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School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation

MSc ( 1 year Full-time )


With only a small percentage of the planet's diversity formally described by science, it is more important than ever to train a new generation of taxonomists who will go on to describe, understand and conserve biodiversity.

Of critical shortage are skilled scientists in plant and fungal taxonomy, scientists that underpin much bioscience, nature conservation, plant breeding work, as well as underpinning the development of environmental policy. This course delivers vital training to fill that skill shortage. The course will provide training in plant and fungal identification skills, in combination with a thorough grounding in molecular systematics, evolutionary biology, and conservation policy, theory and practice.

Collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

This MSc course is delivered in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and you will be based there for some of your teaching. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was founded in 1759, and has the largest and most diverse collections of plant and fungal specimens and associated biodiversity databases in the world. The combination of extensive specimen collections, databases, and scientific research conducted on a global scale is unique, and means that Kew plays a leading role in facilitating greater access to basic plant information, underpinning science and conservion activities worldwide.

Kew's 2020 Science Strategy outlines their responsibility to pass on their knowledge, skills and expertise to the next generation of plant and fungal scientists, both in the UK and globally, and to encourage and inspire questioning minds to delve further into pure and applied biodiversity science. Their objective is being achieved through offering this MSc programme in conjunction with QMUL. You can find out more about their science strategy on the Kew website.

This programme involves an exciting fieldwork module based at Kew's Conservation Centre based in Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, where you will be immersed in research and conservation efforts. Other taught modules will be based at Queen Mary, Mile End campus.

In this video, representatives of Kew explain why we need taxonomy and the future of it:


Queen Mary and Kew have a number of long-established research links, and these have led to research papers in leading science journals such as Science, Trends in Plant Science, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and Plant Journal.

You will be taught by world-leading experts, internationally recognised for cutting edge research in plant and fungal sciences, applying new technologies to answer fundamental questions about the diversity of plant and fungal life on the planet, how it evolved and how we can best conserve it.


Our MSc programme directly addresses the skills gap in taxonomy and systematics identified by the Natural Environmental Research Council and Living with Environmental Change in their 2012 report Most Wanted II. Postgraduate and Professional Skills Needs in the Environment Sector. The programme equips students with the knowledge and skills to undertake research in the fields of taxonomy, molecular systematics, ecology and evolution, or to engage in more applied conservation work. We are training a new generation of taxonomists in cross-disciplinary skills with many applications in academia, government, industry, consultancy and non-governmental organisations.

If you have any questions about the content or structure, contact the co-directors of the programme Professor Andrew Leitch or Richard Gianfrancesco.

