Frederic Lens: building bridges in biodiversity research

February 18th, 2021
Frederic Lens with a piece of ebony

Naturalis researcher Frederic Lens will start in a new position at the Institute for Biology at Leiden  University (IBL). This marks an ongoing integration of research into evolution and biodiversity, both at the local and the national level.

“In Leiden, the Institute for Biology, Naturalis, the Centre for Environmental Sciences and the botanical gardens all do fantastic research”, Frederic Lens says. “But they can achieve even more if they work together in multidisciplinary projects. Which is what I’m aiming for.”

Follow us

Naturalis is the national museum of natural history in the Netherlands, with a collection of about 42 million specimens, and a research institute.


Bringing together

The IBL also hopes his coming will help with further integration of biology research with the chemistry and biochemistry institutes of the Faculty of Science, and the Leiden University Medical Center, IBL director Gilles van Wezel says. “This all fits perfectly with our research theme where we aim to harness biodiversity for a healthier and sustainable society.”


Lens is leader of the Naturalis research group Functional Traits, and as of February, also at the Institute for Biology at Leiden University (IBL). His goal is to not just further integrate the Leiden organizations, but also to get them involved with the Centre of Excellence of Netherlands Biodiversity Research, that wants to unify the national approach to biodiversity science.

Wood formation

Echium-planten op de Teide
Echium wildpretii, one of the iconic island species that evolved woodiness on the flanks of the Teide volcano (Tenerife, Canary Islands)

Lens studies the evolution of wood formation in plants. “Woodiness has developed hundreds of times independently during evolutionary history, but why?” Lens’ team combines anatomy, evolutionary biology, ecophysiology and genetics to identify environmental and generic drivers of woodiness, and focuses on drought as a driver of wood formation.

Remko Offringa, head of the Plant Sciences cluster of the IBL, is happy with Lens’ new position. The two have been working together for longer, because Offringa and his colleague Salma Balazadeh study drought resistance in plants. “Frederic’s input has made me look at my research in a different way, and given us plenty of ideas for new research directions. He will also give our education a boost.”


Erik Smets, the scientific director of Naturalis, is similarly pleased. “Wood formation has been a natural link between Lens’ research and Offringa’s. However, there are many more fields of research to explore where our two institutes can work together. This new appointment will surely facilitate such cooperation.”