Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Host-Pathogen Interactions and Vaccinology

Sarah is a NERC fellow at the RVC. Her research investigates on ecological interactions between wild vertebrates hosts, their gut parasites and microbiota.

To find out more, visit her research website at:

Sarah graduated from Oxford University in 2001 with a BSc in Biological Sciences. She subsequently undertook a PhD there in the Department of Zoology, where she studied the ecology and evolutionary consequences of malaria in wild birds. After a postdoc in Edinburgh working on parasite ecology in wild mice, two years at Imperial College London working on schistosomiais in humans, Sarah took up a NERC fellowship, with which she moved to the Royal Veterinary College in November 2015. 

My interests cover a broad range of questions surrounding the role of infectious organisms, both parasitic and commensal, in the lives of wild vertebrates. What processes drive variation among animals in the parasites and bacterial symbionts they harbour? What form and strength of selection do these organisms impose on their hosts under natural conditions? How can understanding within-host community ecology inform optimal disease control in complex real-world settings?

Research to date has often made use of two tractable field systems to address such questions: wild rodents (wood mice) and birds (blue tits). Both systems benefit from being amenable to longitudinal monitoring of marked individuals and their infections, as well as field experimental approaches to understand host-parasite interactions.

Key areas of interest include:

  • Gut microbiome ecology in wild vertebrates
  • Co-infection biology, and the consequences of interactions among infectious agents
  • Fitness effects and life-history consequences of infection
  • Wildlife parasite ecology

Maurice C, Knowles SCL, Fenton A, Pedersen, AB & Turnbaugh, PJ (2015). Marked seasonal variation in the wild mouse gut microbiota. ISME J, 1-12 doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.53

Knowles SCL, Webster BL, Garba A, Sacko, M, Diaw, OT, Fenwick, A, Rollinson D & Webster JP (2015). Epidemiological interactions between urogenital and intestinal human schistosomiasis in the context of praziquantel treatment across three West African countries. PLoS NTDs 9(10): e0004019. doi:10.1371/ journal.pntd.0004019

Fenton A, Knowles SCL, Petchey OL & Pedersen AB (2014). The reliability of observational approaches for detecting interspecific parasite interactions: comparison with experimental results. International Journal for Parasitology 44: 437-45. 

Knowles SCL, Fenton A, Petchey OL, Jones TR, Barber R & Pedersen AB (2013). Stability of within-host parasite communities in a wild mammal system. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280: 20130598.

Knowles SCL (2011). The effect of helminth co-infection on malaria in mice: a meta-analysis. International Journal for Parasitology 41: 1041-1051.

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