Kathy Willis

Professor of Biodiversity

Fellow of Merton College


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:  i) reconstruction of biodiversity baselines and targets; ii) determination of ecosystem resilience, variability and thresholds; (iii) 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 [see http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/kews-science-strategy]. In Oxford, I run the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory [see http://oxlel.zoo.ox.ac.uk/]

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:

Food Security Impacts of Industrial Crop Expansion in Sub-Sahara Africa (Belmont Foundation grant 2015-2018 – Co-PI: Willis - £450,000) (see: https://supportoffice.jp/ficessa/ )

Remote assessment and identification of mosquito species using smartphone technologies (Google Impact Challenge award 2015-2018 - PI: Willis - £500,000) (see: http://humbug.ac.uk/ )

NaturEtrade creating a marketplace for ecosystem services (EU Life+ grant funded project 2013-2018 - PI: Willis - €1.9million) (see: http://naturetrade.net/ )

Unravelling biofuel impacts on ecosystem services, human wellbeing and poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa (NERC-ESPA  2013-2016 - PI: Willis - £400,000) (see: http://oxlel.zoo.ox.ac.uk/research/projects/unravelling-biofuel-impacts-on-ecosystem-services-human-wellbeing-and-poverty-alleviation-in-sub-saharan-africa/ )

Developing a tool for remote assessment of ecologically important landscapes (Statoil & NERC 2010-2016 - PI: Willis - £375,000) (see http://isis-innovation.com/licence-details/determining-ecological-value/



Email: kathy.willis@zoo.ox.ac.uk
PA: Sharon Cornwell (sharon.cornwell@zoo.ox.ac.uk)



Selected Publications

  • For a full list of publications please go to http://oxlel.zoo.ox.ac.uk/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, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.03.023

    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 Applications 25 (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