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Vincent Merckx

V.S.F.T. (Vincent) Merckx, Group leader - Understanding Evolution

Contact

Email: vincent.merckx@naturalis.nl
Phone: +31 (0)71 7517262
Room number: 3.05, Darwinweg 4
“The impact of evolutionary relationships on species interactions is massive.”

I have always been interested in odd plants. Extreme adaptations of plants to unusual environments really show what evolution is capable of. During my studies I learned about the fascinating mycoheterotrophic plants. These plants do not need light to grow, but digest soil fungi with their roots to make a living. Because they are rare and difficult to find we know very little about their biology. To uncover the secrets of mycoheterotrophic plants I travel to remote rainforest to study and collect them. Back in the Netherlands I use DNA to trace their evolutionary history and identify their fungal hosts. The results from this research not only provide insights into these remarkable organisms, but also demonstrate how and when mutualistic interactions in nature can evolve into antagonistic interactions. 

Career

I am Research Fellow at Naturalis Biodiversity Center. I obtained my PhD in Plant Systematics in 2008 at the University of Leuven, Belgium on the evolution of mycoheterotrophy in Dioscoreales. After working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leuven and the University of California, Berkeley, USA I joined Naturalis. I am also affiliated to Leiden University and the University of Amsterdam. At Naturalis I am the leader of the focus group Evolution of Species Interdependencies.

Research

Research interest

My research focuses on the evolution and diversification of mycoheterotrophic angiosperms, in particular those that live on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This includes reconstruction of their phylogenetic relationships and application of molecular clock techniques to infer their biogeographic histories. In addition, I study the interaction between mycoheterotrophic plants and their mycorrhizal fungi, with emphasis on the mycorrhizal specialisation trends that are associated with the evolutionary shift from autotrophy to mycoheterotrophy. Research groups include, but are not limited to: Burmanniaceae, Thismiaceae, Triuridaceae, Corsiaceae, Orchidaceae, and Gentianaceae.

Keywords

biogeography, mycoheterotrophy, diversification, mycorrhizas, molecular clock dating, mutualism, parasitism, angiosperms, glomeromycota

Current research topics

Evolution of mycorrhizal specificity in a biogeographic context

In general the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis is characterized by low specificity. AM fungi are able to colonize roots of different plant species simultaneously, and individual plants are generally growing with many different AM fungi. However, for several mycoheterotrophic plant species extreme specificity towards very narrow lineages of AM fungi has been reported. But because these mycoheterotrophic plants are often extremely rare and restricted to tropical rainforests it is challenging to study their myccorrhizal symbionts over a wide geographic range. In this study I analyze the population genetics, mycorrhizal communities, and vegetation preferrences of Thismia in temperate Australia and New Zealand. 

Watch a video about the sampling here

Collaborations

Dr. Martin Bidartondo (Imperial College London)

Dr. Toby Kiers (VU University Amsterdam)

Dr. Nicole Hynson (University of Hawaii)

Dr. Mélanie Roy (Université Toulouse III)

Mark Wapstra (ECOtas)

Supervision PhDs

Co-promotor/supervisor

Mennes, C.B. Diversification of mycoheterotrophic angiosperms. Leiden University

Gomes, S.I.F. Evolution of mycorrhizal specificatiy in flowring plants. Leiden University

Teaching

Courses

Since 2014 I am co-organizer (with Prof. Menno Schilthuizen) and lecturer of the MSc. course ‘Tropical Biodiversity’ at Leiden University (2 weeks) and Danau Girang Field Station, Sabah, Malaysia (2 weeks).  

Since 2013 I am co-lecturer of the BSc. Minor ‘Biodiversity and the Natural Environment’ at Leiden University. I also teach in field excursion ‘Flora Excursie’ at BSc. level at Leiden University.

Since 2012 I am lecture of ‘Phylogenetics’ and the associated practical course for the BSc. course ‘Evolutiebiologie’ at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

Available student projects

Public outreach

Research featured in ‘Waar wij trots op zijn’ (Leiden University) Dec 2012.

Radio interview for Radio 1 (NTR) on 04-09-2012.

