Dr Klara Wanelik

Surrey Future Fellow

Academic and research departments

Department of Microbial Sciences, School of Biosciences.


Areas of specialism

Host-microbe ecology; Animal health & disease

Affiliations and memberships

Fellow of Advance HE


Research interests


Klara Wanelik, Mike Begon, Andy Fenton, Rachel A. Norman, Pablo M. Beldomenico (2023)Positive feedback loops exacerbate the influence of superspreaders in disease transmission, In: iScience26(5) Elsevier

Superspreaders are recognized as being important drivers of disease spread. However, models to date have assumed random occurrence of superspreaders, irrespective of whom they were infected by. Evidence suggests though that those individuals infected by superspreaders may be more likely to become superspreaders themselves. Here, we begin to explore, theoretically, the effects of such a positive feedback loop on (1) the final epidemic size, (2) the herd immunity threshold, (3) the basic reproduction number, R0, and (4) the peak prevalence of superspreaders, using a generic model for a hypothetical acute viral infection and illustrative parameter values. We show that positive feedback loops can have a profound effect on our chosen epidemic outcomes, even when the transmission advantage of superspreaders is moderate, and despite peak prevalence of superspreaders remaining low. We argue that positive superspreader feedback loops in different infectious diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, should be investigated further, both theoretically and empirically.

Klara Wanelik, Aura Raulo, Tanya Troitsky, Arild Husby, Sarah C L Knowles (2023)Maternal transmission gives way to social transmission during gut microbiota assembly in wild mice, In: Animal Microbiome5 Springer

Background The mammalian gut microbiota influences a wide array of phenotypes which are relevant to fitness, yet knowledge about the transmission routes by which gut microbes colonise hosts in natural populations remains limited. Here, we use an intensively studied wild population of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) to examine how vertical (maternal) and horizontal (social) transmission routes influence gut microbiota composition throughout life. Results We identify independent signals of maternal transmission (sharing of taxa between a mother and her offspring) and social transmission (sharing of taxa predicted by the social network), whose relative magnitudes shift as hosts age. In early life, gut microbiota composition is predicted by both maternal and social relationships, but by adulthood the impact of maternal transmission becomes undetectable, leaving only a signal of social transmission. By exploring which taxa drive the maternal transmission signal, we identify a candidate maternally-transmitted bacterial family in wood mice, the Muribaculaceae. Conclusion Overall, our findings point to an ontogenetically shifting transmission landscape in wild mice, with a mother’s influence on microbiota composition waning as offspring age, while the relative impact of social contacts grows.

Klara Wanelik, Mike Begon, Janette E. Bradley, Ida M Friberg, Christopher H Taylor, Joseph A Jackson, Steve Paterson (2023)Early-life immune expression profiles predict later-life health and fitness in a wild rodent, In: Molecular Ecology32(13)pp. 3471-3482 Wiley

Individuals differ in the nature of the immune responses they produce, affecting disease susceptibility and ultimately health and fitness. These differences have been hypothesized to have an origin in events experienced early in life that then affect trajectories of immune development and responsiveness. Here, we investigate how early-life immune expression profiles influence life history outcomes in a natural population of field voles, Microtus agrestis, in which we are able to monitor variation between and within individuals through time by repeat sampling of individually marked animals. We analysed the co-expression of 20 immune genes in early life to create a correlation network consisting of three main clusters, one of which (containing Gata3, Il10 and Il17) was associated with later-life reproductive success and susceptibility to chronic bacterial (Bartonella) infection. More detailed analyses supported associations between early-life expression of Il17 and reproductive success later in life, and of Il10 expression early in life and later infection with Bartonella. We also found significant association between an Il17 genotype and the early-life expression of Il10. Our results demonstrate that immune expression profiles can be manifested during early life with effects that persist through adulthood and that shape the variability among individuals in susceptibility to infection and fitness widely seen in natural populations.

