Prof Downs has been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal since 1994 lecturing and conducting research. Her research interests are broad and multidisciplinary. They include the conservation, general biology and ecophysiology (particularly nutrition, digestive physiology, frugivory and thermal biology) of terrestrial vertebrates in unpredictable environments
Prof Downs is passionate about science education, with a particular focus on addressing problems experienced by Biology students. She has contributed to the development of research capacity, particularly at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
Her research extends to ecosystem health in KwaZulu-Natal incorporating conservation, general biology and persistence of species with changing land use (including urban ecology). This includes several species such as Cape Parrots, Bushbuck, Oribi, Pelicans, Cape Vultures, Nile Crocodiles, Fruit Bats, small carnivores and feral cats.