Professor of Evolutionary plant ecology
As an ecologist I’m interested in the key factors in the evolution of plant traits and the origin and maintenance of biological variation. To identify these key factors it is necessary to relate plant traits to fitness and selection in different environments and to study how the genetic composition of an individual through its interaction with the environment is translated into the phenotype.
Peter Klinkhamer is head of the research cluster Plant Sciences and Natural products of the Institute of Biology at Leiden University. The plant ecology and phytochemistry research of the cluster focusses on the role of plant secondary metabolites in plant-insect and plant-microbe interactions. His group, together with the natural products group developed an eco-metabolomic approach to plant resistance. The unique NMR platform of the IBL forms an important first step in detecting bioactive compounds in a non-targeted approach. The evolution of biochemical diversity and the importance of synergistic and antagonistic interactions between metabolites to understand their bioactivity are central in their research. Klinkhamer studied ecology at the University of Utrecht where he graduated cum laude. He performed his Ph.D. research on population dynamics and evolution of biennial plants at Leiden University. After he was being awarded the doctorate cum laude he obtained a (parttime) permanent position at Leiden University. While initially focusing on the evolution of plant life-histories he changed his research theme to the evolution of plant defence systems and biochemical diversity after finishing a book, together with Tom de Jong, entitled: Evolutionary Ecology of Plant Reproductive Strategies (Cambridge University Press). Klinkhamer was appointed as full professor in the field of Plant Evolution in 2009. Over the years Klinkhamer’s research focussed more on sustainable crop production. He was one of the initiators of the Centre of Expertise on Plant Compounds, of which he is currently a board member. In 2017 he founded EUPLANTCROPP, an European Plant metabolites platform of Crop Protection. After the restructuring of the IBL in 2008 Klinkhamer became the director of education of Biology at Leiden University. Currently, he is the chairperson of the exam committee.
As an ecologist he is interested in the key factors in the evolution of plant traits and the origin and maintenance of biological variation. To identify these key factors it is necessary to relate plant traits to fitness and selection in different environments and to study how the genetic composition of an individual through its interaction with the environment is translated into the phenotype. By doing so ecology bridges the gap between genomics, physiology and metabolomics on the one hand and the study of evolutionary change and biodiversity on the other. Most of his current research focusses on the diversity of secondary metabolites in plants. The main question is how the enormous diversity of secondary metabolites has evolved and is maintained. As a study system, his group uses jacobaea species and their alkaloids. His research is, however, not limited to purely fundamental questions. It is his ambition to contribute to the sustainable production of more healthy foods, flowers and high-value bio-based products. He runs several programmes with plant breeders aimed at increasing resistance in ornamental and food plants. His partners include world market leaders such as Rijk Zwaan, IncoTec and the Dutch Chrysanthemum breeders.