My research focuses on the evolution and diversification of mycoheterotrophic angiosperms, in particular those that live on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This includes reconstruction of their phylogenetic relationships and application of molecular clock techniques to infer their biogeographic histories. I am Research Fellow at Naturalis Biodiversity Center. I obtained my PhD in Plant Systematics in 2008 at the University of Leuven, Belgium on the evolution of mycoheterotrophy in Dioscoreales.
Biogeography, mycoheterotrophy, diversification, mycorrhizas, molecular clock dating, mutualism, parasitism, angiosperms, glomeromycota
I have always been interested in odd plants. Extreme adaptations of plants to unusual environments really show what evolution is capable of.
During my studies I learned about the fascinating mycoheterotrophic plants. These plants do not need light to grow, but digest soil fungi with their roots to make a living, like I explain in this video. Because they are rare and difficult to find we know very little about their biology. To uncover the secrets of mycoheterotrophic plants I travel to remote rainforest to study and collect them. Back in the Netherlands I use DNA to trace their evolutionary history and identify their fungal hosts. The results from this research not only provide insights into these remarkable organisms, but also demonstrate how and when mutualistic interactions in nature can evolve into antagonistic interactions.
A selection of the topics I am working on currently.
Evolution of mycorrhizal specificity in biogeographic context
ARISE: knowing Nature in the Netherlands
- Njunjić I., Perrard A., Hendriks K., Schilthuizen M., Perreau M., Merckx V.S.F.T., Baylac M., Derharveng L. 2018. Comprehensive evolutionary analysis of the Anthroherpon radiation (Coleoptera, Leiodidae, Leptodirini). PLOS ONE 13: e0198367.
- Gomes S.I.F., Merckx V.S.F.T., Saavedra S. 2017. Fungal‐host diversity among mycoheterotrophic plants increases proportionally to their fungal‐host overlap. Ecology and Evolution 7: 3623-3630.
- Jacquemyn H., Waud M., Merckx V.S.F.T., Brys R., Tyteca D., Hedrén M., Lievens B. 2016. Habitat-driven variation in mycorrhizal communities in the terrestrial orchid genus Dactylorhiza. Scientific Reports 6: 37182.
- Merckx V.S.F.T., Hendriks K.P., Beentjes K.K., Mennes C.B., Becking L.E., Peijnenburg K.T.C.A., Afendy A., Arumugam N., de Boer H., Biun A., Buang M.M., Chen P.-P., Chung A.Y.C., Dow R., Feijen F.A.A., Feijen H., Feijen-van Soest C, Geml J., Geurts R., Gravendeel B., Hovenkamp P., Imbun P., Ipor I., Janssens S.B., Jocqué M. Kappes H., Khoo E., Koomen P., Lens F., Majapun R.J., Morgado L.N., Neupane S., Nieser N., Pereira J.T., Rahman H., Sabran S., Sawang A., Schwallier R.M., Shim P.-S., Smit H., Sol N., Spait M., Stech M., Stokvis F., Sugau J.B., Suleiman M., Sumail S., Thomas D.C., van Tol J., Tuh F.Y.Y., Yahya B.E., Nais J., Repin R., Lakim M. & Schilthuizen M. 2015. Evolution of endemism on a young tropical mountain. Nature 524: 347-350.
Naturalis aims to be a breeding ground for international scientific talent. Therefore, PhD's have a special position in our organisation.
PhD's currently under my supervision:
- Since 2014 I am co-organizer (with Prof. Menno Schilthuizen) and lecturer of the MSc. course ‘Tropical Biodiversity’ at Leiden University (2 weeks) and Danau Girang Field Station, Sabah, Malaysia (2 weeks).
- Since 2013 I am co-lecturer of the BSc. Minor ‘Biodiversity and the Natural Environment’ at Leiden University. I also teach in field excursion ‘Flora Excursie’ at BSc. level at Leiden University.
- Since 2012 I am lecture of ‘Phylogenetics’ and the associated practical course for the BSc. course ‘Evolutiebiologie’ at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
The Dutch Radio 1 programme on nature and science, Vroege Vogels, made a 'radio portrait' of me and my work on plankton in August 2018.