Endless forms

Endless forms

The core of Naturalis’ activities concerns biodiversity, and the motivation of most of its scientists is a fascination with biodiversity. Biodiversity, the widely varied manifestation of life, is particularly evident in morphological diversity: disparity in the shape and function of organisms and their constituent parts.

Therefore, in 2015, Naturalis has started a research group to investigate the evolutionary processes that are responsible for the sheer boundless morphological diversity. This is the group “Endless Forms”, named after Darwin’s famous final sentence in On the Origin of Species.

Group leaders

Dr. Barbara Gravendeel
Dr. Martin Rücklin

Our research
themes & structure

Our research is structured as follows:

  1. scale of temporal processes (micro-evolution, meso-evolution, macro-evolution)
  2. methodology (experimental, descriptive or analytical)
  3. conceptual themes (selection and constraints; biotic and abiotic selection; key innovations; species-level specializations)
  4. fundamental and applied science

    To address the major questions with different approaches, Endless forms has six research teams, each with its' own specialization and each grouped around one permanent researcher:

    • Barbara Gravendeel Lab: plant evolution
    • Martin Rücklin Lab: palaeobiology of early jawed vertebrates
    • Frietson Galis Lab: body plan evolution animals, developmental constraints
    • Menno Schilthuizen Lab: urban evolution; evolutionary diversification in genitalia and snail shells
    • Anne Schulp Lab: palaeontology, fossil vertebrates
    • Freek Vonk Lab: evolution and genomics of venom delivery in snakes
    Different colour forms of the nail Cepaea nemoralis
    Dorcas Gazelle skeleton - Joris van Alphen


    Bhutan biodiversity project

    Bhutan biodiversity project

    Bhutanese and Dutch scientist are involved in a common effort to describe and better understand the biodiversity of Bhutan (Bhutan Biodiversity Project). This cooperation has since 2015 resulted in numerous in numerous small expeditions and the discovery…
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    Vanilla pods analyzed in RAAK MKB project

    Microbiome of Vanilla

    DNA extracts of fermented fruits of species of Vanilla are currently being sequenced to obtain an impression of their microbiome, i.e. the diversity of fungi and bacteria living inside. The diversity of the microbiome is very different among vanille fruits…
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    Rapid Evolution in the Anthropocene

    Rapid evolution takes place when there are drastic changes in the environment which drives species' adaptation. These days, humans are the chief cause for such drastic environmental changes. I run a number of research projects to understand how such HIREC…
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    En Tibi herbarium of tomato

    Ancient tomato genomics

    Past processes that shaped the current genetic diversity of the domesticated tomato are still largely unknown. Using Illumina HiSeq, we sequenced and compared full genomes from tomato accessions stored worldwide in genebanks and herbaria up to 182 years…
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    Kinabalu seen from Trusmadi

    Evolution of endemism

    Endemic species are the cherries on biodiversity's cake. Species that occur only in a small area are vulnerable and therefore have a high priority for conservation. they also give an insight into the processes of extinction (if they are ancient endemics)…
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    Left hand, right hand

    Left hand, right hand

    Chirality is the phenomenon that, like hands, asymmetric objects can come in two mirror-image forms. Many organs and entire organisms are asymmetric. However, in most species, only one of the two mirror-images actually exists. In snails, for example…
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    Bumblebee conservation

    Bumblebees have strongly declined since the 1950th. Since 2017 we are therefore working on increasing the knowledge on bumblebees in order to contribute to their conservation. Together with hundreds of volunteers we are mapping the distribution of the…
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    Dragonfly phylogeny

    Most of my publications deal with dragonflies and this groups is still at the center of my attention. I worked extensively on Europe (e.g. the EU Red list, Atlas of the European Dragonflies and Damselflies), southwest Asia (mainly Turkey), New Guinea…
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    Endless Forms organises and contributes to several courses in the BSc and MSc biology curricula of Leiden University. We also created a MOOC (“Evolution Today”), which is on Coursera. In addition, we regularly offer positions for students from all universities to do their final year projects with us. If you are interested, contact any of the Endless Forms research team heads.

    Collaborations of
    Endless Forms

    • Within Naturalis, we extensively use the collections, the computational facilities, and the molecular and morphology labs.
    • In Leiden, we closely collaborate with research groups and labs at the Institute of Biology Leiden, the University of Applied Sciences Leiden, and Leiden University Medical Centre.
    • In the Netherlands we collaborate mainly with Utrecht University, Groningen University, Radboud University Nijmegen and Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam.

    Drop by at
    Endless forms

    Interested? Feel free to drop by!

    For example on

    • our twice-monthly group meetings (2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month, from 16:00 onwards in K00B02 or the adjacent Atelier at Darwinweg 2)
    • our monthly journal club (every first Tuesday of the month, 18:00 h, in café Meneer Jansen in Leiden).

    Work location
    We can all be found at the 3th floor of the office building of Naturalis in section 3CL along Darwinweg 2 in Leiden

    Dino skelet
    Cynorkis fastigiata and Epipactis helleborine