Taught modules

  • Plant Taxonomy and Diversity: This module will provide an overview of global plant diversity, with a particular focus on flowering plants. It will be taught at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by leading botanists, affording students the opportunity to explore the outstanding collections and facilities housed there. Topics will range from taxonomic principles and methodology, plant systematics and comparative biology (including morphology, chemistry and genomics), phylogenetics, biogeography and evolution. The module will have a practical component, providing excellent hands-on experience for students.
  • Fungal Taxonomy and Diversity: This module will focus on fungal diversity and it will be taught at RBG, Kew by leading mycologists. Kew has the largest collection of fungal specimens in the world that will be available to the students during the course. The module will give an overview of the systematics and taxonomy of major fungal groups, of basic concepts in mycology, field collecting, and culturing and fungarium techniques. In addition, front-line research on the ecology of fungi (e.g., symbiosis, 'rotters and recyclers', pathogens), fungal biogeography, and fungal evolutionary genomics, will be explored through study of contemporary research. The module will have a practical component, providing excellent hands-on experience for students.
  • Statistics and Bioinformatics: This module is focussed on teaching data analysis using the statistical programming language R. The module covers the basics of using R; drawing publication-standard graphs with R; experimental design; exploratory data analysis; the fundamentals of statistical testing including t-tests and chi-square tests; ANOVA and Regression; fitting and interpreting general linear models; the basics of bioinformatic analysis in R. The module is taught with a mix of theory and practice, with a typical day including roughly two hours of theory instruction in the morning followed by a practical session in the afternoon, often involving hands-on analysis of real experimental data sets.
  • Research Frontiers in Evolutionary Biology: This module will explore the frontiers of research in evolutionary biology. Topics covered will include: incongruence in phylogenetic trees, neutral versus selective forces in evolution, the origin of angiosperms, the origin of new genes, the evolution of sociality, the significance of whole genome duplication and hybridisation. Current method being used to tackle these areas will be taught, with an emphasis on DNA sequence analysis and bioinformatics. This module aims to inspire students to seek a career in scientific research, and equip them to choose areas of research that are of current interest. Whereas undergraduate degrees commonly focus on what we know, this Master's course will shift the focus onto what we don't know. Students will explore the current frontiers of knowledge, and the questions that currently lack answers, or whose answers are currently debated. Students will learn to ask relevant questions themselves, and design approaches to seeking answers to those questions.
  • Conservation and Ecosystem Science: This module will explore the role and application of plant and fungal science in integrated conservation and management of biodiversity, in the delivery of ecosystem services and livelihoods, and in the development of mechanisms for their maintenance and restoration in the context of a changing planet. Drawing on the exceptional breadth of expertise, collections and facilities across Kew's sites, and building on the fundamental understanding of plant and fungal taxonomy and diversity, it will provide an essential introduction to a range of technical approaches including policy development, species and habitat prioritisation, protected area management, conservation genetics, ecosystem service research, seed banking and propagation, application of traditional knowledge, and integrated conservation for biodiversity and livelihoods.
  • Field Study Skills in a Biodiversity Hotspot - This Madagascar Field Course Module will provide an introduction to practical field work, including botanical surveys and flowering plant identification and how they can be applied to solving practical problems of conservation management as well as biodiversity research. It will be taught by botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC) in Antananarivo and local conservationists and researchers from collaborating institutions. Several site visits to conservation projects and some taught case studies will give an over-view of conservation in Madagascar. We reserve the right to change the location of this course if advice on travel to Madagascar from the Foreign Commonwealth Office changes, or for logistical reasons. For students unable to travel to Madagascar for this module, an alternative method of assessment will be undertaken.

Individual research project

  • Original research (50 per cent of the course)

The individual research project will enable students to focus on an area that interests them, with the vast scientific collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew available for investigative research. Projects can be based at either institution, depending on the specialism. Lab facilities are available at both locations and Queen Mary also has state of-the-art super-computing and informatics resources.

Examples of recent projects include:

  • Origin and evolution of the hyper diverse flora of the Choco biogeographic region in Tropical America
  • Molecular and Morphological investigation of waxcap diversity
  • Monographing and conserving the palms of New Guinea

Student handbook

Find out more about this programme in our Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation handbook

Further information

Please contact:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 5287

Entry requirements

A minimum of an upper second-class BSc (Hons) degree (or equivalent international qualification) in biology or other relevant natural sciences subject.  Applicants with a good lower second class degree may be considered on an individual basis, taking into account relevant background and related achievements.

This programme involves a compulsory fieldwork unit based in Madagascar.  Costs for flights, accommodation and meals are fully covered by the tuition fees - you will not have to contribute additional funds towards this field trip.  Students should expect to undertake physically demanding work in remote locations. Applicants for the programme from outside the UK should ensure that there are no residency or travel restrictions that would prevent them from attending this course. We would recommend that applicants with any disability which may impact upon their ability to undertake such activities should contact the School to seek advice and discuss possible adjustments that could be implemented.

English language requirements

All international students are required to provide evidence of their ability in English language.

The minimum level required for entry to our postgraduate programmes is:

  • IELTS: 6.5 overall including 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • TOEFL: 92 overall including 21 in Writing, 18 in Reading, 17 in Listening and 20 in Speaking
  • PTE Academic: 62 overall including 57 in Writing and 51 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • Trinity ISE: Trinity ISE II with a Distinction in Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking, or Trinity ISE III with a minimum of Pass in Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • C2 Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE): 176 overall including 169 in Writing, and 162 in Reading, Listening and Speaking
  • C1 Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE): 176 overall including 169 in Writing, and 162 in Reading, Listening and Speaking  

For further information about our English language requirements please visit the College's international pages.

Am I eligible?

To check your eligibility contact our Postgraduate Admissions team:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 3328


For full guidance on the application process, please go to our 'How to apply' page 

Learning and teaching


Tuition fees for Home and EU students

2020/21 Academic Year

Full time £12,950
Part-time study is not available for this course

Tuition fees for International students

2020/21 Academic Year

Full time £22,750
Part-time study is not available for this course


There are a number of sources of funding available for Masters students.

