Natasha murray case study profile

Natasha Murray

Why did you choose to study your course? 

As someone who has always been passionate about both improving our understanding of  animals and prioritising their conservation, zoology seemed like a natural choice. Biology was also my favourite subject during my A-level studies, but before researching all the different courses I didn’t know that a course so tailored to my interests within the subject area existed. After seeing everything I could study within the course offered by Leeds, and the great opportunities for field work provided here, I knew it was the course for me.

What do you enjoy about your course?

I most enjoy the practical applications of the course, although there is lots of classroom based learning and theory, you then get to see what you learn in action either in the lab or field. It’s also a very group-work focussed course, so you learn a lot about collaborating in a professional environment whilst making friends with people who share similar interests to you. 

What were the highlights of the course? 

The 3rd year South African ecology field course was definitely a highlight for me. This allowed me to experience the applications of everything I loved about the course and really inspired me to keep pursuing a conservation career. We met amazing people and saw how our studies can impact real positive changes for restoring and maintaining biodiversity. 

What has been the greatest challenges throughout your course? 

The greatest challenge was overcoming the barriers the pandemic put in between face-to-face teaching and the practical work opportunities offered by the course. Staying motivated when you were learning online and couldn’t see your course friends for a year was very challenging but it made 3rd year even better when we could all come back again.

What is your research project on and what has it involved?

My project explored continuing and novel threats facing the UK pollinator population. Alarming global pollinator declines have been realised over the past decade, largely attributed to by land-use intensification and the usage of toxic pesticides in their rural habitats. Urban gardens are both free of the lasting effects of irresponsible pesticide-use, and are capable of supporting diverse and rich communities of pollinators. As a result, cities, such as London, are now being considered a crucial element in the future of pollinator conservation. However, these cities are also home to some of the highest ambient concentrations of air pollution, which has evidenced consequences for pollinator health and behaviour.

I highlighted a gap in the research about how sustained high concentrations of pollutants are affecting pollinator biodiversity outside of a controlled environment. I investigated whether exposure to high concentrations of an ambient air pollutant (Nitrogen Dioxide, NO2), in London, affected the biodiversity and composition of pollinator communities residing there. Using field-based flower-insect timed counts, across six urban public gardens, and two rural gardens for comparison, frequencies of visiting pollinating insects were recorded over two months. Over the same period, air samples were collected from individual sites to provide data on their local pollution exposure. The concentrations of NO2 at sites were modelled against the pollinator biodiversity observed there.

When sites had sustained high concentrations of NO2, this was associated with a lower degree of pollinator biodiversity being observed there. Additionally, when NO2 concentrations were higher, differences in community compositions specifically saw less visitation by groups of pollinators crucial to ecosystem services. My results continued to evidence the dangers of high ambient concentrations of air pollutants to pollinators, and call for more to be done to reduce anthropogenic pollution of urban areas.

How would you rate the facilities available to you throughout your project? How have these enhanced your experience?

I had great support from my supervisors, but was also given the freedom and indepndnece to design and carry out the project how I saw fit. This was a great way to show what I had learnt within my course over 3 years.

Why did you choose the University of Leeds? 

Leeds is internationally regarded very highly in its academics and research focussed learning, making it an exciting place for a young scientist to learn. It’s great that your lecturers, at the same time as teaching you, are trying to solve real world problems and are doing exciting research in the same place as you as an undergraduate. However, for me, along with its academic merit the university has a great sociable, supportive community feel and in my opinion is the best place to be a student in the UK. 

What is your current role?

I am currently undertaking a year abroad that was delayed due to the pandemic. Thanks to the University of Leeds study exchange programme I am currently studying at a top university in Melbourne (Monash University) expanding my knowledge and meeting other Zoologists across the world!

How has your course helped with your career aspirations?

The course has solidified my aspirations to be a conservationist, and the industry links and great careers services has provided me great opportunities to gain work experience in the sector and find graduate roles when I finish my studies!