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Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science


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Photo of Kathy Willis
Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kathy was appointed in November 2013 to lead Kew’s Science Directorate, which brings together the Herbarium, Jodrell Laboratory and Seed Conservation Department. Kathy is leading the development of a new science strategy for Kew, to focus and enhance its world-leading science and conservation work, strengthen its position as a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, and promote plant and fungal-based solutions to current global challenges.


Kathy’s career began with a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Southampton and was followed by a PhD in from the University of Cambridge. Kathy remained at Cambridge in the Department of Plant Sciences for her early postdoctoral career, obtaining fellowships with Selwyn College, NERC and the Royal Society, before moving to the University of Oxford in 1999 to take up a lectureship in the School of Geography and the Environment. While in this role she established the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory in 2002, and was made Professor of Long-term Ecology in 2008.

Kathy became Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford in 2010 and maintains this position and an adjunct Professorship in Biology at the University of Bergen. She previously held the Tasso Leventis Chair of Biodiversity at Oxford and was also founding Director of the Oxford Martin School’s Biodiversity Institute. Kathy became Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 2013.

Kathy was awarded the Lyell Fund for 2008 by the Geological Society of London, elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geological Society in 2009 and was made a Foreign Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2010.

Research Interests

Kathy’s research interests focus on the relationship between long-term vegetation dynamics and environmental change, with current projects examining biodiversity baselines and processes responsible for ecosystem thresholds and resilience. Recent work has also focused on the development of technologies to measure and derive economic and ecological values for biodiversity.

Projects in this area include the development of a web-based decision support tool to provide measure of ecological and biodiversity value of landscapes outside of protected areas that can be used by businesses to reconcile competing objectives of maximising financial gains and minimising ecological impacts.

Selected Publications

  • Cole, L.E.S., Bhagwat, S. A. & Willis, K.J. (2014). Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance. Nature Communications 5: 3906. Available online
  • Froyd, C.A., Cofey, E.E.D, van der Knapp, W.O., van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Tye, A. & Willis, K.J. (2014). The ecological consequences of megafaunal loss: giant tortoises and wetland biodiversity. Ecology Letters 17(2): 144-154. Available online
  • Tovar, C., Breman, E., Brncic, T., Harris, D.J., Bailey, R. & Willis, K.J. (2014). Influence of 1100 years of burning on the central African rainforest. Ecography:  DOI: 10.1111/ecog.00697. Available online
  • Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D., Burrough, S.L., Macias-Fauria, M. & Tovar, C. (2013). Determining the response of African biota to climate change: using the past to model the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368(1625):20120491. Available online
  • Willis, K.J., Jeffers, E.S., Tovar, C., Long, P., Caithness, N., Smith, M.G.D., Hagemann, R., Collin-Hansen, C. & Weissenberger, J. (2012). Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas. Biological Conservation 147(1): 3-12. Available online


Office of the Director of Science
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB
Tel: 0208 332 5050

Related links

University of Oxford profile 

Biodiversity Institute Oxford profile

Geological Society of London