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Dr Heather Whitney

Plant Surface Interactions

I am primarily interested in how the structure of the plant surface can influence both biotic and abiotic interactions. I use a range of techniques to investigate these interactions including plant molecular biology, optical analysis, biomimetics and animal behavioural assays.

My research group is currently investigating the control of iridescence production in phylogenetically diverse leaves. Very little is known about leaf iridescence despite the fact that is found in at least 64 different species in 26 families. I was awarded an European Research Council (ERC) starting grant, which started January 2011, to look at the mechanisms and development of iridescence production and its genetic basis in Selaginella uncinata. This species can produce a vivid metallic blue iridescence over its surface, dependent on light conditions. The ERC starting grant is a lab-based plant development and molecular biology project focusing on developing Selaginella uncinata as a model system, and will use a transcriptome-based approach to identify the genes controlling the production of iridescence and behavioural methods to determine the impact of iridescence on animal vision.

Selaginella uncinata

Other current areas of interest include:

  • Plant surface gloss
  • The impact of surface structure on plant wettability and temperature
  • Plant insect interactions (pollination and herbivory)
  • Bee behaviour
  • Iridescence in algae

Moraea villosa

Research keywords

  • Plant surface
  • Iridescence
  • Insect behaviour
  • Pollination
  • Bee behaviour
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • Plant development

Research methods

  • Plant molecular biology
  • Insect behaviour
  • Plant optical analysis

Research equipment

  • Glossmeter
  • Multiangle spectrophotometer
  • Flight arena