Klara Wanelik, Jonathan Fenn, Christopher H Taylor, Sarah Goertz, Steve Paterson, Mike Begon, Joe Jackson, Jan Bradley (2023)Discrete patterns of microbiome variability across timescales in a wild rodent population, In: BMC Microbiology2387 BMC

Mammalian gastrointestinal microbiomes are highly variable, both within individuals and across populations, with changes linked to time and ageing being widely reported. Discerning patterns of change in wild mammal populations can therefore prove challenging. We used high-throughput community sequencing methods to characterise the microbiome of wild field voles (Microtus agrestis) from faecal samples collected across 12 live-trapping field sessions, and then at cull. Changes in α- and β-diversity were modelled over three timescales. Short-term differences (following 1–2 days captivity) were analysed between capture and cull, to ascertain the degree to which the microbiome can change following a rapid change in environment. Medium-term changes were measured between successive trapping sessions (12–16 days apart), and long-term changes between the first and final capture of an individual (from 24 to 129 days). The short period between capture and cull was characterised by a marked loss of species richness, while over medium and long-term in the field, richness slightly increased. Changes across both short and long timescales indicated shifts from a Firmicutes-dominant to a Bacteroidetes-dominant microbiome. Dramatic changes following captivity indicate that changes in microbiome diversity can be rapid, following a change of environment (food sources, temperature, lighting etc.). Medium- and long-term patterns of change indicate an accrual of gut bacteria associated with ageing, with these new bacteria being predominately represented by Bacteroidetes. While the patterns of change observed are unlikely to be universal to wild mammal populations, the potential for analogous shifts across timescales should be considered whenever studying wild animal microbiomes. This is especially true if studies involve animal captivity, as there are potential ramifications both for animal health, and the validity of the data itself as a reflection of a ‘natural’ state of an animal.

Klara M. Wanelik, Michael Begon, Richard J. Birtles, Janette E. Bradley, Ida M. Friberg, Joseph A. Jackson, Christopher H. Taylor, Anna G. Thomason, Andrew K. Turner, Steve Paterson (2018)A candidate tolerance gene identified in a natural population of field voles (Microtus agrestis), In: Molecular ecology27(4)pp. 1044-1052

The animal immune response has hitherto been viewed primarily in the context of resistance only. However, individuals can also employ a tolerance strategy to maintain good health in the face of ongoing infection. To shed light on the genetic and physiological basis of tolerance, we use a natural population of field voles, Microtus agrestis, to search for an association between the expression of the transcription factor Gata3, previously identified as a marker of tolerance in this system, and polymorphism in 84 immune and nonimmune genes. Our results show clear evidence for an association between Gata3 expression and polymorphism in the Fcer1a gene, with the explanatory power of this polymorphism being comparable to that of other nongenetic variables previously identified as important predictors of Gata3 expression. We also uncover the possible mechanism behind this association using an existing protein–protein interaction network for the mouse model rodent, Mus musculus, which we validate using our own expression network for M. agrestis. Our results suggest that the polymorphism in question may be working at the transcriptional level, leading to changes in the expression of the Th2‐related genes, Tyrosine‐protein kinase BTK and Tyrosine‐protein kinase TXK, and hence potentially altering the strength of the Th2 response, of which Gata3 is a mediator. We believe our work has implications for both treatment and control of infectious disease.

Klara M. Wanelik, Damien R. Farine (2022)A new method for characterising shared space use networks using animal trapping data, In: Behavioral ecology and sociobiology76(9)pp. 127-127 Springer Nature

Studying the social behaviour of small or cryptic species often relies on constructing networks from sparse point-based observations of individuals (e.g. live trapping data). A common approach assumes that individuals that have been detected sequentially in the same trapping location will also be more likely to have come into indirect and/or direct contact. However, there is very little guidance on how much data are required for making robust networks from such data. In this study, we highlight that sequential trap sharing networks broadly capture shared space use (and, hence, the potential for contact) and that it may be more parsimonious to directly model shared space use. We first use empirical data to show that characteristics of how animals use space can help us to establish new ways to model the potential for individuals to come into contact. We then show that a method that explicitly models individuals' home ranges and subsequent overlap in space among individuals (spatial overlap networks) requires fewer data for inferring observed networks that are more strongly correlated with the true shared space use network (relative to sequential trap sharing networks). Furthermore, we show that shared space use networks based on estimating spatial overlap are also more powerful for detecting biological effects. Finally, we discuss when it is appropriate to make inferences about social interactions from shared space use. Our study confirms the potential for using sparse trapping data from cryptic species to address a range of important questions in ecology and evolution. Significance statement Characterising animal social networks requires repeated (co-)observations of individuals. Collecting sufficient data to characterise the connections among individuals represents a major challenge when studying cryptic organisms-such as small rodents. This study draws from existing spatial mark-recapture data to inspire an approach that constructs networks by estimating space use overlap (representing the potential for contact). We then use simulations to demonstrate that the method provides consistently higher correlations between inferred (or observed) networks and the true underlying network compared to current approaches and requires fewer observations to reach higher correlations. We further demonstrate that these improvements translate to greater network accuracy and to more power for statistical hypothesis testing.