Radio interview for Hoe?Zo! (NTR) on 18-10-2011.

Research featured in Kew Scientist 35: 7 (2009).

Research features in the magazine ‘Knack’ of March 2008.

Research featured in the newspaper ‘De Standaard’ on 14-02-2008.

Research featured in Science@Leuven 21: 17-19 (2008).

Research featured in the travel magazine ‘Onder het Palmblad’ 9: 15-17 (2006). 

Publications

2017

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Gomes S.I.F., Merckx V.S.F.T., Saavedra S. 2017. Fungal‐host diversity among mycoheterotrophic plants increases proportionally to their fungal‐host overlap. Ecology and Evolution 7: 3623-3630.
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Graham S.W., Lam V.K.Y., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2017. Plastomes on the edge: the evolutionary breakdown of mycoheterotroph plastid genomes. New Phytologist 214: 28-55.
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2016

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Lam V.K.Y., Merckx V.S.F.T., Graham S.W. 2016. A few-gene plastid phylogenetic framework for mycoheterotrophic monocots. American Journal of Botany 103: 692-708.
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Gomes S.I.F., Aguirre-Gutiérrez J., Bidartondo M.I., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2016. Arbuscular mycorrhizal interactions of mycoheterotrophic Thismia are more specialized than in autotrophic plants. New Phytologist 213: 1418–1427.
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Lens F., Vos R., Charrier G., Niet T. van der, Merckx V., Baas P., Aguirre Gutierrez J., Jacobs B., Chacon Doria L., Smets E., Delzon S., Janssens S. 2016. Scalariform-to-simple transition in vessel perforation plates triggered by differences in climate during the evolution of Adoxaceae. Annals of Botany 118: 1043-1056.
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Jacquemyn H., Waud M., Merckx V.S.F.T., Brys R., Tyteca D., Hedrén M., Lievens B. 2016. Habitat-driven variation in mycorrhizal communities in the terrestrial orchid genus Dactylorhiza. Scientific Reports 6: 37182.
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2015

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Jacquemyn H., Waud M., Merckx V.S.F.T., Lievens B., Brys R. 2015. Mycorrhizal diversity, seed germination and long-term changes in population size across nine populations of the terrestrial orchid Neottia ovata. Molecular Ecology 24: 3269-3280.
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Mennes C.B., Moerland M.S., Rath M., Smets E.F., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2015. Evolution of mycoheterotrophy in Polygalaceae. American Journal of Botany 102: 598-608.
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Mennes C.B., Lam V.K.Y., Rudall P.J., Lyon S.P., Graham S.W., Smets E.F., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2015. Ancient Gondwana break-up explains the distribution of the mycoheterotrophic family Corsiaceae (Liliales). Journal of Biogeography 42: 1123-1136.
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Merckx V.S.F.T., Hendriks K.P., Beentjes K.K., Mennes C.B., Becking L.E., Peijnenburg K.T.C.A., Afendy A., Arumugam N., de Boer H., Biun A., Buang M.M., Chen P.-P., Chung A.Y.C., Dow R., Feijen F.A.A., Feijen H., Feijen-van Soest C, Geml J., Geurts R., Gravendeel B., Hovenkamp P., Imbun P., Ipor I., Janssens S.B., Jocqué M. Kappes H., Khoo E., Koomen P., Lens F., Majapun R.J., Morgado L.N., Neupane S., Nieser N., Pereira J.T., Rahman H., Sabran S., Sawang A., Schwallier R.M., Shim P.-S., Smit H., Sol N., Spait M., Stech M., Stokvis F., Sugau J.B., Suleiman M., Sumail S., Thomas D.C., van Tol J., Tuh F.Y.Y., Yahya B.E., Nais J., Repin R., Lakim M. & Schilthuizen M. 2015. Evolution of endemism on a young tropical mountain. Nature 524: 347-350.
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2014

