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Frances Hawkes

Dr Frances Hawkes

Research Fellow – Behavioural Entomologist
Bsc (Hons), PhD
Agriculture, Health and Environment Department
Natural Resources Institute

Biography

Dr Frances Hawkes completed her PhD (2009-2013) at the University of Greenwich, where she was supervised by Professors Gabriella Gibson and Steve Torr (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine). Her PhD research focused on examining the endogenous circadian rhythms and exogenous sensory cues used by mosquitoes to successfully locate human hosts. This research used cutting edge 3D tracking to follow mosquitoes flying in low light intensities, the results of which allowed Dr Hawkes to develop a prototype trap for outdoor biting Anopheles gambiae, which she successfully tested in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and is now leading a University funded project to develop this technology. In 2012, Dr Hawkes was invited to present this research to MPs at the House of Commons as part of 'Science Engineering and Technology for Britain', a showcase of early-career research excellence and future scientific and technical leaders, supported by the Society of Biology.

She has since continued her work at the Natural Resources Institute, where she has developed novel video assaying techniques for observation of nocturnally ovipositing insects and works in collaboration with Public Health England to monitor for the presence of invasive mosquito species in south-east England. She has also worked with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on a 6 month placement in Malaysian Borneo. This involved vector incrimination work to identify the monkey-to-human bridge vectors of the simian malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi.

Dr Hawkes was presented with the University of Greenwich's first ever 'Student of the Year' Award in 2012 for her numerous outreach activities and outstanding academic performance.

In 2015, Dr Hawkes' research on a new trap for malaria mosquitoes in Africa was the subject of a BBC documentary called "Our World: Living with malaria", which was filmed on location at NRI's laboratories and in Burkina Faso with collaborators from the Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Sante (IRSS).

Research/Scholarly Interests

  • Improving our knowledge of insect sensory physiology, neurobiology and behaviour to increase our capacity to manage vector-borne diseases of humans and livestock, chiefly focusing on malarial mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Identifying the sensory cues that disease vectors use to find hosts and oviposition sites, and applying this knowledge to improve monitoring and control of disease transmission.
  • Exploring emerging vector-host relationships, particularly in the role of Leucosphyrus mosquitoes as bridge vectors of the zoonotic simian malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi from long- and pig-tailed macaques to humans in Southeast Asia.
  • Ecology of disease vectors in the face of environmental change and anthropogenic intervention, including behavioural adaptations such as modified host choices and geographical range, with a focus on monitoring invasive Culex modestus, a potential UK vector of West Nile Virus.

Responsibilities within the University

Research; teaching; outreach; ECR representative at Faculty of Engineering & Science's Research & Enterprise Group

Current and Previous Funded Research Projects

Taking the bite out of wetlands; managing mosquitoes and the socio-ecological value of wetlands for wellbeing

Funded by the NERC Valuing Nature Health and Wellbeing programme (2016-2019), in collaboration with Cranfield University, Forest Research, Public Health England, University of Brighton and University of Bristol.

www.wetlandlife.org | @wetlandlife

Interest in the health and wellbeing impacts of wetlands has increased in the UK, in the context of both short and long term responses to extreme weather events and climate change. This is reflected in the UK Wetland Vision that identifies a need to make wetlands more relevant to people's lives by better understanding and harnessing the benefits provided by naturally-functioning rivers and wetlands. Expansion of wetlands can bring many benefits but it can also increase potential for mosquito-borne disease. There is a lack of knowledge about the consequences of wetland expansion for disease risk. This knowledge gap opens up space for speculation in the press and media about the perceived problems of 'killer' mosquitoes spreading across England, which can in turn fuel community unease and opposition to wetland creation and expansion. A key concern of the project is, therefore, to develop ecological interventions and guidance for diverse end-users to minimise mosquito-related problems, framed within and facilitated by a broader understanding of wetland value as impacted by mosquitoes. The potential contribution of wetland development to social and economic wellbeing envisaged in the UK Wetland Vision could be severely constrained by a failure to adequately address the risks imposed by mosquitoes and biting insects.

The overall aim of this project will be to show how positive socio-cultural and ecological values of wetlands can be maximised for wellbeing and negative attitudes reduced. Management interventions for use by Public Health England and general guidelines will be developed to limit the damaging effects of mosquito populations and enhance appreciation of the ecological value of mosquitoes in wetland ecosystems. The project will result in an increase in our understanding of wetland environments and demonstrate how ecological interventions embedded in a broader understanding of wetland valuation can deliver wellbeing benefits to a broad range of stakeholders. There are four main objectives: 1) Development of a new conceptual place-based ecosystem services and wellbeing framework for understanding the impact of interventions and wetland values. 2) Exploration of the value of wetlands and mosquitoes in twelve case study locations. 3) Production of guidelines for valuing wetlands and managing mosquito populations to enhance the value of British wetlands for wellbeing. 4) Production of a place-based narrative on the socio-cultural, economic and ecological value of wetlands in British Society in the early years of the 21st Century.

Human Decoy Trap; operational and social acceptability of novel tool to improve surveillance and control of mosquitoes and other disease vectors

Funded by the MRC Global Challenges Research Fund: Global Infections Foundation Award (2017-2019), in collaboration with Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé in Burkina Faso and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Benin and Cameroon.

