Functional Traits

Teide Echium wildprettii7

Since plants cannot run away, they have developed a wide array of functional adaptations throughout evolution to survive changing conditions. Our research group focuses on wood formation, one of the most fundamental evolutionary innovations that gave rise to countless woody species. Woodiness has developed hundreds of times independently during evolutionary history, presumably driven by drought for most lineages. We combine anatomy, evolutionary biology, ecophysiology and genetics to identify environmental and generic drivers of woodiness based on collections in Naturalis and living plants in the field. 

Group leader

Dr. Frederic Lens
frederic.lens@naturalis.nl

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Researchers

Our projects
and activities

Our projects are centered around wood, with particular attention to the following activities:

  1. testing drought and other potential drivers of woodiness for multiple lineages,
  2. establishing mustard family (Brassicaceae) as new model group to understand woodiness,
  3. investigating evolutionary, ecological and functional signals in the stem anatomy of various lineages,
  4. developing timber identification tool for combatting illegal logging,
  5. identifying key regulatory genes involved in wood formation,
  6. taking care of societal impact, outreach and education.

Examples of current activities:

  • testing different woodiness hypotheses based on niche modelling of the new global derived woodiness database,
  • building Tree of Life of Brassicaceae to identify some 100 independent shifts towards woodiness,
  • comparing drought tolerance traits in stems and leaves between related woody and herbaceous species,
  • observing anatomical features that can explain differences in drought tolerance across species,
  • developing machine learning algorithms based on digital images of microscopic wood sections to establish a timber identification tool for combatting illegal logging,
  • performing QTL experiment in giant woody cabbage to find genes involved in wood formation,
  • investigating drought tolerance of crops to contribute safeguard food production in a world facing global change,
  • educating students in functional plant anatomy at Leiden University.
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Current themes
and topics

A selection of the main topics we are working on.

Echium Bohle

Finding climatic drivers of woodiness

Most woody species belong to the flowering plants, which also include many non-woody species. Woodiness is the ancestral condition within flowering plants, meaning that the herbs lost woodiness during evolutionary history. Surprisingly, many of these…
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wood collection Ebenaceae

The power of comparative wood anatomy

Naturalis has a long-standing history in wood anatomical research and houses one the largest scientific wood collections in the world (ca. 125.000 samples). Using light and electron microscopy, wood anatomists describe the extraordinary variation in cell…
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Teaching
activities

The group leader is involved in the Biology curriculum at Leiden University, where he teaches a plant anatomy course for ca. 200 1st year BSc students, a wood anatomy course that is part of the Scales in Biodiversity MINOR for 3rd year BSc students, and he lectures on woodiness transitions across major plant lineages for MSc students.