Sarah Ward

I have always been fascinated by the natural world, and in my physics undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester I enjoyed learning about the basic principles that allow life in the universe to exist. During this time I travelled to Lake Bogoria in Kenya with a research group. I saw over a million flamingos in the spectacular setting of the Great Rift Valley soda (hyper-saline) lakes, and learned that there are many unanswered questions about these fragile and dynamic ecosystems. I was inspired to pursue a research career that focused specifically these particular environments, and so began my PhD at the Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory, University of Southampton in 2010.

There is concern that the flamingo population may be in serious decline, but because they can live for over 50 years and do not breed very often it is difficult to know what the long term trend in population change is and what the real cause of changes are.

To investigate this problem I have used a combination of ‘palaeo’ and modelling techniques to try and find out more about how the changes in the soda lakes affect the flamingo population. Now near the end of my PhD, I have some interesting data that I am analysing and bringing together with the model. I hope that this will improve our understanding of these ecosystems so that they have a better chance of surviving in the future.