Prof. Kathy Willis
Kathy Willis holds the Tasso Leventis Chair of Biodiversity, is Director of the Biodiversity Institute (BIO) in the Zoology Department and a Professorial Fellow at Merton College. She gained her first degree in Geography and Environmental Science from the University of Southampton, and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in Plant Sciences. In her early postdoctoral career, Prof. Willis held a Selwyn College Research Fellowship and then a NERC Postdoctoral Fellowship in the department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. This was followed by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship in the Godwin Institute for Quaternary Research, University of Cambridge. Kathy moved to a University Lectureship in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford in 1999 where she established the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory in 2002 and was made a Professor of Long-term Ecology in 2008. Kathy Willis moved to her current position in Zoology in October 2010.
In addition to her position in Oxford, Professor Willis is an adjunct Professor (Professor II) in the Department of Biology, University of Bergen, Norway. She is also a trustee of WWF-UK, on the panel of advisers for Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a trustee of the Percy Sladen Memorial Fund, an International Member on the Swedish Research Council's FORMAS evaluation panel, and a College Member of NERC. She has recently been elected to the position of Director-at-Large of the International Biogeography Society.
She was awarded the Lyell Fund for 2008 by the Geological Society of London, elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geological Society in 2009 and was made a Foreign Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2010.
Research interests focus on the relationship between long-term (> 50 years) ecosystem dynamics and environmental change. Why do we need long-term records? One of the barriers to gaining a proper understanding of future environment/ecosystem interactions is that the majority of scientific studies are based on short-term datasets rarely spanning more than 40-50 years. Given that the average generation time of many larger organisms (e.g. trees, large mammals) often exceed this value, there is little scope in short-term records for example, in recording natural variability through time, or rates of migration in response to climate change. In addition, using such short-term records presents a very static viewpoint of biodiversity where the present is regarded as the norm and a 'stable' ecosystem that must be maintained, protected and/or restored. Work in the Long-term Ecology laboratory therefore focuses on reconstructing responses of ecosystems (species, families, communities, landscapes) to environmental change (e.g. climate change, human impact, sea-level rise) on timescales ranging from tens to millions of years. Recent research has also focussed on the applied use of long-term records in restoration ecology and biodiversity conservation. Full details of on-going research projects can be found on the Oxford Long-Term Ecology Laboratory research page.
Tel: 01865 281321
2013. Willis, K.J., K.D. Bennett, S.L. Burrough, M. Macias-Fauria, C. Tovar. 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.
2013. Baker, A.G., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J. Do dung fungal spores make a good proxy for past distribution of large herbivores? Quaternary Science Reviews 62, 21–31.
2013. Nogué, S., L. de Nascimento, J.M. Fernández-Palacios, R.J. Whittaker, K.J. Willis. The ancient forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands, and their sensitivity to environmental change. Journal of Ecology, 101(2): 368-377.
2013. Macias-Fauria M., and Willis, K.J. Landscape planning for the future: using fossil records to independently validate Bioclimate Envelope Models for economically valuable tree species in Europe. Global Ecology and Biogeography 22, 318–333. DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2012.00781.x
2012. Breman, E., L. Gillson, K.J. Willis. How fire and climate shaped grass-dominated vegetation and forest mosaics in northern South Africa during past millennia. The Holocene, 22 (12) 1427-1439.
2012. Coffey E.E.D., C. A. Froyd, K. J. Willis. Lake or bog? Reconstructing baseline ecological conditions for the protected Galápagos Sphagnum peatbogs. Quaternary Science Reviews, 52: 60-74.
2012. Feurdean, A., A. Spessa, E.K. Magyari, K.J. Willis, D. Veres, T. Hickler. Trends in biomass burning in the Carpathian region over the last 15,000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews, 45: 111-125.
2012. Bhagwat, S. A., E. Breman, T. Thekaekara, T.F. Thornton, K.J. Willis. A Battle Lost? Report on Two Centuries of Invasion and Management of Lantana camara L. in Australia, India and South Africa. PlosOne, 7(3): e32407.
2012. Bhagwat, S. A., S. Nogué, K.J. Willis. Resilience of an ancient tropical forest landscape to 7500 years of environmental change. Biological Conservation, 154: 108-117.
2012. Willis, K.J., E.S. Jeffers, C. Tovar, P. Long, N. Caithness, M.G.D. Smith, R. Hagemann, C. Collin-Hansen, J. Weissenberger. Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas. Biological Conservation, 147(1): 3-12.
2012.Figueroa-Rangel, B., K. J. Willis, M. Olvera-Vargas. Late-Holocene successional dynamics in a transitional forest of west-central Mexico. The Holocene, 22(2):143-153.
