The University of Southampton
Geography and Environment

Mrs Sarah Ward 

Postgraduate research student

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Mrs Sarah Ward is Postgraduate research student within Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton.

I have always been interested in the natural world and wanted to do my own research. My undergraduate degree was at the University of Leicester in physics with planetary science, and during this time I got involved in a sustainability project in East Africa which really inspired me. The remote sensing masters course brought me to Southampton, and it was here that I found out about the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation (ICSS) and the new kind of PhD that they offered. This four year PhD program gave me the freedom to explore ideas in the first masters year, and design a PhD project that I am really passionate about. I am now studying the changes in shallow East African lakes and the affect upon lesser flamingo population abundance. Because of the nature of my PhD, I am now based in the School of Geography where I am supervised by Pete Langdon. I am still linked with the ICSS where I am supervised by Seth Bullock for the modeling aspect of my project.



Research interests

Research project: An exploration of the ecosystem instabilities at Lake Bogoria, Kenya, investigating the cause of fluctuations in phytoplankton (A. fusiformis) abundance, and lesser flamingo die-off's.

Soda lakes are highly productive ecosystems with low species diversity. They are shallow basins that undergo large fluctuations in water level in response to rainfall, resulting in rapid changes in the physical and chemical characteristics of these lakes. These changing conditions cause shifts in phytoplankton abundance and community structure, which affects the abundance of phytoplankton available for grazing by lesser flamingos.

Lesser flamingos are highly specialised filter feeders that move between soda lakes in the East African Rift. The lesser flamingo population is in decline, and the reduction in population since the 1950’s has been estimated at 21%. Changes in food availability affects the distribution and density of lesser flamingos across the East African soda lakes, and is likely to be an important factor in the mortality events observed at some locations.

Many hypotheses have been postulated about the cause of lesser flamingo population decline, however the lack of any continuous data about these systems has made the evaluation of these hypotheses very difficult. I am using lake sediment cores to reconstruct phytoplankton abundance and community structure, and to explore novel flamingo population proxies. After the reconstruction of these parameters, lake dynamics will be modeled to investigate the thresholds that cause changes in phytoplankton abundance and community structure, the affect of these changes on lesser flamingo movements, and how this might contribute to declines in population. These results would be important for the conservation of lesser flamingos and their habitats.

Research group

Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory at the University of Southampton (PLUS)

Mrs Sarah Ward
Building 44 University of Southampton University Road Southampton SO17 1BJ
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