Klara M. Wanelik, Mike Begon, Janette E. Bradley, Ida M. Friberg, Joseph A. Jackson, Christopher H. Taylor, Steve Paterson (2023)Effects of an IgE receptor polymorphism acting on immunity, susceptibility to infection, and reproduction in a wild rodent, In: eLife12 eLIFE SCIENCES PUBL LTD

The genotype of an individual is an important predictor of their immune function, and subsequently, their ability to control or avoid infection and ultimately contribute offspring to the next generation. However, the same genotype, subjected to different intrinsic and/or extrinsic environments, can also result in different phenotypic outcomes, which can be missed in controlled laboratory studies. Natural wildlife populations, which capture both genotypic and environmental variability, provide an opportunity to more fully understand the phenotypic expression of genetic variation. We identified a synonymous polymorphism in the high-affinity Immunoglobulin E (IgE) receptor (GC and non-GC haplotypes) that has sex-dependent effects on immune gene expression, susceptibility to infection, and reproductive success of individuals in a natural population of field voles (Microtus agrestis). We found that the effect of the GC haplotype on the expression of immune genes differed between sexes. Regardless of sex, both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory genes were more highly relatively expressed in individuals with the GC haplotype than individuals without the haplotype. However, males with the GC haplotype showed a stronger signal for pro-inflammatory genes, while females showed a stronger signal for anti-inflammatory genes. Furthermore, we found an effect of the GC haplotype on the probability of infection with a common microparasite, Babesia microti, in females - with females carrying the GC haplotype being more likely to be infected. Finally, we found an effect of the GC haplotype on reproductive success in males - with males carrying the GC haplotype having a lower reproductive success. This is a rare example of a polymorphism whose consequences we are able to follow across immunity, infection, and reproduction for both males and females in a natural population.

Elena Arriero, Klara M. Wanelik, Richard J. Birtles, Janette E. Bradley, Joseph A. Jackson, Steve Paterson, Mike Begon (2017)From the animal house to the field: Are there consistent individual differences in immunological profile in wild populations of field voles (Microtus agrestis)?, In: PloS one12(8)pp. e0183450-e0183450 Public Library Science

Inbred mouse strains, living in simple laboratory environments far removed from nature, have been shown to vary consistently in their immune response. However, wildlife populations are typically outbreeding and face a multiplicity of challenges, parasitological and otherwise. In this study we seek evidence of consistent difference in immunological profile amongst individuals in the wild. We apply a novel method in this context, using longitudinal (repeated capture) data from natural populations of field voles, Microtus agrestis, on a range of life history and infection metrics, and on gene expression levels. We focus on three immune genes, IFN-gamma, Gata3, and IL-10, representing respectively the Th1, Th2 and regulatory elements of the immune response. Our results show that there was clear evidence of consistent differences between individuals in their typical level of expression of at least one immune gene, and at most all three immune genes, after other measured sources of variation had been taken into account. Furthermore, individuals that responded to changing circumstances by increasing expression levels of Gata3 had a correlated increase in expression levels of IFN-gamma. Our work stresses the importance of acknowledging immunological variation amongst individuals in studies of parasitological and infectious disease risk in wildlife populations.

