Research of the Biosystematics Group

Research in the Biosystematics Group is focused on the origin and maintenance of plant and insect biodiversity, above and below species level. We investigate speciation, domestication and plant-animal interactions, and use phylogenetic patterns to test hypotheses on the underlying processes. We apply a comparative approach to study species-level systematics of insects and plants, including crops, and the geological, ecological and molecular processes that have shaped existing biodiversity in particular clades.

Research in the Biosystematics Group can be divided into two groups.

Systematic of cultivated plants and their wild relatives.

This theme aims at elucidating processes underlying patterns in evolution of plants and their associated insect herbivores. Insect and host-plant phylogenetic trees are combined with data from host-plant phytochemistry and behavioural experiments. In addition, an insect DNA barcode reference library has been constructed in order to facilitate species-identification.

The Biosystematics Group is affiliated to the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis (NCB) which houses most biological collections in The Netherlands, and which will offer facilities for ancient DNA and DNA barcoding. Our research is incorporated in the research program of the Graduate Schools Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS).

Current Projects

Evolution of plant insect interactions

This theme aims at elucidating processes underlying patterns in evolution of plants and their associated insect herbivores. Insect and host-plant phylogenetic trees are combined with data from host-plant phytochemistry and behavioural experiments. In addition, an insect DNA barcode reference library has been constructed in order to facilitate species-identification.

The Biosystematics Group is affiliated to the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis (NCB) which houses most biological collections in The Netherlands, and which will offer facilities for ancient DNA and DNA barcoding. Our research is incorporated in the research program of the Graduate Schools Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS).

research eric.jpg

Synteny analysis of plant and animal genomes. 

We are in the midst of a genome sequencing bonanza with new high-quality chromosome level plant and animal genomes released weekly. New tools and approaches are needed to unlock the secrets of lineage and trait evolution using these vast new datasets. We are developing new ways to study and understand the long-term conservation and rapid changes in genomic positional context of important genes and gene families over short and long evolutionary timescales to address how species and their phenotypes have evolved. 

Principal investigator: Eric Schranz 

Hidden crop diversity in Suriname: tracing the origins of Maroon rice by integrating ethnobotany and genomics 

Tinde van Andel in Surinam
Tinde van Andel in Surinam

Maroons, descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations into the interior forests of Suriname, cultivate an astonishing number of rice varieties, most of which are Asian rice (Oryza sativa) and a few are African rice (O. glaberrima). We will trace the geographic origin of Maroon rice by characterizing their genomic diversity and compare them to modern and historic rice accessions and crop wild relatives from the Guianas, West Africa, Asia and the US, by means of whole-genome sequencing. 

Principal investigator: Tinde van Andel  

Plant speciation processes

Founded on phylogeny reconstruction, we study geological and ecological drivers of speciation. Moreover, we test hypotheses on how molecular evolutionary processes and the appearance of life-history features have shaped the origin and demise of diversity in selected plant groups.


Molecular evolution

The evolution of genes, their paralogy, positive selection on individual residues, and (shifts in) nucleotide substitution rates, are studied as part of collaborative projects. We also focus on the optimisation of DNA extraction from (ancient) herbarium specimens (EU FP7 SYNTHESYS).

Molsyst3.jpg


Evolution of plant insect interactions

This theme aims at elucidating processes underlying patterns in evolution of plants and their associated insect herbivores. Insect and host-plant phylogenetic trees are combined with data from host-plant phytochemistry and behavioural experiments. In addition, an insect DNA barcode reference library has been constructed in order to facilitate species-identification.


Evolution of insect biodiversity 

research sabrina.jpg

Insects are extremely successful and play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of ecosystems. Yet, several insect species are in decline and are heavily impacted by environmental changes. It is all the more important that we get a deeper knowledge of the amazingly complex world of insects and their evolution, e.g. in terms of their systematic relationships, development, biodiversity and (a)biotic interactions. We apply comparative genomic / transcriptomic approaches to understand on a molecular level insect biodiversity changes, caused by evolution and / or anthropogenic environmental changes. 

Principal investigator: Sabrina Simon