Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology

Understanding the principles that determine plant and fungal diversity and applying this knowledge to the global challenges of today.

Small funnel like fungi on a log

Head of the department: Dr William J Baker 
Assistant head of the department: Dr Ilia J Leitch

By researching Kew's unique collections in our extensive facilities, we play a central role in Kew Science, in collaboration with colleagues across Kew and our partners in over 100 countries worldwide.

We undertake comparative research that combines breadth in the diversity of organisms studied with depth in the analytical approaches applied. This allows us to generate authoritative and wide-ranging insights into the systematics, evolution and traits of major plant and fungal groups.

By studying diversity at the level of genes through to ecosystems, we explain how plants and fungi evolve, interact with each other and their environment, and respond to global change.

Department priorities

  • Building the tree of life of plants and fungi The evolutionary tree of life underpins all of our research. It provides a fundamental roadmap for exploring and predicting patterns of diversity, and for understanding its drivers and future trends. Building the tree of life for plants and fungi remains a long-term research priority for Kew. 
  • Trait-based research across plant and fungal lineages We focus on specific traits to explore the genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, cellular, whole-organism and ecological processes underpinning plant and fungal diversity. Key traits we are investigating include: seed behaviour, floral evolution, structural and chemical characteristics, fungal symbiotic interactions and genomic diversity. 
  • Lineage-focused research on plant and fungal groups We develop deep expertise in globally important groups of plants and fungi. Our plant and fungal lineage experts are leaders in the taxonomy and systematics of their groups and apply their knowledge to broader evolutionary and ecological questions. The targeted families (grasses, legumes, lichens, macrofungi, mycorrhizal fungi, myrtles, orchids and palms) cover all major regions and habitats of the world and are used as model groups for those areas. 


Department teams

  • Researcher looking at computer screen with a image of seeds from the microscope

    Analytical Methods

    Delivering and developing the laboratory infrastructure and techniques to support Kew Science, ensuring that our scientists and partners can undertake world-class research that maximises the value of our collections.

  • Arecaceae

    Character Evolution

    Investigating the evolution of plant and fungal traits and their responses to global change. We focus on genomic, physiological, phenotypic and ecological traits to understand global plant and fungal diversity.  

  • Xerocomellus pruinatus under microscope

    Comparative Fungal Biology

    Exploring the diversity and evolution of the world’s fungi. The Comparative Fungal Biology team combines fundamental taxonomic expertise with modern molecular approaches and ecological perspectives. 

  • Seed diversity - image of lots of different seeds on a black background

    Comparative Seed Biology

    Examining diversity and adaptations in seeds, from longevity to germination. Our team focuses on key seed functional traits in wild plant species, especially traits related to germination, longevity and stress.

  • PhD student looking at Aloes outside of Kew's Alpine House

    Integrated Monography

    Conducting fundamental research on the classification and evolution of plants. We study taxonomy, classification and evolution of the most economically and ecologically important groups of plants.