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 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 tolerance 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.

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? Developing an AI-based wood identification tool based on microscopic wood anatomy…
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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 of the largest scientific wood collections in the world (approximately 125,000 specimens). By slicing thin pieces of wood, we describe the extraordinary variation in the shape…
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The group leader is involved in the Biology curriculum at Leiden University, where he teaches plant anatomy for ca. 200 1st year BSc students, and evolution of woodiness across major plant lineages for ca 50 MSc students.