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

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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. exploring traits that impacted diversification on island lineages,
  5. developing timber identification tool for combatting illegal logging,
  6. identifying key regulatory genes involved in wood formation,
  7. taking care of societal impact, outreach and education.

Examples of current activities:

  • testing insular woodiness hypotheses based on our global woodiness database,
  • building robust Tree of Life of Brassicaceae based on Hyb-Seq,
  • developing a new trait-dependent diversification model for island clades,
  • comparing key drought tolerance traits between related woody and herbaceous species,
  • understand how cabbage and tomato cope with drought stress,
  • identifying microscopic wood sections of ebony species based on AI,
  • searching for key regulatory genes controlling woodiness in a giant woody cabbage cross,
  • educating students in plant anatomy at Leiden University.

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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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.