There is an urgent need for research on improved methods of surveillance and control of vector mosquitoes to reduce the burden of malaria and other vector-borne diseases in Low and Middle Income Countries. The aim of this project is to determine whether our new mosquito trap, the Human Decoy Trap (HDT) can overcome the serious limitations of the most frequently used surveillance tools across sub-Saharan Africa, providing a standardised, cost-effective trap for sampling human-biting mosquitoes without putting field-assistants at risk of vector-borne diseases.

The main objectives of the project are threefold: firstly, to compare the quantitative entomological and epidemiological metrics provided by HDT samples against three of the most commonly used alternatives, over a range of representative ecological and sociological settings; secondly, to undertake a qualitative Participatory Technology Assessment of stakeholders who are most directly affected by surveillance technology, namely technical field and laboratory staff and at risk communities in malaria-endemic countries; and thirdly, to optimise the HDT's performance and user-acceptability by incorporating design recommendations arising from our entomological and sociological research during the first year of the project. We are working in Burkina Faso, Benin and
Cameroon, three West African countries where malaria causes thousands of deaths every year, but differing in intensity and seasonality of transmission and with different mosquito species involved.

MOSMOS – Mosquito Outdoor Sampling for Malaria Outdoor Surveillance

A one year project funded by the University of Greenwich to develop a trap that accurately samples Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito species most responsible for malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. An increasing proportion of malaria transmission occurs outdoors, where people are not protected from mosquito bites by bednets or indoor insecticide spraying, so there is a pressing need to understand the host-seeking and biting behaviour of mosquitoes outside of the home. Yet many outdoor mosquito traps are inefficient and expose fieldworkers to potentially infective mosquito bites. Working in collaboration with Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Sante (IRSS) in Burkina Faso, this project aims to develop a cheap, efficient and ethical trap with which to monitor outdoor-biting mosquitoes, so that accurate entomological data can be taken into account when malaria control interventions are being planned.

Ecological determinants of populations of Anopheles balabacensis, a vector of Plasmodium knowlesi malaria in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Funded by the Malaysian Ministry of Education's Fundamental Research Grant Scheme and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene; working in collaboration with Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Sabah Health Department.

This year-long project aims to gather data on the ecology and bionomics of Anopheles balabacensis, the mosquito implicated as a main vector responsible for the cross-species transfer of the zoonotic malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi from its non-human primate hosts, long- and pig-tailed macaques, to humans. The main focus of this project is to quantify some of the ecological, reproductive and behavioural factors that influence population dynamics of A. balabacensis, as well as establishing the key factors that determine the vector's contact with humans. Field data collected from Keningau, Tenom and Ranau districts, all hotspot areas with high incidences of human P. knowlesi cases, alongside laboratory findings, will feed into improved models of malaria transmission dynamics in this complex zoonotic system. Ultimately, we will work alongside Sabah Health Department to incorporate our findings into targeted, scientifically-informed vector control interventions for this emerging public health problem, which threatens Malaysia's aim to be malaria-free by 2020.

Selected Publications

  • Hawkes F, Manin BO, Ng SH, Torr SJ, Drakeley C, Chua TH, Ferguson HM (2017) Evaluation of electric nets as a means to sample mosquito vectors host-seeking on humans and primates. Parasites and Vectors, 10(338).
  • Hawkes, FM and Gibson, G (2016) Seeing is believing: the nocturnal mosquito Anopheles coluzzii responds to visual host-cues when odour indicates a host is nearby. Parasites and Vectors, 9(320).
  • Medlock, JM, Vaux, AGC, Gibson, G, Hawkes, FM, Cheke, RA (2014) Potential vector for West Nile virus prevalent in Kent. Veterinary Record, 175(11), 284-285.
  • Hawkes, FM, Whitehorn, LJ, Dublon, IAN, (2013) Superplot3D: an open source GUI tool for 3d trajectory visualisation and elementary processing. Source Code for Biology and Medicine, 8(19).
  • Hawkes, F, Young, S and Gibson, G (2012) Modification of spontaneous activity patterns in the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae when presented with host-associated stimuli. Physiological Entomology, 37(3), pp. 233-240.

Recent Conference Presentations

  • Hawkes, FM (2015) Monkey business: Developing traps to identify vectors transmitting zoonotic Plasmodium knowlesi from macaques to humans in Malaysian Borneo. War Against Mosquito-Borne Diseases International Symposium, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia: Oral presentation.
  • Hawkes, FM, & Gibson, G (2014) Exploiting the blood-seeking behaviour of mosquitoes to improve malaria control. Royal Entomological Society Insect Behaviour Special Interest Group Meeting, Rothamsted, UK: Oral and poster presentation.
  • Hawkes, F.M. & Gibson, G. (2013) Exploiting the behaviour of the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae to improve vector control. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Public Health Entomology Group Series, London, UK: Oral presentation.
  • Hawkes, F.M. & Gibson, G. (2013) Exploiting the blood-seeking behaviour of mosquitoes to improve malaria control. SET for Britain Biological and Biomedical Sciences Exhibition, House of Commons, London, UK: Poster presentation.
  • Hawkes, F.M. & Gibson, G. (2012) Improving malaria vector surveillance and control: quantifying and exploiting sensory cues. Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Research in Progress, London, UK: Oral presentation.

External Recognition

  • Member of the British Ecological Society
  • Member of the Royal Entomological Society
  • Member of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene

Contact Information

Dr Frances Hawkes

Natural Resources Institute

University of Greenwich

Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom.

Tel: +44(0)1634 883132

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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