Kathy Willis

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For the Illinois State Representative, see Kathleen Willis

Kathy Willis
Born Katherine Jane Willis
Residence UK
Citizenship British
Alma mater
Thesis Late Quaternary vegetational history of Epirus, northwest Greece (1990)
Doctoral students
Notable awards

Katherine 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,[4] 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.[5][6] Willis is also Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.[7]


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.[8]


Following her PhD, Willis held a Selwyn College, Cambridge postdoctoral 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. Willis was made a professor of long-term ecology in 2008,[9] 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,[10] 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.[11] In 2013 she was appointed Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew,[7] on a 5-year secondment from the University of Oxford.[12] BBC Radio started to broadcast in October 2014 an "indefinite" series of documentary talks about the scientific and social history of the Kew collection,[13][14]


Willis’s research[15] 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. She has argued that the impacts of contemporary climate change on plant biota is uncertain and potentially not as severe as researchers envision,[16] and challenged assumptions made in the interpretation of spatially constrained temperature records.[17] Kew's State of the World's Plants report (2016) pinpoints land cover change as the major threat to global biodiversity, not climate change.[18]

Willis's research has been published in leading peer reviewed scientific journals including Nature,[19] Science,[20][21][22][23][24] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,[25] Biological Conservation.[26] and Quaternary Science Reviews.[27] With Jennifer McElwain[28] she co-authored the textbook The Evolution of Plants.[29] Her research has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).[30]

Awards and honours[edit]

Willis has won several awards including:


  1. ^ Figueroa Rangel, Blanca (2007). Long-term forest dynamics in high-altitude mountains of West-Central Mexico : the human and climate dimension in the Holocene (PhD thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 236050554.  open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ Cole, Lydia Eve Spencer (2013). Disturbance, recovery and resilience in tropical forests : a focus on the coastal peat swamp forests of Malaysian Borneo (PhD thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 868073644.  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ Cole, L. E.; Bhagwat, S. A.; Willis, K. J. (2014). "Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance". Nature Communications. 5: 3906. doi:10.1038/ncomms4906. PMC 4354292Freely accessible. PMID 24844297.  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ "Kathy Willis Staff page, Department of Zoology". University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 2014-02-25. 
  5. ^ "Kathy Willis Profile at Biodiversity Institute". Archived from the original on 2015-05-05. 
  6. ^ Kathy Willis's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier. (subscription required)
  7. ^ a b "Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science". Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Archived from the original on 2014-07-17. 
  8. ^ Willis, Katherine Jane (1989). Late Quarternary [sic] vegetational history of Epirus, northwest Greece (PhD thesis). University of Cambridge. OCLC 556632964. 
  9. ^ "Kathy Willis Oxford Long Term Ecology webpage". University of Oxford. Archived from the original on 2015-05-19. 
  10. ^ WWF-UK Trustees Biographies 2011
  11. ^ International Biogeography Society, Past Officers
  12. ^ Press Release, Kew Gardens Archived February 3, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "Plants – From Roots to Riches". London: BBC. 
  14. ^ Willis, K. J. (2014). Kew and BBC Radio 4. London: John Murray. ISBN 1444798235. 
  15. ^ Professor K.J. Willis, Research Gate profile
  16. ^ University of Oxford. "Can Biodiversity Persist In The Face Of Climate Change?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 December 2009. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091106111214.htm.
  17. ^ Seddon, Alistair W.R.; Long, P. R.; Willis, K. (2014). "Spatiotemporal patterns of warming". Nature Climate Change. 4: 845–846. doi:10.1038/nclimate2372. 
  18. ^ https://stateoftheworldsplants.com/report/sotwp_2016.pdf
  19. ^ Willis, K. J.; Kleczkowski, A.; Crowhurst, S. J. (1999). "124,000-year periodicity in terrestrial vegetation change during the late Pliocene epoch". Nature. 397 (6721): 685–688. doi:10.1038/17783. 
  20. ^ Willis, K. J.; Bhagwat, S. A. (2009). "Ecology. Biodiversity and climate change". Science. 326 (5954): 806–7. doi:10.1126/science.1178838. PMID 19892969. 
  21. ^ Van Leeuwen, J. F. N.; Froyd, C. A.; Van Der Knaap, W. O.; Coffey, E. E.; Tye, A.; Willis, K. J. (2008). "Fossil Pollen as a Guide to Conservation in the Galapagos". Science. 322 (5905): 1206. doi:10.1126/science.1163454. PMID 19023075. 
  22. ^ Willis, K. J. (1999). "The Role of Sub-Milankovitch Climatic Forcing in the Initiation of the Northern Hemisphere Glaciation". Science. 285 (5427): 568–571. doi:10.1126/science.285.5427.568. 
  23. ^ Willis, K. J.; Birks, H. J. B. (2006). "What is Natural? The Need for a Long-Term Perspective in Biodiversity Conservation". Science. 314 (5803): 1261–1265. doi:10.1126/science.1122667. 
  24. ^ Willis, K. J. (2002). "ECOLOGY: Enhanced: Species Diversity--Scale Matters". Science. 295 (5558): 1245–1248. doi:10.1126/science.1067335. 
  25. ^ Willis, K. J.; Bennett, K. D.; Burrough, S. L.; Macias-Fauria, M.; Tovar, C. (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. doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0491. PMC 3720034Freely accessible. PMID 23878343. 
  26. ^ Willis, K. J.; Jeffers, E. S.; Tovar, C.; Long, P. R.; Caithness, N.; Smit, M. G. D.; Hagemann, R.; Collin-Hansen, C.; Weissenberger, J. (2012). "Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas". Biological Conservation. 147: 3–12. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.001. 
  27. ^ Froyd, C. A.; Willis, K. J. (2008). "Emerging issues in biodiversity & conservation management: The need for a palaeoecological perspective". Quaternary Science Reviews. 27 (17–18): 1723–1732. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.06.006. 
  28. ^ Jennifer McElwain's publications indexed by Google Scholar
  29. ^ Willis, K.J. and McElwain, J.C. 2002. The Evolution of Plants. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 380 pp. ISBN 9780199292233
  30. ^ "UK Government Research Grants awarded to Kathy Willis". Research Councils UK. Archived from the original on 2015-05-19. 
  31. ^ "Gruppe 5: Biologi" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 30 March 2016.