Professor Katherine Willis, CBE

Research Interests

My research examines long-term biodiversity responses to environmental change. Specifically I work on the dynamic processes of species and their interactions with the environment over time. Research topics covered fall broadly into three categories: 

  1. reconstruction of biodiversity baselines and targets
  2. determination of ecosystem resilience, variability and thresholds 
  3. understanding drivers and rates of change to ecosystem services

My research also focuses on the development of web-based decision support tools that provide a measure of ecological risk and ecosystem service value of landscapes outside of protected areas. In development of these tools the overall aim has been to create easy-to-use automated tools that require: a) minimum input by the stakeholder; b) an output that is quick to generate and easily interpretable; c) sufficient information so that the user can reconcile the competing objectives of maximizing financial gains and minimizing ecological impacts.


Additional Information

I am currently on a 5-year secondment (2013-2018) from Oxford University to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew as their first Director of Science. I spend approximately 80% of my time in Kew and 20% in Oxford. In Kew, I am responsible for a science staff of 260 people, management of the extensive plant collections and delivery of the Kew science strategy and associated strategic outputs. In Oxford, I run the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory.

I also serve on the following committees and advisory boards:

  • Member of UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee 
  • Member of the Advisory Board to the International Sustainable Biomass Partnership
  • Executive Board, UK Plant Sciences Federation
  • Oxford Honorary Degree Committee
  • Delegate, Oxford University Press
  • Member of the Expert Advisory Group for the Scottish Centre of Expertise in Plant Health
  • Global Biodiversity Informatics Facility (GBIF) UK delegate


Current grants include:

Selected Publications

2016. Seddon, A.W.R., Macias-Fauria, M., Long, P.R., Benz, D., Willis, K.J. Sensitivity of global terrestrial ecosystems to climate variability. Nature, 531, 229-232. doi:10.1038/nature16986

2016. Baker, A. G., Cornelissen, P., Bhagwat, S. A., Vera, F. W. M. and Willis, K. J.Quantification of population sizes of large herbivores and their long-term functional role in ecosystems using dung fungal spores. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12580

2016. Nogué, S., Long, P.R., Eycott, A.E., de Nascimento, L., Fernández-Palacios, J.M., Petrokofsky, G., Vandvik, V., Willis, K.J. Pollination service delivery for European crops: Challenges and opportunities, Ecological Economics, 128, 1-7,

2015. Willis, K.J., Seddon, A.W.R., Long, P.R., Jeffers, E.S., Caithness, N., Thurston, M., Smit, M.G.D., Hagemann, R., Macias-Fauria, M. Remote assessment of locally important ecological features across landscapes: how representative of reality? Ecological Applications25 (5), 1290-1302

2015. Romeu-Dalmau, C., Bonsall, M.B., Willis, K.J. and Dolan, L. Asiatic cotton can generate similar economic benefits to Bt cotton under rain-fed conditions. Nature Plants 1 (6)

2015. Jeffers, E.S., Nogue, S.  and Willis, K.J. The role of palaeoecological records in assessing ecosystem services. Quaternary Science Reviews, 112, 17-32.

2014. Cole, L.E.S., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis K.J. Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance. Nature Communications, 5, 3906 doi:10.1038/ncomms4906

2014. Froyd, C.A., Coffey, E.E.D., Knaap, W.O., Leeuwen, J.F.N., Tye, A., Willis K.J., The ecological consequences of megafaunal loss: giant tortoises and wetland biodiversity. Ecology letters 17 (2), 144-154






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