Jump to content Jump to navigation

Ben Wielstra

Dr. B.M. (Ben) Wielstra, Research associate - Terrestrial Zoology


Email: ben.wielstra@naturalis.nl
Phone: +31 (0)6 1024 2379
Room number: Sylvius buiding 6.4.16b
“I want to unravel the evolutionary history of closely related species.”

I am interested in the evolutionary history of closely related species, not merely how such species originated and obtained their current distribution, but particularly how they interact during the course of their evolution, as ecological divergence drives them apart and gene flow pulls them together. My research combines a mixture of phylogeographical and spatial ecological methods to retrace the distribution of species and spatial contact between them. As a model system, I mainly focus on salamanders. Given these animals generally combine low dispersal capabilities with a strong physiological link to environmental conditions, their ranges are strongly affected by geological and climatic change. I recently started to exploit genomics to obtain a massive increase in the phylogenetic resolution for different evolutionary questions.


In 2000-2007 I studied Biology at Leiden University, conducting several research projects at Naturalis Biodiversity Center. In 2007-2012 I conducted PhD research in a collaboration between the University of Twente (Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation - ITC) and Naturalis Biodiversity Center. In 2012-2013 I conducted postdoctoral research at Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Currently I am a Newton International Fellow at the University of Sheffield and a Research associate at Naturalis.


Research interest

My main interest is the interaction among closely species, both ecologically and genetically, during the course of their evolution. This requires studying a model system with quite specific characteristics, which can be studied in a natural setting. At Naturalis Biodiversity Center we found the prefect model: crested newts (Triturus cristatus superspecies). Crested newts have long been employed in evolutionary biology. The group is distributed in the Mediterranean region, an area characterized by a turbulent geological and climatological history. The crested newt superspecies is composed of several forms which are distinct enough to be deemed species, but similar enough to exclude one another ecologically. The ranges of crested newt species are largely parapatric and border each other along narrow contact zones. Here, genetic interaction between species occurs. The contact zones are dynamic, meaning they shift position over time. Taken together, crested newts are the perfect model system to address my research questions about subjects such as speciation, niche evolution, competition and gene flow.

Triturus cristatus superspecies: your new favourite model organism. Upper panel: left a larva just hatched; right a larva close to metamorphosis. Lower panel: left a female; right a male in breeding costume. These sleepy newts were temporarily sedated and after non-invasisve tissue sampling they were released again. Pictures by me.


amphibia, evolutionary biology, species displacement, biogeography, hybrid zones, systematics

Current research topics

I focus on Introgressive hybridization and range dynamics in Triturus newts. Please check my personal website for my recent research output.


At Naturalis I work closely with Pim Arntzen. At the University of Sheffield my host is Terry Burke.



2014: Lecture Master program ‘Herpetology’, University of Antwerp, Belgium.
2012: ‘In the spotlight’ lecture, Institute of Biology Leiden, Netherlands.

Supervision MSc Students

2013: Patricia Lagler (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria).
2013: Willem Meilink (Free University of Brussels, Belgium).

Available student projects


Naturalis Repository

For an up to date overview of my publications, please check my Google Scholar profile.