Klara M. Wanelik, Joanne S. Griffin, Megan L. Head, Fiona C. Ingleby, Zenobia Lewis (2020)Breaking barriers? Ethnicity and socioeconomic background impact on early career progression in the fields of ecology and evolution, In: Ecology and evolution10(14)pp. 6870-6880

The academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have long suffered from a lack of diversity. While in recent years there has been some progress in addressing the underrepresentation of women in STEM subjects, other characteristics that have the potential to impact on equality of opportunity have received less attention. In this study, we surveyed 188 early career scientists (ECRs), defined as within 10 years of completing their PhD, in the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, behaviour, and related disciplines. We examined associations between ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, sex, socioeconomic background, and disability, with measures of career progression, namely publication record, number of applications made before obtaining a postdoc, type of contract, and number of grant applications made. We also queried respondents on perceived barriers to progression and potential ways of overcoming them. Our key finding was that socioeconomic background and ethnicity were associated with measures of career progression. While there was no difference in the number of reported first‐authored papers on PhD completion, ethnic minority respondents reported fewer other‐authored papers. In addition, ECRs from a lower socioeconomic background were more likely to report being in teaching and research positions, rather than research‐only positions, the latter being perceived as more prestigious by some institutions. We discuss our findings in the context of possible inequality of opportunity. We hope that this study will stimulate wider discussion and help to inform strategies to address the underrepresentation of minority groups in the fields of ecology and evolution, and STEM subjects more widely. This study provides evidence that socioeconomic background and ethnicity can impact negatively on the career progression in early career researchers in the field of ecology and evolution.

In this study, we examine acoustic individuality in male duet songs of wild, non-habituated Bornean southern gibbons (Hylobates albibarbis) and identify contributing acoustic variables. We recorded 174 male duet songs from nine groups in a rainforest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Each male portion of the duet was analysed for 14 acoustic variables at three levels of variation, including six note-specific variables (start frequency, end frequency, minimum frequency, maximum frequency, average frequency and duration), four phrase-specific variables (minimum frequency, maximum frequency, duration and number of syllables) and four song-specific variables (minimum frequency, maximum frequency, duration and number of syllables). Principal component analysis was performed to summarise each of these sets of variables into a total of six principal components (PCs). Strong acoustic individuality was found in all PCs and at all three levels: note, phrase and song (all p 

Klara M. Wanelik, Sarah J. Burthe, Mike P. Harris, Miles A. Nunn, H. Charles J. Godfray, Ben C. Sheldon, Angela R. McLean, Sarah Wanless (2017)Investigating the effects of age‐related spatial structuring on the transmission of a tick‐borne virus in a colonially breeding host, In: Ecology and evolution7(24)pp. 10930-10940 John Wiley and Sons Inc

Higher pathogen and parasite transmission is considered a universal cost of colonial breeding due to the physical proximity of colony members. However, this has rarely been tested in natural colonies, which are structured entities, whose members interact with a subset of individuals and differ in their infection histories. We use a population of common guillemots, Uria aalge , infected by a tick‐borne virus, Great Island virus , to explore how age‐related spatial structuring can influence the infection costs borne by different members of a breeding colony. Previous work has shown that the per‐susceptible risk of infection (force of infection) is different for prebreeding (immature) and breeding (adult) guillemots which occupy different areas of the colony. We developed a mathematical model which showed that this difference in infection risk can only be maintained if mixing between these age groups is low. To estimate mixing between age groups, we recorded the movements of 63 individually recognizable, prebreeding guillemots in four different parts of a major colony in the North Sea during the breeding season. Prebreeding guillemots infrequently entered breeding areas (in only 26% of watches), though with marked differences in frequency of entry among individuals and more entries toward the end of the breeding season. Once entered, the proportion of time spent in breeding areas by prebreeding guillemots also varied between different parts of the colony. Our data and model predictions indicate low levels of age‐group mixing, limiting exposure of breeding guillemots to infection. However, they also suggest that prebreeding guillemots have the potential to play an important role in driving infection dynamics. This highlights the sensitivity of breeding colonies to changes in the behavior of their members—a subject of particular importance in the context of global environmental change.