2011. Willis, K.J., G.M.MacDonald. Long-Term Ecological Records and Their Relevance to Climate Change Predictions for a Warmer World. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 42: 267-287
2011. Coffey E.D.D., C.A. Froyd, K.J. Willis. When is an invasive not an invasive? Macrofossil evidence of doubtful native plant species in the Galápagos Islands. Ecology 92(4): 805-812.
2011. Willis, K.J., A. Feurdean, H.J.B. Birks, E. Breman, R. Broekman, J.A. Grytnes, M. New, J.S. Singarayer, J. Rozema, J. Quantification of UV-B flux through time using UV-B absorbing compounds contained in fossil Pinus spp. sporopollenin. New Phytologist 192(2): 553-560.
2011. Seddon, A.W.R, C.A. Froyd, M.J. Leng, G.A. Milne, K.J. Willis. (2011) Ecosystem Resilience and Threshold Response in the Galápagos Coastal Zone. PLoS ONE 6(7): e22376. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022376
2011. Jeffers, E.S., M.B. Bonsall, J. Watson and K. J. Willis. Climate change impacts on ecosystem functioning: evidence from an Empetrum heathland. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03907.x
2011. Jeffers, E.S., M.B. Bonsall, S.J. Brooks and K.J. Willis. Abrupt environmental changes drive shifts in tree-grass interaction outcomes. Journal of Ecology 99(4): 1063-1070.
2010. Willis, K.J., Bailey, R.M., Bhagwat, S.A. and Birks, H.J.B. Biodiversity baselines, thresholds and resilience: testing predictions and assumptions using palaeoecological data. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 25, 583-591.
2010. Feurdean, A., Willis, K.J., Parr, C.L., Tantau, I. and Farcas, S. Post-glacial patterns in vegetation dynamics in Romania: homogenization or differentiation? Journal of Biogeography, 37, 2197-2208.
2010. Willis, K.J., and Bhagwat, S.A. Questions of importance to the conservation of global biological diversity: answers from the past. Climates of the Past, 6, 1139-1162.
2010. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D., Bhagwat, S.A. and Birks, H.J.B. 4°C and beyond: what did this mean for biodiversity in the past? Systematics and Biodiversity, 8, 3-11.
2010. Froyd, C.A., Lee, J.A., Anderson, A.J., Haberle, S.G., Gasson P.E. and Willis, K.J. Historic fuel wood use in the Galápagos Islands: identification of charred remains. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. doi: 10.1007/s00334-010-0239-1 2010.
2010. Figueroa-Rangel, B., Willis, K.J., and Olvera-Vargas, M. Cloud forest dynamics in the Mexican Neotropics during the last 1300 years. Global Change Biology. 16, 1689–1704
2010. Virah-Sawmy, Willis, K.J., Gillson, L. Evidence for drought and forest declines during the recent megafaunal extinctions in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography, 37, 509-519.
2009. Willis, K.J. and Bhagwat, S.A. Biodiversity and climate change. Science, 326, 806-807.
2009. Virah-Sawmy, M., Gillson, L. And Willis, K.J. How does spatial heterogeneity influence resilience to climate changes? Ecological dynamics in southeast Madagascar. Ecological Monographs, 79, 557-574
2009. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D. and Birks. H.J.B. Variability in thermal and UV-B energy fluxes through time and their influence on plant diversity and speciation. Journal of Biogeography. 36, 1630-1644.
2009. Virah-Sawmy, M., Bonsall, M.B., and Willis, K.J.. ‘Tales of Symphonia’: extinction dynamics in response to past climate change in Madagascan rainforests. Biology Letters, 5, 821-825
2009. Virah-Sawmy, M., Willis, K.J.and Gillson, L. Threshold response of Madagascar's littoral forest to sea-level rise. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 18, 98-110
2009. de Nascimento, L., Willis, K.J., Fernández-Palacios, J.M., Criado, C. and Whittaker, R.J. The long-term ecology of the lost forests of La Laguna, Tenerife (Canary Islands). Journal of Biogeography, 36, 499-514
2009. Feurdean, A., Willis, K.J., Astalos, C. Legacy of the past land-use changes and management on the ‘natural’ upland forest composition in the Apuseni Natural Park, Romania. The Holocene, 19, 6, 967-981.
2009. Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J. Conservation in Oil-Palm landscapes. Conservation Biology 23, 2, 244-247.
