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Emily O'Rourke

Mrs Emily O'Rourke

Research student

School of Biosciences


I am undertaking my PhD with the Cardiff University Otter Project. The project is a national research and monitoring programme, which collects otters found dead in order to study environmental health and otter ecology. My research focuses on chemical pollution of otters and our waterways. Chemical use is essential for modern life, however, through manufacture, use and disposal these chemicals are inevitably entering our environment, and some have toxic effects on wildlife and humans. As top predators, otters are vulnerable to persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals, therefore it is important to monitor chemicals in our wildlife so we know which chemicals are bioavailable to wildlife, and can identify threats to wildlife health. But additionally, otters can act as effective ‘sentinels’ telling us what chemicals are present in the environment that may also be available to other species, including humans: the rivers where otters feed provide the water for our reservoirs. Due to dilution, chemicals in water samples are often at concentrations below the limit of detection (i.e. below a level that can be picked up by the analytical methods used). Due to bioaccumulation, concentrations in otters can be at a level which are detectable, and, due to otters being non-migratory, concentrations found in their bodies after death are reflective of the area where they lived and fed. Consequently, we can use otters to compare concentrations between different areas, and to make comparisons between years. 



Environmental and Anthropogenic Drivers of Contaminant Influx and Recirculation within Freshwater Systems


I completed my undergraduate degree in zoology at Cardiff University in 2009, and in 2011 gained a PGCE in secondary science from Canterbury Christ Church University. I subsequently worked as a science teacher and key stage leader at two schools in Kent. In 2018, after taking a year out to travel, I was inspired to pursue a change of career to focus on river ecology, conservation and education outside the classroom. I came back to the UK to join the Cardiff University Otter Project and in January 2019 began my PhD.


Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick

Senior Lecturer

Frank Hailer

Frank Hailer

Senior Lecturer

Research themes


  • Toxicology
  • Bioavailability and ecotoxicology