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Personal profile

Research interests

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

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Research Output

  • 41 Article (Academic Journal)
  • 1 Conference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)
  • 1 Letter (Academic Journal)

Floral humidity in flowering plants: a preliminary survey

Harrap, M. J. M., Hempel de Ibarra, N., Knowles, H. D., Whitney, H. M. & Rands, S. A., 6 Mar 2020, In : Frontiers in Plant Science. 11, 20 p., 249.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Open Access
  • 55 Downloads (Pure)

    Floral temperature patterns can function as floral guides

    Harrap, M. J. M., Hempel de Ibarra, N., Whitney, H. M. & Rands, S. A., Apr 2020, In : Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 14, p. 193-206 14 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

    Open Access
  • 76 Downloads (Pure)

    Iridescence as Camouflage

    Kjernsmo, K., Whitney, H. M., Scott-Samuel, N. E., Hall, J. R., Knowles, H., Tálas, L. & Cuthill, I. C., 3 Feb 2020, In : Current Biology. 30, 3, p. 551-555.e3 9 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

    Open Access
  • 84 Downloads (Pure)



    L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowships

    Whitney, Heather M (Recipient), 28 Jun 2011

    Prize: National/international honour

  • SEB Presidents Medal for Plant Sciences

    Whitney, Heather M (Recipient), Jul 2012

    Prize: Prizes, Medals, Awards and Grants

  • Activities

    • 1 Fellowship awarded competitively

    ERC Starting Grant - Interdisciplinary study into the functions and development of leaf iridescence - Blueleaf.

    Heather M Whitney (Recipient)

    1 Jan 20111 Jan 2016

    Activity: Other activity typesFellowship awarded competitively