2009. Brncic, T.M., Harris, D.J., Willis, K.J., Telfer, M.W. and Bailey, R.M. Fire and climate change impacts on lowland forest composition in northern Congo during the last 2580 years from palaeoecological analyses of a seasonally flooded swamp. The Holocene. 19, 1, 79-89
2009. Binney, H.A., Willis, K.J. et al. The distribution of late-Quaternary woody taxa in northern Eurasia: evidence from a new macrofossil database. Quaternary Science Reviews. 28, 2445-2464.
2008. Birks, H.J.B and Willis, K.J. Alpines, trees, and refugia in Europe. Plant Ecology & Diversity, 1(2): 147-160.
2008. Van Leeuwen, J., Froyd, C.A.; Van der Knapp, P., Coffey, E., Tye, A., Willis, K.J. Fossil pollen guides conservation in the Galapagos. Science, 322, 1206.
2008. Feurdean, A. and Willis, K.J. Long-term variability of Abies alba in NW Romania: implications for its conservation management. Diversity and Distributions, 14, 1004-1012
2008. Willis, K.J., Virah-Swamy, M.; Gillson, L. Nature or Nature: the ambiguity of C4 grasslands in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography, 35, 1741-1742
2008. Froyd, C. and Willis, K.J. Emerging issues in biodiversity and conservation management: the need for a palaeoecological perspective. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 1723-1732
2008. Gillson, L.; Ekblom, A.; Willis, K.J. and Froyd, C. Holocene palaeo-invasions: the link between pattern, process and scale in invasion ecology? Landscape Ecology, 23, 757-569
2008. MacDonald, G.M., Bennett, K.D., Jackson, S.T., Parducci, L., Smith, F.A., Smol, J.P. and Willis, K.J.Impacts of climate change on species, populations and communities: palaeobiogeographical insights and frontiers. Progress in Physical Geography, 32(2), 139-172.
2008. Feurdean, A. and Willis, K.J.The usefulness of a long-term perspective in assessing current forest conservation management in the Apuseni Natural Park, Romania. Forest Ecology and Management, 256(3): 421-430.
2008. Figueroa-Rangel, B.L., Willis, K.J. and Olvera-Vargas, M. 4200 years of pine-dominated upland forest dynamics in West-Central Mexico: human or natural legacy? Ecology, 89(7): 1893-1907.
2008. Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J., Birks, H.J.B. and Whittaker, R.J. Agroforestry: A refuge for tropical biodiversity? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 23(5): 261-267.
2008. Duffin, K.I., Gillson, L. and Willis, K.J.Testing the sensitivity of charcoal as an indicator of fire events in savanna environments: quantitative predictions of fire proximity, area and intensity. The Holocene, 18(2): 279-291.
2008. Bhagwat, S.A. and Willis, K.J.Species persistence in northerly glacial refugia of Europe: a matter of chance or biogeographical traits? Journal of Biogeography, 35(3): 464-482.
2008. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D. and Haberle, S.G. Solar Influence on Holocene fire history. BAR, 1807, 307-318.
2007. Willis, K.J., Kleczkowski, A., New, M. and Whittaker, R.J. Testing the impact of climate variability on European plant diversity: 320 000 years of water-energy dynamics and its long-term influence on plant taxonomic richness. Ecology Letters 10, 673-679.
2007. Willis, K.J., Gillson L. and Knapp S. Biodiversity hotspots through time: using the past to manage the future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B. 362, 169-174
2007. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D., Froyd, C. and Figueroa-Rangel, B. How can a knowledge of the past help to conserve the future? Biodiversity conservation strategies and the relevance of long-term ecological studies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B. 362, 175-186
2007. Brncic, T.M., Willis, K.J., Harris, D.J. and Washington, R. Culture or climate? The relative influences of past processes on the composition of the lowland Congo rainforest. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B. 362, 175-186 362, 229-242
2007. Feurdean, A., Wohlfarth, B., Bjorkman, L., Tantau, I. Bennike, O., Willis, K.J., Farcas, S. and Robertsson, A.M. The influence of refugial populations on Lateglacial and early Holocene vegetational changes in Romania. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 145, 305-320.
2007. Willis, K.J. Impact of the early Neolithic Körös culture on the landscape: evidence from palaeoecological investigations of Kiri-tó. In, A. Whittle (ed.) The Early Neolithic on the Great Hungarian Plain: investigations of the Körös culture site of Ecsegfalva 23, Co. Békés.. Hungary: Academika Press. pp. 83-99
2006. Willis, K.J. and Birks, H.J. B. What is Natural? The need for a long-term perspective in biodiversity conservation. Science, 314, 1261-1265
2006. Li, Y.Y., Willis, K.J., Zhou, L.P. and Cui, H.T. The impact of ancient civilization on the northeastern Chinese landscape: palaeoecological evidence from the Western Liaohe River Basin, Inner Mongolia. The Holocene, 16, 1109-11233
2005. Willis, K.J., Gillson, L., Brncic, T. and Figueroa-Rangel, B. Providing baselines for biodiversity measurement. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 20, 107-108.