These include a significant package of competitive Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) bursaries and scholarships in a range of subject areas, as well as external sources of funding.

Queen Mary bursaries and scholarships

We offer a range of bursaries and scholarships for Masters students including competitive scholarships, bursaries and awards, some of which are for applicants studying specific subjects.

Find out more about QMUL bursaries and scholarships.

Alternative sources of funding

Home/EU students can apply for a range of other funding, such as Professional and Career Development Loans, and Employer Sponsorship, depending on their circumstances and the specific programme of study.

Overseas students may be eligible to apply for a range of external scholarships and we also provide information about relevant funding providers in your home country on our country web pages.

Download our Postgraduate Funding Guide for detailed information about postgraduate funding options for Home/EU students.

Read more about alternative sources of funding for Home/EU students and for Overseas students.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 5079

Other financial help on offer at Queen Mary

We offer one to one specialist support on all financial and welfare issues through our Advice and Counselling Service, which you can access as soon as you have applied for a place at Queen Mary.

Our Advice and Counselling Service also has lots of Student Advice Guides on all aspects of finance including:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 8717

Graduate employment

Our new MSc directly addresses the skills gap in taxonomy and systematics identified by the Natural Environmental Research Council and Living with Environmental Change in their 2012 report Most Wanted II. Postgraduate and Professional Skills Needs in the Environment Sector. We are training a new generation of taxonomists in cross-disciplinary skills with many applications in academia, government, industry, consultancy and non-governmental organisations.

Careers in research-focused positions

Some graduates from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences apply their degree knowledge directly, working in research-focused positions such as chemistry consultants, molecular microbiologists and conservation officers in labs as far afield as Australia, South Africa and the USA. Many others pursue their academic interests from MSc to PhD-level, or from PhD to postdoctoral research associate or research fellows, and eventually to lectureships. Our MSc Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation programme equips you with the knowledge and skills for PhD training in any area of taxonomy, molecular systematics, ecology, evolution, or more applied conservation work.

What are our graduates doing now?

The range of skills gained through our programmes, coupled with opportunities for extra-curricular activities, has enabled our MSc Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation students to enter careers such as:

  • PHD Candidate at The James Hutton Institute
  • Botanical Horticulturalist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew,
  • Plant Science Content Editor at Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International
  • PHSI Plant Health Import Inspector at Animal and Plant Health Agency

Careers support at Queen Mary

Throughout the course, postgraduates have access to a careers programme to prepare them for applying for work after graduation. This programme includes workshops on job hunting and job applications as well as employer events to facilitate networks and help students to explore their options. Recent career events open to the School’s postgraduates include the SBCS Industrial Liaison Forum featuring small and medium sized employers, and workshops on applying for and doing a PhD.

Queen Mary’s location between Canary Wharf, the City and the Olympic Village redevelopment means that there are substantial opportunities for on campus and local part time work and work experience. On campus there are 1200 job and volunteer opportunities ranging from E-learning Assistant to Website Administrator and from Society President to Student Mentor. QTemps job agency offers work suitable for current students and recent graduates, QMSU Volunteering facilitates volunteering and QM JobOnline hosts over 800 part time and full time job vacancies.

Read more about our careers programmes and range of work experience opportunities on the QM Careers pages.


Peter Petoe – Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation (graduated 2017)

Now PhD student in Palm Evolution and Biodiversity at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

I enrolled on the graduate programme offered jointly by Queen Mary and Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew in order to gain insight mainly into the field of taxonomy, which I thought is somewhat underrated and neglected as a scientific discipline despite its prominent role in the classification of all life on earth and the delimitation of species. This subject had not been covered in any detail during my undergraduate studies and I was eager to learn more about how the taxonomic process works in practice and ideally get my hands a bit dirty in the process. The course was overall really well taught. Some of the modules I found particularly interesting were statistics at Queen Mary, introduction to plant and fungal taxonomy at RBG Kew, the hands-on field trip to Madagascar where we made our own plant and fungal collections, and the immersive 6-month independent research module. I was very pleased that the latter module resulted in a publication of a high-end taxonomic journal and allowed me to become an authority on a South East Asian palm genus! One of the best things about Queen Mary and RBG Kew were the numerous occasions on which we were able to interact with scientific staff. Lecturers are always experts in their fields and were keen to answer just about any question I managed to come up with.