My main research interests lie in the fields of population genetics and molecular ecology. Population genetics is the study concerned with the genetic variation present within species, the distribution of this variation within and across populations, and how this variation evolves through space and time. This transformation of genetic variation within species (microevolution) constitutes the fundamental basis of evolution and therefore the field of population genetics lies at the very heart of evolutionary biology. Molecular ecology applies, amongst others, methods developed for population genetics to address a wide range of ecological questions. Topics dealt with in this field include interactions between organisms and between organisms and their physical environment, conservation of endangered species, molecular adaptation and speciation, to name just a few.
More specifically, my research focuses on the adaptation of plants and fungi to “extreme” edaphic conditions such as those prevalent at serpentine sites. Typical for serpentine soils, which are formed by the weathering of ultramafic rocks, are low calcium-to-magnesium ratios, low calcium concentrations, elevated concentrations of heavy metals, a deficiency of essential nutrients and drought. These soil characteristics often present a major challenge to exposed biota and have repeatedly promoted the evolution of locally adapted populations through natural selection. In certain cases, this has led to the formation of endemic species that show constitutive tolerance to the soil characteristics of serpentine sites. Currently, I am studying various aspects of local serpentine adaptation in the perennial plant Onosma echioides (Boraginaceae) and in the ectomycorrhizal ascomycete Cenococcum geophilum.
Besides this specific focus area of serpentine adaptation, I am also involved in a variety of projects that deal with population genetics, conservation genetics or phylogenetics of Coffea arabica, Heliotropium spp.,Campanula rotundifolia, Acacia dealbata, Arnica montana and other plant species.