2005. Whittaker, R.J.; Araju, M.B., Jepson, P., Ladle, R.J. Watson, J.E.M. and Willis, K.J. Conservation Biogeography: assessment and prospect. Diversity and Distributions, 11, 3-23.
2005. Rayfield, E.J., Barrett, P.M., McDonnell, R.A. & Willis, K.J. (2005) A Geographical Information System (GIS) study of Triassic vertebrate biochronology. Geological Magazine, 142, 1-28.
2005. McElwain, J.C.; Lupia, R. and Willis, K.J. Cretaceous CO2 decline and the radiation and diversification of angiosperms. In Ehlering, J., Cerling, T., and Dearing, D. (eds) A history of atmospheric CO2 and its effects on plants, animals and ecosystems, Spring-Verlag, Berlin, pp 133-166
2004. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D. and Walker, D. (Editors) The Evolutionary Legacy of the Ice Ages. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B. 359
2004. Willis, K.J. and van Andel, T.H. Trees or no trees? The environments of central and eastern Europe during the Last Glaciation. Quaternary Science Reviews, 23, 2369-2387.
2004. Willis, K.J., Gillson, L. and Brncic, T.M. How ‘Virgin’ is Virgin Rainforest? Science, 304, 402-403.
2004. Willis, K.J., Gillson, L. and Brncic, T.M. Virgin rainforests and conservation. Science, 305, 943-944.
2004. Willis, K.J. and Niklas, K.E. The role of Quaternary environmental change in plant macroevolution – the exception or the rule? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B. 359(1442),159-172.
2004. Gillson, L. and Willis, K. J. ‘As Earth’s testimonies tell’: wilderness conservation in a changing world. Ecology Letters 7: 990–998
2004. Gillson, L., Willis, K.J. and Waldren, S. Interpretation of soil d13C as an indicator of vegetation change in African savannas. Journal of Vegetation Science, 15: 339-350
2004. J.S. Carrion, J.S., Yll, E.I., Willis, K.J., Sanchez, P. Holocene forest history of the eastern plateaux in the Segura Mountains (Murcia, southeastern Spain) Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 132: 219-236
2003. Andric, M. and Willis, K.J. The phytogeographical regions of Slovenia: a consequence of natural environmental variation or prehistoric human activity? Journal of Ecology 91: 807-821
2003. Willis, K.J. Evolution and function of Earth’s Biomes: Temperate Forest, in Earth’s Natural Resource System: History and Natural Variability, edited by V. Cilek and R. Smith, in Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems (ELOSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK, [http://www.eolss.new] (print volume in press)
2003. Whittaker, R.J., Willis, K.J., and Field, R. Climatic-energetic explanations of diversity: a macroscopic perspective. Pp 107-129 in T.M. Blackburn and K.J. Gaston (eds) Macroecology: concepts and consequences, British Ecological Society Symposia Series, Blackwell Science, Oxford, 422pp.
2002. Willis, K.J. and McElwain, J.C. The Evolution of Plants. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 380pp.
2002. Willis, K.J. and Whittaker, R.J. Species diversity: scale matters. Science, 295, 1245-1248
2002. Carcaillet, C.,… Willis, K.J. Holocene biomass burning and global dynamics of the carbon cycle. Chemosphere, 49, 845-863
2002. Bennett, K.D. and Willis, K.J. (2002) Pollen. In (J.P. Smol, H.J. B. Birks & W.M. Last eds.) Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments, Volume 3: Terrestrial, Algal, and Siliceous Indicators. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
2001. Barrett, P.M. and Willis, K.J. Did dinosaurs invent flowers? Dinosaur-angiosperm coevolution revisited. Biological Reviews, 76, 411-447.
2001. Whittaker, R.J., Willis, K.J. and Field, R. Scale and species richness: towards a general, hierarchical theory of species diversity. Journal of Biogeography, 28, 453-470.
2001. Willis, K.J., Rudner, E. and Sumegi, P. Letter to the Editor. Quaternary Research, 55, 388-389.
2000. Willis, K.J., Rudner, E. and Sümegi, P. The Full-Glacial Forests of Central and Southeastern Europe. Quaternary Research, 53, 203-213.
2000. Willis, K.J. and Whittaker, R.J. The refugial debate. Science, 281, 1406-1407.
2000. Bennett, K.D. and Willis, K.J. Effect of global atmospheric carbon-dioxoide on glacial-interglacial vegetation change. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 9, 355-361.
