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Mx Willow Neal

Profile summary

Professional biography


My name is Willow (They/Them) and I am a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) at The Open University (OU). I am an OU graduate from 2019, where I studied BSc (Hons) Environmental Science part-time alongside various jobs including retail, laboratory work, and education. I graduated in 2020 from Oxford Brookes University with a Distinction in MSc Conservation Ecology, where I studied many conservation issues, solutions, and practices. 

My expertise are in butterflies and woodland conservation. For my undergraduate dissertation I studied phenological mismatch between plants and pollinators in an urban ancient woodland, finding that warmer March temperatures increased first flowering date by five days per 1-degree Celsius increase. I found also that butterfly emergence was impacted by warmer March temperatures as well. At Oxford Brookes University I studied MSc Conservation Ecology with a focus on butterfly conservation. I wrote about woodland management for Fritillaries and studied the phylogenetics of different sub-species of animals. For my thesis, I performed a metapopulation viability analysis using historical and then current (2019) records of butterflies in a selection of woodlands fragmented by agricultural land in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Principal findings were that the fragmentation and lack of management would see most of these populations decline without intervention. 

In addition to a PGR, I am also an Associate Lecturer with the OU on the module SDT306 Environment: Responding to Change.

Addtionally, as queer person myself I am also very enthusiastic in support of equal representation in science and education, particularly LGBTQ+ people.

Research interests

My main areas of research interest are conservation of insects and their habitats, habitat fragmentation, woodland ecology along with equality, diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.

My PhD, in collaboration with Dr. Phil Wheeler and Dr. Yoseph Araya, continues my previous education and research, looking at woodland butterflies this time within an urban matrix, and how they can persist and move between habitat patches. The main goals of my PhD are:

  • To understand which species of butterflies, occur in urban woodlands, where, and the features of the woodland that support butterfly species richness.
  • Develop a habitat network model that can simulate the habitat network and understand how butterflies move between patches.
  • Understand life history traits and habitat associations.
  • Make recommendations on urban woodland management for butterflies and therefore, more broadly, supporting urban biodiversity.

Non-PhD research

  • I have begun a joint project working with Dr Blanca Huertas at the Natural History Museum about butterflies in colombia.
  • A project about dispersal and distribution of Nezara viridula, a crop pest in Africa, with Dr. Emmanuel Jr. Zuza of the Royal Agricultural University.
  • I have also recently become involved as a butterfly specialist in the Open Societal Challenges project 'Butterfly Wing Diversification & Evolution with Citizen Science', which you can read more about here: Butterfly Wing Diversification & Evolution with Citizen Science ( uk).
  • I am leading a project about academia awarding for LGBTQ+ students with an intersectional perspective titled "Evaluating an LGBTQ+ awarding gap and supporting our queer student community: An intersectional perspective".

Teaching interests

I am currently an Associate Lecturer on the interdisciplinary ecological module SDT306: Environment: Responding to Change. This is a great module covering many contemporary issues from biodiversity loss, the challenges that are present, and the exploration of some solutions. There are also modules on Climate Change and an excellent module on Food Security. All these modules are intertwined to produce a really interesting and essential module for our students to learn.

Impact and engagement

External collaborations

CENTA DTP Studentship
Issued by Natural Environment Research Council 

Doctoral training partnership with the Central England NERC Training Alliance. 


Influence of canopy structural complexity on urban woodland butterfly species richness (2024)
Neal, Willow; Araya, Yoseph and Wheeler, Philip M.
Journal of Insect Conservation ((early access))

Ecological impacts of habitat fragmentation (2023-11-23)
Neal, Bradley
In : Habitat fragmentation workshop (23 Nov 2023, Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK)

Maximising the benefit of urban woodlands for butterflies (2023)
Neal, Bradley; Araya, Yoseph and Wheeler, Philip
In : British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2023 (12-15 Dec 2023, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK)

Urban Woodland Butterfly Habitat Suitability (2022-12-19)
Neal, Bradley; Araya, Yoseph and Wheeler, Philip
In : British Ecological Society (BES) Annual Meeting 2022 (18-21 Dec 2022, EICC, Edinburgh, UK)

Overcoming depression and homophobia to start a PhD: my academic journey (2022)
Neal, Bradley
Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, The Open University