Trait Diversity and Function

Exploring properties of plants and fungi, and their potential applications to human health, well-being and sustainable development.

Pink flowers

Head of department: Professor. Phil Stevenson

Plants and fungi hold the key to addressing many of the challenges facing the natural world. But there is still much we do not know about the properties that have enabled them to survive in the environment.

The specific suite of characteristics and properties of a species – its ‘traits’ – can reveal how it has adapted to particular environments, and how resilient it may be to future change.

Understanding these traits, how they have evolved and how they function, will enable us to better conserve plants and fungi, both within and outside their natural range or habitat, and to identify species and molecules we can use sustainably and equitably for the benefit of humankind. 

Department initiatives

  • Adaptation and Resilience: understand and utilise plant and fungal traits to increase resilience
  • Bio-interactions and Bioactive Molecules: explore biological interactions and bioactive molecules to unlock useful properties in plants and fungi   
  • Enhancing Survival: discover key survival traits for plant and fungal preservation and sustainable use
  • Sustainable Agriculture: identify and utilise traits to develop crops for sustainable agriculture 


  • A blanket of purple heather plants

    Biological Chemistry

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

  • Arecaceae

    Character Evolution

    Investigating the evolution of plant and fungal traits and their responses to global change.

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

    Seed and Stress Biology

    Examining diversity and adaptations in seeds affecting functional traits, from longevity and stress tolerance to germination.

  • Small umbrella-like grey fungi Coprinellus disseminatus

    Comparative Fungal Biology

    Studying the diversity, evolution and ecology of fungi using taxonomy, systematics and molecular approaches.

  • Fraxinus excelsior tree

    Plant Health and Adaptation

    Analysing the DNA of plants to understand how they resist pests and pathogens.

  • Hands holding soil and small coffee plant

    Crops and Global Change

    Researching crops, including utilised and underutilised plants, wild relatives and managed wild plant resources.