Slugs and Snails

  • Tolhurst, Bryony (PI)

Project Details


Infection with the pathogenic nematode Angiostrongylus vasorum (av) can be fatal to domestic dogs and prevalence is both increasing globally, and reemerging in several hotspots in the UK, including south-east England.

We are assessing spatio-temporal foci of infection risk between red foxes (the main final host) and gastropod molluscs (the main intermediate hosts) at the local (garden) scale in Brighton, South-east England. To this end we are collecting: i) parasite prevalence data via whole mollusc and fox faecal sample collection and genotyping; and ii) behavioural data from foxes and molluscs concerning where and when and under what conditions each are most active and most likely to be in contact.

The latter is explored with particular relevance to the following: proximity to feed or water bowls provided by householders for wildlife or for pets fed outdoors; type and moisture content of food; micro-habitat type; garden temperature and humidity; and time of day.

We will thus be able to begin characterising risk according to opportunities for contact between hosts against a backdrop of varying disease prevalence.Ultimately we aim to provide practical guidelines for garden and pet owners to follow to reduce prevalence. The project is in collaboration with Professor Eric Morgan and Dr Nikki Marks at Queens University, Belfast. We plan to develop this project further on a more extensive scale and use data to populate mathematical models including degree-day models and predictive models of infection risk..

Layman's description

Lungworm is a serious disease of domestic dogs and is becoming more common in the UK, especially in South-east England. The main wild host of lungworm is the red fox, and the parasite must pass through slugs or snails to complete its life cycle.

We are collecting information from urban gardens in Brighton, South-East England to find out whether there are particular aspects of wildlife behaviour and the local environment that increase the likelihood of infection. In particular we believe that people feeding pets and wildlife outdoors may affect the likelihood of contact between foxes and slugs/snails.

As we know temperature, moisture, type of garden habitat and time of day affect when and where slugs/snails (and to a lesser extent foxes) are active, we are also measuring these and relating them to the likelihood of contact. This will give us preliminary information as to when and where risk is greatest and ultimately put into place advice for garden and pet owners for reducing the risk. We hope to develop this project to a broader area with more detailed parasite monitoring in the near future.

Key findings

Data analysis and preparation of manuscript currently in progress
Short titleBehaviour of urban garden wildlife in relation to disease transmission
Effective start/end date1/09/181/03/19


  • Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour


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