Christopher H. Taylor, Klara M. Wanelik, Ida M. Friberg, Ann Lowe, Amy J. Hall, Catriona Ralli, Richard J. Birtles, Mike Begon, Steve Paterson, Joseph A. Jackson, Janette E. Bradley (2018)Physiological, but not fitness, effects of two interacting haemoparasitic infections in a wild rodent, In: International journal for parasitology48(6)pp. 463-471 Elsevier Ltd

[Display omitted] •Babesia microti reduces chances of infection with Bartonella spp. in field voles.•Babesia microti causes gross splenomegaly.•Bartonella-infected individuals show weight loss and an increase in expression of IL-10.•Despite the physiological effects, neither infection impacts host fitness.•Interaction between the two parasites does not influence fitness measures. In contrast to the conditions in most laboratory studies, wild animals are routinely challenged by multiple infections simultaneously, and these infections can interact in complex ways. This means that the impact of a parasite on its host’s physiology and fitness cannot be fully assessed in isolation, and requires consideration of the interactions with other co-infections. Here we examine the impact of two common blood parasites in the field vole (Microtus agrestis): Babesia microti and Bartonella spp., both of which have zoonotic potential. We collected longitudinal and cross-sectional data from four populations of individually tagged wild field voles. This included data on biometrics, life history, ectoparasite counts, presence/absence of microparasites, immune markers and, for a subset of voles, more detailed physiological and immunological measurements. This allowed us to monitor infections over time and to estimate components of survival and fecundity. We confirm, as reported previously, that B. microti has a preventative effect on infection with Bartonella spp., but that the reverse is not true. We observed gross splenomegaly following B. microti infection, and an increase in IL-10 production together with some weight loss following Bartonella spp. infection. However, these animals appeared otherwise healthy and we detected no impact of infection on survival or fecundity due to the two haemoparasite taxa. This is particularly remarkable in the case of B. microti which induces apparently drastic long-term changes to spleen sizes, but without major adverse effects. Our work sheds light on the ecologies of these important zoonotic agents, and more generally on the influence that interactions among multiple parasites have on their hosts in the wild.

Klara M Wanelik, Mike Begon, Elena Arriero, Janette E Bradley, Ida M Friberg, Joseph A Jackson, Christopher H Taylor, Steve Paterson (2020)Transcriptome-wide analysis reveals different categories of response to a standardised immune challenge in a wild rodent, In: Scientific reports10(1)pp. 7444-7444

Individuals vary in their immune response and, as a result, some are more susceptible to infectious disease than others. Little is known about the nature of this individual variation in natural populations, or which components of immune pathways are most responsible, but defining this underlying landscape of variation is an essential first step to understanding the drivers of this variation and, ultimately, predicting the outcome of infection. We describe transcriptome-wide variation in response to a standardised immune challenge in wild field voles. We find that genes (hereafter 'markers') can be categorised into a limited number of types. For the majority of markers, the response of an individual is dependent on its baseline expression level, with significant enrichment in this category for conventional immune pathways. Another, moderately sized, category contains markers for which the responses of different individuals are also variable but independent of their baseline expression levels. This category lacks any enrichment for conventional immune pathways. We further identify markers which display particularly high individual variability in response, and could be used as markers of immune response in larger studies. Our work shows how a standardised challenge performed on a natural population can reveal the patterns of natural variation in immune response.

Christopher H Taylor, Ida M Friberg, Joseph A Jackson, Elena Arriero, Mike Begon, Klara M Wanelik, Steve Paterson, Janette E Bradley (2023)Living with chronic infection: Persistent immunomodulation during avirulent haemoparasitic infection in a wild rodent, In: Molecular ecology32(5)pp. 1197-1210

Apicomplexans are a protozoan phylum of obligate parasites which may be highly virulent during acute infections, but may also persist as chronic infections which appear to have little fitness cost. Babesia microti is an apicomplexan haemoparasite that, in immunocompromised individuals, can cause severe, potentially fatal disease. However, in its natural host, wild field voles (Microtus agrestis), it exhibits chronic infections that have no detectable impact on survival or female fecundity. How is damage minimized, and what is the impact on the host's immune state and health? We examine the differences in immune state (here represented by expression of immune-related genes in multiple tissues) associated with several common chronic infections in a population of wild field voles. While some infections show little impact on immune state, we find strong associations between immune state and B. microti. These include indications of clearance of infected erythrocytes (increased macrophage activity in the spleen) and activity likely associated with minimizing damage from the infection (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in the blood). By analysing gene expression from the same individuals at multiple time points, we show that the observed changes are a response to infection, rather than a risk factor. Our results point towards continual investment to minimize the damage caused by the infection. Thus, we shed light on how wild animals can tolerate some chronic infections, but emphasize that this tolerance does not come without a cost.