Coffee fruits (Credit: Jenny Williams)
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Natural Capital and Plant Health

The Natural Capital and Plant Health department uses collections-based science to identify and evaluate the roles plants and fungi play in providing services to humankind.

Head, Natural Capital and Plant Health: Dr Paul Wilkin


The Natural Captial and Plant Health department seeks to address overarching issues that include ecosystem service provision, the effects of climate change, resilience and resource security. 

Research in the Natural Capital and Plant Health department is driven by four interrelated foci as follows: 

  • Agro-biodiversity research, ranging from global plant resources such as coffee to smaller scale products such as woody crops, legumes, cereals and tubers. This includes identifying key traits and useful diversity in crop wild relatives. Plant resource work will also investigate wood and timber identification and use, and generate and use understanding of the fungal communities that live within plants. 
  • Natural product chemistry approaches to studying plant-insect and plant-fungal interactions, focusing in particular on pollinator behaviour and health. These approaches will also identify natural chemical defence mechanisms against herbivores and pathogens, authenticate medicinal plants and evaluate their bioactivity.
  • Research into the beneficial impacts on human livelihoods of plant and fungal diversity, from medicinal herbs to forest trees. We work with communities in locations and economies where nutritional, income, health and biodiversity issues are of paramount importance, in many cases in partnership with external organisations. 
  • Plant disease research, especially on fungal pathogens in native UK plants. This will be principally undertaken in agricultural, forestry and horticultural contexts through, for example, molecular tools and citizen science web platforms for survey and monitoring purposes.