Professor Baroness Kathy Willis, CBE

Research Interests

I am Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Biology and the Principal of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. I am also a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords. Previous roles include Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a member of the UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee.

My research falls into three categories. First, the determination of how plant biodiversity responds, from decades to millennia, to climate change and other environmental drivers. Second, the flow and spatial distribution of critical ecosystem services that we obtain from nature such as the draw-down of atmospheric CO2, flood risk protection, clean water, and soil erosion. Third, the relationship between biodiversity and human health (good and bad). ‘Bad’ includes ongoing mosquito projects associated with the HumBugII and IVCC projects. ‘Good’, is a relatively new but rapidly expanding research avenue to examine the mechanisms of action that occur when our senses (sight, smell, sound, and touch and the hidden sense of the environmental microbiome) interact with certain aspects of nature, to bring about positive physical and mental health outcomes.

In addition to my research work, I have led a number of initiatives to assimilate global knowledge on plant (and fungal) biodiversity change including State of the World’s Plants (2016, 2017), State of the World’s Fungi (2018) and as a lead author on the 2019 Global Assessment of Biodiversity for the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

My public communication of science has included writing and presenting the 25-part BBC Radio 4 series From Roots to Riches, and presenting, interviews and appearances on, among other programmes, BBC One - Sir David Attenborough’s Extinction, The Facts; the BBC World Service two-part series Feeding the World; and The Life Scientific. Most recently I have appeared on BBC One Greta Thunberg a year to change the world, BBC Four Nature and Us: A History through Art and the BBC World Service - The Evidence - the nature of mental health. I was awarded the Michael Faraday Medal for public communication of science from the Royal Society in 2015.

I have also published around 200 academic papers (Google Scholar), three books, and two edited volumes: The Evolution of Plants (Oxford University Press); Biodiversity in the Green Economy (Routledge); Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2 (Wiley); Roots to Riches (John Murray), based on the BBC series of the same name; and Botanicum (Big Picture Press) which is part of a successful series of books for children. Later this year I have another book being published Good Nature: The New Science of How Nature improves Our Health (Bloombury).

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