MSc in Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation

Gain an in-depth understanding of plant and fungal taxonomy and diversity alongside evolutionary biology and conservation theory and practice.

Group of students walking through forest

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This MSc partnership between Kew and Queen Mary University of London trains the next generation of scientists ready to describe, understand and conserve global biodiversity.

Students on this one-year course will develop their plant and fungal identification skills, as well as a thorough grounding in molecular systematics, evolutionary biology, and conservation policy, theory and practice. 

You will learn how to apply new technologies to answer fundamental questions about the diversity of plant and fungal life on Earth, how it evolved and how we can best conserve it. 

Students will visit conservation projects and experience rare exotic plants during a field trip to Madagascar.

You’ll get an introduction to practical field work, including botanical surveys and flowering plant identification, and how they can be applied to solving practical problems of conservation management as well as biodiversity research. 

Students will also conduct a six-month individual research project at Kew or QMUL, focusing on a topic to suit their interests and career goals. 

Graduates will acquire the cross-disciplinary skills to open up career opportunities in academia, government, industry, environmental consultancy, public engagement and non-governmental organisations.

They will also gain the knowledge and skills to conduct PhD training in any area of taxonomy, molecular systematics, ecology, evolution, or more applied conservation work. 

Video © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Queen Mary University of London

Course structure

The course is delivered by scientists from both RBG Kew and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), and consists of:

  • five taught modules 
  • a two-week field course in the humid tropical forests of Madagascar (although venues are subject to change) 
  • a six-month individual research project

Three of the taught modules are delivered at Kew in West London, and two at QMUL Mile End Campus in East London.

Students can decide where to complete their six-month research project. 

Over 80 per cent of a student's time is typically spent at Kew where they will have access to Kew’s extensive collections including the Herbarium and Fungarium, as well as Kew’s research expertise.

Teaching and assessment

The five modules are taught in two-week blocks with a subsequent week’s study break for independent learning. 

Students will be assessed on coursework throughout the year, and on their final research project.  

The taught modules and field course together form 50 per cent of the final grade; the individual research project forms the remaining 50 per cent. 

Student looking at a seedling in the ground with a researcher from Madagascar
MSc fieldtrip © David R/RBG Kew.
Eight students trekking through forest in Madagascar with the sun shining down
Trekking through forest in Madagascar © David R/RBG Kew.

Research Frontiers in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation 

Taught at Kew and QMUL.

This introductory module teaches key knowledge in conservation, biodiversity and evolution, and looks at cutting-edge research in these areas. 

Essential skills in writing, research and presentation are also taught, where students will learn to critically assess research, develop their own research questions, and design approaches to answering those questions. 

Statistics and Data Analysis 

Taught at QMUL.

Essential training in experimental design, data handling and data analyses, in a context appropriate for environmental and evolutionary biology. 

The module focuses on how to select the appropriate method of analysis, how to analyse data using the statistical programming language R, and how to interpret the output of that analysis. 

Fungal Taxonomy and Diversity 

Taught at Kew.

An overview of the systematics and taxonomy of major fungal groups, with an evolutionary perspective. The module will cover basic concepts in mycology, field collecting and culturing, and fungarium techniques. Fungal ecology, biogeography and evolutionary genomics will also be explored. 

Kew has the largest collection of fungal specimens in the world, which will be available to students throughout the course. 

Biodiversity Survey and Spatial Analysis 

Taught at Kew.

Students will learn how to collect and work with genetic, geographical and biodiversity record data and how to draw conclusions about species distributions, status, and potential conservation approaches. 

Students will learn the main approaches to vegetation surveying and securing good quality data on which to base analysis of species distribution and status.   

You will then study the importance, theory, and practice of conservation genetics — examining, through case studies, how genetic diversity information can inform conservation decisions.   

Finally, students receive training in the requirements for assessing extinction threat in plants and fungi.

The work includes preparing a conservation report and a preliminary red list assessment for one species. This is a professional competency using IUCN endorsed materials and approaches. 

Plant Taxonomy and Diversity 

Taught at Kew.

Taught by leading botanists at Kew, this module provides an overview of global plant diversity and an opportunity to explore Kew’s outstanding collections and facilities. 

Topics range from taxonomic principles and methodology, plant systematics and comparative biology (including morphology, chemistry and genomics), phylogenetics, biogeography and evolution. 

Field Study Skills in a Biodiversity Hotspot 

Taught by Kew.

Students will spend two weeks in a humid tropical forest learning key fieldwork skills. Training is provided by Kew's fieldwork experts as well as scientists from the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC)

Working in groups, students learn how to conduct full botanical and mycological surveys and explore local conservation challenges. 

Working with local guides and botanists, students gain real-life experience of conducting research in one of the world's most diverse and unique biomes. 

Applicants for the programme from outside the UK should ensure that there are no residency or travel restrictions that would prevent them from attending this part of the course. 

Students should expect to undertake physically demanding fieldwork in remote locations. We reserve the right to change the location of the fieldwork module in exceptional circumstances. 

Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation Research Project 

This six-month individual research project enables students to focus on an area that interests them, with Kew's vast scientific collections available for investigative research. 

Projects can be based at Kew, Queen Mary University of London or Wakehurst in Sussex (home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank), with the opportunity for fieldwork both in the UK and further afield. 

Laboratory facilities are available at each of the locations, including Queen Mary's supercomputing and informatics resources.

Most students choose to complete their research project at Kew.

For examples of the types of research project you can undertake, browse the MSc dissertations on our research repository, written by our previous MSc students.

How to apply 

The degree is awarded by QMUL, and all applications are conducted through QMUL.  

Applications are now open: For full details including course fees, funding and entry requirements, visit the QMUL website

You can also contact the Postgraduate Admissions Office, School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences, Queen Mary University of London 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3328 


Apply to MSc in Plant and Fungal Diversity, Taxonomy & Conservation


QMUL logo

Further details

For full details including course fees, funding and entry requirements, visit the QMUL course webpage

As the majority of the course is taught at Kew, it is more appropriate for students to live around Kew Gardens in South West London. 

Two co-directors are responsible for the structure and content of the course: Andrew Leitch from QMUL and Cheung Tang from RBG Kew.

If you have any questions about the MSc content or structure, please contact them.  

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