Frederic Lens

Frederic Lens

“I am fascinated by the endless variation of life forms in flowering plants and its evolutionary adaptive significance”. My background is comparative wood anatomy, and later I learned how to functionally interpret wood anatomical observations with respect to drought stress resistance using water flow measurements in stems. As an evolutionary biologist, I am eager to better understand why plants became woody during evolutionary history. By combining models of evolution and ecology with experimental work, this multidisciplinary project will hopefully revolutionise our understanding of wood formation, one of the most fundamental evolutionary innovations on Earth. 


Derived woodiness, drought stress resistance, evolution of woodiness, hydraulic failure, insular woodiness, molecular wood pathway, wood anatomy

Dr. Frederic Lens

Senior researcher
Understanding evolution
+31 (0)71 7519320
Google Scholar

Plant Anatomy
Evolution of Woodiness

Why do plants reinvent woodiness that was once lost in their herbaceous ancestors?

I discovered that transitions from herbaceousness towards derived woodiness have happened at least 600 times independently during evolutionary history of flowering plants. This raises the intriguing question which environmental factors triggered wood formation in these hundreds of lineages, and what are the key genes that turn on the wood pathway in derived woody plants? 

Wood anatomical cross sections
This is Frederic Lens holding a giant woody cabbage


A selection of the topics I am working on currently.

Derived woodiness

Derived woodiness

Why plants became woody during evolutionary history? As an evolutionary biologist, I am fascinated to understand the frequent habit transitions towards the woody growth form during evolutionary history of flowering plants.
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Structure-function relationships in plants

Structure-function relationships in plants

Which stem anatomical characters drive drought resistance? Hydraulic failure is one of the prime mechanisms underlying drought-induced mortality in plants, and corresponds to the disruption of water transport in embolized xylem conduits when plants face…
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QTL experiment in Brassica oleracea

QTL experiment in Brassica oleracea

Why are there so many phenotypic differences between woody and herbaceous species? To this day, scientists have failed to provide satisfying answers. We have crossed a tall, woody, late flowering cabbage accession (Jersey kale) with a small, rapid…
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Identification of traded wood samples

Identification of traded wood samples

Wood anatomy meets machine vision as a tool to fight illegal logging Automated species identification has been a dream for scientists for centuries. For timber identification, the wealth of wood anatomical variation between species (see picture) remains…
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  • Dória L.C., Podadera D.S., del Arco M., Chauvin T., Smets E., Delzon S., Lens F. 2018. Insular woody daisies (Argyranthemum, Asteraceae) are more resistant to drought-induced hydraulic failure than their herbaceous relatives. Functional Ecology 32: 1467-1478.
  • Lens F., Picon-Cochard C., Delmas C., Signarbieux C., Buttler A., Jansen S., Chauvin T., Chacon Dória L., del Arco M., Cochard H., Delzon S. 2016. Herbaceous angiosperms are not more vulnerable to drought-induced embolism than angiosperm trees. Plant Physiology 172: 661-667.
  • Choat B., Jansen S., Brodribb T.J., Cochard H., Delzon S., Bhaskar R., Bucci S., Feild T.S., Gleason S.M., Hacke U.G., Jacobsen A.L., Lens F., Maherali H., Martinez-Vilalta J., Mayr S., Mencuccini M., Mitchell P.J., Nardini A., Pittermann J., Pratt R.B., Sperry J.S., Westoby M., Wright I.J., Zanne A. 2012. Global convergence in the vulnerability of forests to drought. Nature 491: 752-756.
  • Lens F., Sperry J.S., Christman M.A., Choat B., Rabaey D., Jansen S. 2011. Testing hypotheses that link wood anatomy to cavitation resistance and hydraulic conductivity in the genus Acer. New Phytologist 190: 709-723.
  • Melzer S., Lens F., Gennen J., Vanneste S., Rhode A., Beeckman T. 2008. Flowering-time genes modulate meristem determinacy and growth form in Arabidopsis. Nature Genetics 40: 1489-1492.

PhD and postdoc

Naturalis aims to be a breeding ground for international scientific talent. Therefore, PhD's and postdocs have a special position in our organisation.

    • Alex Zizka - postdoc - Reaching for the sky: Unravelling global patterns and processes to explain convergent evolution of woodiness in angiosperms
    • Maximilian Larter - postdoc - Herb hydraulics: testing the role of root pressure to unravel the dynamics of drought- induced vascular dysfunction in stems
    • Dória Chacon Larissa - PhD - Functional xylem anatomy: intra and interspecific variation in stems of herbaceous and woody species)
    • Jahanbanifard Mehrdad - PhD - Identification of ebony woods used in music instruments based on computational phenotyping and chemical profiling
    • Thonglim Ajaree - PhD - Embolism resistance in stems and leaves of Brassicaceae
    view Teide Echium wildprettii


    • BSc: Biodiversity of Plants - Tree of Life (plant anatomy), Leiden Univ.
    • BSc: MINOR Scales in Biodiversity (integrated wood anatomy), Leiden Univ.
    • MSc: Evolutionary Developments (derived woodiness), Leiden Univ.


    The following projects are available to BSc and MSc students

    tomaat fruit

    Positive root pressure and xylem repair

    The main aim of this project is to further our understanding of the conditions under which positive root pressures develop in the tomato plant, and to test the hypothesis that the ability to generate positive root pressure enhances drought-resistance.
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    Response to drought of a giant woody cabbage cross

    This project will aim to determine the differences in water-use behavior and hydraulic traits related to drought-resistance, and various molecular responses to drought stress between the two parents and a number of offspring genotypes selected to represent…
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    In the

    • The potential implication of making crops more woody (in Dutch)
    • Forests suffer from drought stress (in English)
    • Compilation of global functional trait TRY database (in English)
    • Woody Arabidopsis mutant (in English)
    Frederic lens presentatie