict the spread of new strains of wheat stem rust in Africa, cassava mosaic virus (CMV) and cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) in sub-saharan Africa, bean viruses in Africa and citrus greening (HLB) in the USA.

Diseases in the Natural Environment

The natural environment is under increasing pressure from pests and pathogens. Examples include sudden oak death in USA and Chalara ash dieback, Phythophthora ramorum and Oak processionary moth in the UK. We are developing models to determine the optimal control strategies to minimise the impact out such pest/pathogen outbreaks. In particular, such models take into account the economic costs as well as the damage to the natural environment caused by pest/pathogen invasion.

Crop Modelling

We are also applying mathematical and statistical techniques to model canopy expansion and crop nitrogen uptake in relation to nitrogen supply and temperature. This work is part of the N-Circle project.

Communication Activities

Our group has undertaken a number of outreach activities both with stakeholders and the wider public. Examples include: Cambridge Science Festival, London Science museum lates and development of a web-based interface to illustrate impacts of disease control.