Functional Traits

Teide Echium wildprettii

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

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Our projects
and activities

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

Our projects are centered around wood, with three main research lines:

  • Investigating wood evolution in flowering plants, with focus on identification of evolutionary transitions, assessment of potential drivers and impact on diversification,
  • Disentangling the role of stem woodiness/lignification on drought resilience in plants,
  • Performing comparative wood anatomy and developing a wood identification pipeline. 

Examples of current activities:

  • testing drought and other potential drivers of woodiness for multiple lineages

  • establishing Brassicaceae as new model group to understand woodiness

  • developing a new trait-dependent diversification model for island clades

  • comparing key drought tolerance traits between related taxa 

  • building a timber identification tool for combating illegal logging

  • understand how Arabidopsis, cabbage and tomato plants cope with drought stress

  • exploring evolutionary and ecological signals in wood anatomy


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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Identification of traded wood samples

Identification of traded timbers

Can we help safeguarding our forests by providing customs officers and other stakeholders with a timber tracking tool allowing them to identify illegally logged wood samples? A case study in ebony woods.
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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.