Kathy Willis

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For the Illinois State Representative, see Kathleen Willis

Kathy Willis
Residence UK
Citizenship British
Fields Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation
Institutions University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Thesis Late Quaternary vegetational history of Epirus, northwest Greece (1990)
Known for long-term ecology

Katherine "Kathy" Jane Willis is a biologist, focusing on the relationship between long-term ecosystem dynamics and environmental change. She is Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford,[1] and an adjunct Professor in Biology at the University of Bergen. She holds the Tasso Leventis Chair of Biodiversity at Oxford and was founding Director, now Associate Director, of the Biodiversity Institute Oxford.[2]

Early career[edit]

Willis gained her first degree in geography and environmental science from the University of Southampton, and her PhD in plant sciences from the University of Cambridge. Following this she held a Selwyn College Research Fellowship at the University of Cambridge, a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Plant Sciences, and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship in the Godwin Institute for Quaternary Research, University of Cambridge. In 1999 she moved to a lectureship in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, where she established the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory in 2002.

Professional career[edit]

Willis was made a professor of long-term ecology in 2008,[3] and on 1 October 2010 became the first Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity and director of the James Martin Biodiversity Institute in Zoology. In addition to her position in Oxford she is also an adjunct professor (professor II) in the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen, Norway. She is a trustee of WWF-UK,[4] a panel member on the advisory board for the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a trustee of the Percy Sladen Memorial Trust, an international member on the Swedish Research Council's FORMAS evaluation panel, and a college member of the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). From 2012 to 2013 she held the elected position of director-at-large of the International Biogeography Society.[5] In 2013 she was appointed Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on a 5 year secondment from the University of Oxford.[6]


Willis’s research[7] focuses on reconstructing long term responses of ecosystems to environmental change, including climate change, human impact and sea level rise. She argues that understanding long-term records of ecosystem change is essential for a proper understanding of future ecosystem responses. Many scientific studies are limited to short-term datasets that rarely span more than 40 to 50 years, although many larger organisms, including trees and large mammals, have an average generation time which exceeds this timescale. Short-term records therefore are unable to reconstruct natural variability over time, or the rates of migration as a result of environmental change. She also argues that a short-term approach gives a static view of ecosystems, and an unrealistic "norm" which must be maintained or restored and protected. Her research group in the Oxford Long-term Ecology laboratory therefore focuses on the reconstruction of ecosystem responses to environmental change on timescales ranging from tens to millions of years, and the applications of long-term records in biodiversity conservation.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Willis, K.J., K.D. Bennett, S.L. Burrough, M. Macias-Fauria, C. Tovar. 2013. "Determining the response of African biota to climate change: using the past to model the future". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368(1625):20120491
  • Willis, K.J., E.S. Jeffers, C. Tovar, P. Long, N. Caithness, M.G.D. Smith, R. Hagemann, C. Collin-Hansen, J. Weissenberger. 2012. "Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas". Biological Conservation, 147(1): 3-12
  • Willis, K.J. and Bhagwat, S.A. 2009. "Biodiversity and climate change". Science, 326, 806-807
  • Van Leeuwen, J., Froyd, C.A.; Van der Knapp, P., Coffey, E., Tye, A., Willis, K.J. 2008. "Fossil pollen guides conservation in the Galapagos". Science, 322, 1206
  • Froyd, C. and Willis, K.J. 2008. "Emerging issues in biodiversity and conservation management: the need for a palaeoecological perspective". Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 1723-1732
  • Willis, K.J. and Birks, H.J. B. 2006. "What is Natural? The need for a long-term perspective in biodiversity conservation". Science, 314, 1261-1265
  • Willis, K.J. and McElwain, J.C. 2002. The Evolution of Plants. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 380 pp.
  • Willis, K.J. and Whittaker, R.J. 2002. "Species diversity: scale matters". Science, 295, 1245-1248
  • Willis, K.J., Kleczkowski, A. and Crowhurst, S.J. 1999, "124,000 year periodicity in terrestrial vegetation change during the late Pliocene epoch". Nature, 397,685-688.
  • Willis, K.J., Kleczkowski, A. Briggs, K.M. and Gilligan, C.A. 1999. "The role of sub-Milankovitch climatic forcing in the initiation of the Northern Hemisphere Glaciation". Science, 285, 568-571.



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