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Jacquemyn H., Brys R., Merckx V.S.F.T., Waud M., Lievens B., Wiegand T. 2014. Co-existing orchid species have distinct mycorrhizal communities and display strong spatial segregation. New Phytologist 202: 616-627.
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Merckx V.S.F.T., Smets E.F. 2014. Thismia americana, the 101st anniversary of a botanical mystery. International Journal of Plant Sciences 175: 165-175.
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Welzen P.C. van, Strijk J.S., Konijnenburg-van Cittert J.H.A. van, Nucete M., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2014. Dated phylogenies of the sister genera Macaranga and Mallotus (Euphorbiaceae): Congruence in historical biogeographic patterns?. PLOS ONE 9: e85713.
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Carvalheiro L.G., Biesmeijer J.C., Benadi G., Fründ J., Stang M., Bartomeus I., C.N. Kaiser-Bunbury, Baude M., Gomes S.I.F., Merckx V., Baldock K.C.R., Bennett A.T.D., Boada R., Bommarco R., Cartar R., Chacoff N., Dänhardt J., Dicks L.V., Dormann C.F., Ekroos J., Henson K.S.E., Holzschuh A., Junker R.R., Lopezaraiza-Mikel M., Memmott J., Montero-Castaño A., Nelson I.L., Petanidou T., Power E.F., Rundlöf, Smith H.G., Stout J.C., Temitope K., Tscharntke T., Tscheulin T., Vilà M., Kunin W.E. 2014. The potential for indirect effects between co-flowering plants via shared pollinators depends on resource abundance, accessibility and relatedness. Ecology Letters 17: 1389-1399.
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Journals non-SCI, peer-reviewed

Miller J.A., Schilthuizen M., Lilliendahl Burmester J., Graaf L. van der, Merckx V., Jocqué M., Kessler P.J.A., Fayle T.M., Breeschoten T., Broeren R., Bouman R., Chua W.-J., Feijen F., Fermont T., Groen K., Groen M., Kil N.J.C., Laat H.A. de, Moerland M.S., Moncoquet C., Panjang E., Philip A.J., Roca-Eriksen R., Rooduijn B., Santen M. van, Swakman V., Evans M.N., Evans L.J., Love K., Joscelyne S.H., Tober A.V., Wilson H.F., Ambu L.N., Goossens B. 2014. Dispatch from the field: ecology of ground-web-building spiders with description of a new species (Araneae, Symphytognathidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 2: 1-13.
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Merckx V.S.F.T., Wapstra M. 2014. Further notes on the occurrence of Fairy Lanterns Thismia rodwayi F. Muell. (Thismiaceae) in Tasmania: vegetation associations. The Tasmanian Naturalist 135: 71-78.

Hunt C.A, Steenbeeke G., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2014. Thismia megalongensis (Thismiaceae), a new species of Thismia from New South Wales. Telopea 16: 165-174.
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2013

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V.S.F.T., Kissling J., Hentrich H., Janssens S.B., Mennes C.B., Specht C.D., Smets E.F. 2013. Phylogenetic relationships of the mycoheterotrophic genus Voyria and the implications for the biogeographic history of Gentianaceae. American Journal of Botany 100: 712-721.
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Mennes C.B., Smets E.F., Moses S.N., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2013. New insights in the long-debated evolutionary history of Triuridaceae (Pandanales). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69: 994-1004.
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Hynson N.A., Merckx V.S.F.T., Perry B.A., Treseder K.K. 2013. Identities and distributions of the co-invading ectomycorrhizal fungal symbionts of exotic pines in the Hawaiian Islands. Biological Invasions 15: 2373-2385.
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Edited books

Merckx V.S.F.T (eds.). 2013. Mycoheterotrophy: The Biology of Plants Living On Fungi. 356 p. Springer, New York. ISBN 9781461452089.
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Chapters in books

Merckx V.S.F.T., Mennes C.B., Peay K.G., Geml J. 2013. Evolution and Diversification. Springer, New York. ISBN 9781461452089.
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Merckx V.S.F.T. 2013. Mycoheterotrophy: An Introduction. 1-17: Springer, New york.

Merckx V.S.F.T., Freudenstein J.V., Kissling J., Christenhusz M.J.M., Stotler R.E., Crandall-Stotler B., Wickett N., Rudall P.J., Maas-van de Kamer H., Maas P.J.M. 2013. Taxonomy and classification. 19-101: Springer, New York.

