Universiteit Leiden

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Plant Sciences

Evolution & Biodiversity in Plant Sciences

Plant Sciences' contribution to the Evolution & Biodiversity research theme is to understand what are the key drivers of plant biodiversity during evolution with a focus on plant life history and resilience traits and develop tools to restore and maintain plant biodiversity.

Plants during evolution have adopted to changing environmental conditions by modifying their life history strategy. Annual, monocarpic (flowering once) plants typically avoid adverse conditions by growing when conditions are favourable, and by flowering and producing off spring as soon as unfavourable conditions arise. In contrast, perennial, polycarpic (flowering multiple times) plants develop hardy structures, such as root stocks, bulbs or wood, that allow them to survive adverse conditions, and to continue growth in the next growing season. A recently identified class of nuclear proteins involved in the switch from juvenile to adult life phase has related transcription factors in humans, connecting this research to aging in humans. Currently, the role of these nuclear proteins as key switches between monocarpic (flowering once) and polycarpic (flowering multiple times) life history strategies in plants is investigated. In addition, these proteins seem to promote wood formation in plants, and together with Naturalis their role in the evolution of secondary woodiness in plants is investigated.

Plants produce an overwhelming array of secondary metabolites that play a primary role in the relation of a plant and its environment. Understanding the evolution and maintenance of this diversity is a fundamental research line within the Plant Sciences cluster. This research line has a strong focus on secondary metabolites, how their composition is changed by the soil microbiome, and how this affects plant-insect interactions. Of special interest are the interacting effects of metabolites. Evolutionary changes in the plant’s defense system are studied a.o. in invasive plant species. This research finds its application in contributing to the development of more resistant and more healthy foods (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, strawberries) and more resistant flowers (e.g. chrysanthemum).


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