1999. Willis, K.J., Kleczkowski, A. and Crowhurst, S.J. 124,000 year periodicity in terrestrial vegetation change during the late Pliocene epoch. Nature, 397,685-688.
1999. Willis, K.J., Kleczkowski, A. Briggs, K.M. and Gilligan, C.A. The role of sub-Milankovitch climatic forcing in the initiation of the Northern Hemisphere Glaciation. Science, 285, 568-571.
1999. Gardner, A.J. and Willis, K.J. Prehistoric farming and the postglacial expansion of beech and hornbeam: a comment on Kuster. The Holocene, 9,1, 119-122.
1998. Willis, K.J., Bennett, K.D. and Birks, H.J.B. Late Quaternary dynamics of pines in Europe. In Ecology and biogeography of Pinus (Edited by D.M. Richardson). Cambridge University Press (107-121).
1997. Willis, K.J. The impact of early agriculture upon the Hungarian landscape. In: Landscapes in flux: Central and Eastern Europe in Antiquity (Edited by J. Chapman and P. Dolukhanov). Oxbow Books Ltd, (pp:193-209).
1997. Willis, K.J. Klithi and its environment: a palaeoecological viewpoint. In Excavations at Klithi, 1983-1989: Palaeolithic archaeology and landscape in Epirus, northwest Greece (Edited by G. Bailey). MacDonald Institute Press (395-413)
1998. Willis, K.J., Sumegi, P., Braun, M. Bennett, K.D. and Toth, A. Prehistoric land degradation in Hungary: who, how and why? Antiquity, 72 (101-113).
1998. Somogyi, A., Braun, M., Toth, A. and Willis, K.J. Speciation of elements in lake sediments investigated using X-ray fluorescence and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry. X-ray Spectrometry, 27, 283-287
1997. Willis, K.J., Braun, M., Sumegi, P. and Toth, A. Does soil development cause vegetation change or vice versa? A temporal perspective from Hungary. Ecology 78 (3), 740-750
1996. Willis, K.J. Where did all the flowers go? The fate of temperate European flora during glacial periods. Endeavour, 20 (3), 110-114.
1996. Willis, K.J. and Bennett, K.D. The Neolithic transition in the Balkans: replies to Magri and to Edwards et al. The Holocene 6, 119-123.
1996. Willis, K.J. Plant evolution and the ancient greenhouse effect. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 11, 277-278.
1995. Willis, K.J., Braun, M., Sumegi, P. and Toth, A. The Late Quaternary Environmental History of Bátorliget, N.E. Hungary. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 118, 25-27.
1995. Bennett, K.D. and Willis, K.J. The role of ecological factors in controlling vegetation dynamics on long temporal scales. Giornale Botanico Italiano. 129, 243-254.
1995. Willis, K.J.and Bennett, K.D. Mass extinction, punctuated equilibrium and the fossil plant record. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 10, 308-309.
1995. Willis, K.J. The pollen-sedimentological evidence for the beginning of agriculture in southeast Europe and Anatolia. In: The transition to farming in south-east Europe and Anatolia. (Edited by M. Budja) Porocilo, XXII. Ljubljana. (pp:9-25).
1995. Willis, K.J. Land degradation in the Balkans: variations in time and space. In: L'Homme et la degradation de L'Environment (Edited by S. van der Leeuw). Editions APDCA, Juan-les-Pins (pp:161-175).
1994. Willis, K.J. Altitudinal variation in the late Quaternary vegetational history of northwest Greece. Historical Biology, 9, 100-116.
1994. Willis, K.J and Bennett, K.D. The Neolithic transition - Fact or Fiction? Palaeoecological evidence from the Balkans. The Holocene, 4, 326-330.
1994. Willis, K.J. The vegetational history of the Balkans. Quaternary Science Reviews, 13, 769-788.
1993. Willis, K.J. How old is ancient woodland? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 8, 427-428.
1992. Willis, K.J. The late Quaternary vegetational history of northwest Greece III. A comparative study of two contrasting sites. New Phytologist, 121, 139-155.
1992. Willis, K.J. The late Quaternary vegetational history of northwest Greece II. Rezina marsh. New Phytologist, 121, 119-138.
1992. Willis, K.J. The late Quaternary vegetational history of northwest Greece I. Lake Gramousti. New Phytologist, 121, 101-117.
1991. Bennett, K.D., Tzedakis, C. and Willis, K.J. Quaternary refugia of north European trees. Journal of Biogeography, 18, 103-115.