Natural Capital and Plant Health

Research on plant and fungal natural assets and the ecosystem services they underpin in order to enhance the societal benefits arising from them.

A man harvesting coffee in Ethiopia

Head of department: Dr Paul Wilkin

The department undertakes and disseminates research based on Kew’s plant and fungal collections on natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide, which generates societal benefits. We do so in order to improve outcomes including exploitation, livelihoods, sustainability and to provide evidence to inform policy.


Department priorities

  • Agrobiodiversity and plant and fungal assets, those that supply provisioning ecosystem services across the spectrum from cultivated plants to wild-exploited taxa, including foci on orphan, niche and novel crops. 
  • Focus on genetic and phenotypic diversity to identify crop wild relatives and sources of key traits for crop pre-breeding and breeding in landraces and wild relatives, with seed germination ecology to enable scaling up of production. 
  • Natural product chemistry approaches to studying plant-insect and plant-fungal interactions, especially how plant metabolites influence pollinator health and behaviour and field/field margin ecosystem services. We also authenticate the use of medicinal plants and evaluate their bioactivity based on natural products. 
  • The role of plant and fungal diversity in economic development, from Least Developed Countries (LDCs ) to the UK bioeconomy. 
  • Plant health and biosecurity, with a focus on tree health, in particular the most pressing current and near-term threats to UK trees (for example, ash dieback and acute oak decline) and the causative pathogens and pests. 

Department teams

  • Honey bees (Apis-mellifera)

    Biological Chemistry and In Vitro Research

    Undertaking fundamental and applied research on the characterisation, nature and uses of naturally occurring chemicals from plants and fungi.

  • Paramo Grasslands in Colombia

    Diversity and Livelihoods

    Research on impact of plant diversity on human lives and livelihoods, primarily in LDCs where nutritional, income, health and biodiversity conservation issues associated with plants and fungi are so importance. 

  • Looking up at an ash tree

    Plant Health

    The plant health team takes a genomic approach to tree health, especially in the UK, from both a plant and fungal perspective. We discover natural variants of genes that enable plants to overcome pests and pathogens. 

  • Hands holding soil and small coffee plant

    Plant Resources

    Research on plants that supply provisioning ecosystem services from coffee to edible legumes, Brassica species, minor cereals, forage plants and tubers to wood and timber.