Merckx V.S.F.T., Smets E.F., Specht C.D. 2013. Biogeography and Conservation. 103-156: Springer, New York.

2012

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V.S.F.T., Janssens S.B., Hynson N.A., Specht C.D., Bruns T.D., Smets E.F. 2012. Mycoheterotrophic interactions are not limited to a narrow phylogenetic range of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Molecular Ecology 21: 1524-1532.
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2011

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Lemaire B., Vandamme P., Merckx V., Smets E., Dessein S. 2011. Bacterial Leaf Symbiosis in Angiosperms: Host Specificity without Co-Speciation. PLOS ONE 6: e24430.
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Jacquemyn H., Merckx V., Brys R., Tyteca D., Cammue B.P.A., Honnay O., Lievens B. 2011. Analysis of network architecture reveals phylogenetic constraints on mycorrhizal specificity in the genus Orchis (Orchidaceae). New Phytologist 192: 518-528.
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Lemaire B., Huysmans S., Smets E., Merckx V. 2011. Rate accelerations in nuclear 18S rDNA of mycoheterotrophic and parasitic angiosperms. Journal of Plant Research 124: 561-576.
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Bidartondo M.I., Read D.J., Trappe J.M., Merckx V., Ligrone R., Duckett J.G. 2011. The dawn of symbiosis between plants and fungi. Biology Letters 7: 574-577.
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2010

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V., Freudenstein J.V. 2010. Evolution of mycoheterotrophy in plants: a phylogenetic perspective. New Phytologist 185: 605-609.

Merckx V., Stoeckel M., Fleischmann A., Bruns T.D., Gebauer G. 2010. (1)5N and C-13 natural abundance of two mycoheterotrophic and a putative partially mycoheterotrophic species associated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. New Phytologist 188: 590-596.
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2009

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V., Bidartondo M.I., Hynson N.A. 2009. Myco-heterotrophy: when fungi host plants. Annals of Botany 104: 1255-1261.
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Merckx V., Bakker F.T., Huysmans S., Smets E. 2009. Bias and conflict in phylogenetic inference of myco-heterotrophic plants: a case study in Thismiaceae. Cladistics 25: 64-77.
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Janssens S.B., Knox E.B., Huysmans S., Smets E.F., Merckx V.S.F.T. 2009. Rapid radiation of Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) during Pliocene and Pleistocene: Result of a global climate change. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 52: 806-824.
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2008

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V., Chatrou L.W., Lemaire B., Sainge M.N., Huysmans S., Smets E.F. 2008. Diversification of myco-heterotrophic angiosperms: Evidence from Burmanniaceae. BMC Evolutionary Biology 8: 178.
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Merckx V., Schols P., Geuten K., Huysmans S., Smets E. 2008. Phylogenetic relationships in Nartheciaceae (Dioscoreales), with focus on pollen and orbicule morphology. Belgian Journal of Botany 141: 64-77.
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Merckx V., Bidartondo M.I. 2008. Breakdown and delayed cospeciation in the arbuscular mycorrhizal mutualism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 275: 1029-1035.
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2006

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Merckx V., Schols P., Maas-van de Kamer H., Maas P., Huysmans S., Smets E. 2006. Phylogeny and evolution of Burmanniaceae (Dioscoreales) based on nuclear and mitochondrial data. American Journal of Botany 93: 1684-1698.
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Bakker F.T., Breman F., Merckx V. 2006. DNA sequence evolution in fast evolving mitochondrial DNA nad1 exons in Geraniaceae and Plantaginaceae. Taxon 55: 887-896.

2005

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Schols P., Furness C.A., Merckx V., Wilkin P., Smets E. 2005. Comparative pollen development in Dioscoreales. International Journal of Plant Sciences 166: 909-924.
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2004

Journals SCI, peer-reviewed

Schols P., Es K., D'hondt C., Merckx V., Smets E., Huysmans S. 2004. A new enzyme-based method for the treatment of fragile pollen grains collected from herbarium material. Taxon 53: 777-782.