Evolutionary Ecology

Bijenorchis op BioScience Park in Leiden

We have a general interest in contemporary evolution and are specifically focused on the adaptation of organisms to ecological changes in their environment.

We study how ancient and more recent man-made environments, such as the city biome, create selective landscapes to which populations respond by evolving, within their developmental constraints, adaptive morphological and behavioral phenotypes. We use birds, insects, plants and snails as study systems. These groups have relatively short generation times, making them ideal to study Human Induced Rapid Evolutionary Changes (HIREC) in response to modern ecological stress factors such as global warming, influx of exotic species, plastic pollution and urbanization.

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

    Evolutionary Ecology has three research teams, each with their own specialization and grouped around a permanent researcher:

    • Barbara Gravendeel's PI group: evolution and development of highly specialized plant organs involved in pollination, seed dispersal and colonization of new habitats
    • Vincent Kalkman's PI group: evolution and ecology of dragonflies and damselflies
    • Menno Schilthuizen's PI group: urban evolution of land snails and insect herbivores on introduced plants

    We often work with citizen and community scientists and apply innovative approaches such as Automatic Image detection and comparative genomics

    Different colour forms of the nail Cepaea nemoralis
    Erycina pusilla bloem



    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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    Dragonfly & Damselfly diversity

    My work on dragonflies and damselflies is focused at two main questions: (1) what historical factors shaped the diversity patterns we see nowadays and (2) how will climate change impact on these diversity patterns? In order to address these questions, I…
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    Bhutan biodiversity project

    Bhutan biodiversity project

    Bhutanese and Dutch scientists 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 small expeditions and the discovery and…
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    Evolutionary Ecology organizes and contributes to several courses in the BSc and MSc biology curricula of Leiden University and Radboud University. We also created a MOOC (“Evolution Today”), which is on Coursera. In addition, we regularly offer internships for students from all universities to do projects with us. If you are interested, contact any of the Evolutionary Ecology research team members.

    Collaborations of
    Evolutionary Ecology

    • Within Naturalis, we extensively use the collections, the computational facilities, the molecular and morphology labs and LiveScience.
    • In Leiden, we closely collaborate with research groups and labs at the Institute of Biology Leiden, Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, the University of Applied Sciences Leiden, Hortus botanicus and the Institute of Environmental Sciences.
    • In the Netherlands we collaborate mainly with Groningen University, Radboud University Nijmegen and Erasmus University Rotterdam.

    Drop by at
    Evolutionary Ecology

    Interested? Feel free to drop by!

    For example at

    • our 3-weekly digital group meetings on Wednesdays from 16:00 onwards

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

    Group excursion 2021
    Cynorkis fastigiata and Epipactis helleborine