Coffee fruits (Credit: Jenny Williams) > Kew Science > Who we are and what we do > Departments > Natural Capital and Plant Health

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.


Head of the Department: Dr Paul Wilkin

Department objectives

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.

Key department priorities

  • Agrobiodiversity and plant and fungal assets providing 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 (e.g. ash dieback, acute oak decline) and the causative pathogens and pests.

Department teams

Plant Resources - led by Dr Aaron Davis

Research on plants providing provisioning ecosystem services from coffee to edible legumes, Brassicas, minor cereals, forage plants and tubers to wood and timber.

Picking ripe coffee (harvesting) at Yayu. (Image: Jeremy Torz, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee).

Chemical Ecology and In vitro Biology - led by Dr Phil. Stevenson

The chemical ecology of pollination as a supporting ecosystem service; chemical defence against herbivores and pathogens; endophytes as sources of enhanced plant resilience and productivity.

Honey bee, Apis mellifera

Plant & Fungal Uses - led by Prof Monique Simmonds

Evaluation and authentication of the use of plant and fungal natural products to enhance human health and wellbeing.

Medicinal plant market in Anguo, China

Diversity & Livelihoods - led by Dr Tiziana Ulian

Research on the beneficial impacts 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 of paramount importance.

Plant Health - Dr Richard Buggs

Genomic approaches to tree health, especially in the UK, from both a plant and fungal perspective.

Autumn light through the yellow leaves

Further information

Natural Capital and Plant Health department projects

Learn more here about the interesting and diverse projects of Kew's Natural Capital and Plant Health department.

Natural Capital and Plant Health department staff

Search for staff of Kew's Natural Capital and Plant Health department as well as other Kew Science staff.

Useful Plants and Fungi Portal - Strategic Output 2020

Learn more about Kew's strategic 2020 output - Useful Plants and Fungi Portal.