Susan Whitehead

Biological Sciences

Dr. Whitehead studies the evolutionary ecology of interactions between plants and other organisms. Much of her work focuses specifically on plant secondary chemistry and its fundamental role in shaping complex interaction webs among plants, herbivores, pathogens, microbial partners, pollinators, and seed dispersers. Her research is grounded in field-based studies that span tropical and temperate forests as well as agricultural systems. She complements field work with diverse approaches including chemical analysis of plant secondary metabolites, greenhouse experiments, laboratory bioassays, behavioral experiments with animals, and a diversity of quantitative methods. In the context of global change, Dr. Whitehead is interested in how multiple anthropogenic factors, including climate change, species invasions, land-use change, and agronomic practices, are altering plant traits and species interactions.


Dr. Whitehead is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Previously, she completed a B.A. in Biology at Oberlin College, a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and post-doctoral studies in Applied Chemical Ecology at Cornell University. At Virginia Tech, she teaches undergraduate lecture courses in Ecology and a Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) course in Field Ecology.  She serves as an associate editor for Oecologia and as a member of the board of directors for SEEDS, a non-profit environmental education organization in Blacksburg, VA.


Lab website

Recent Relevant Publications:

Whitehead, S.R., M. M. Turcotte, and K. Poveda (2017). Domestication impacts on plant-herbivore interactions: a meta-analysis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 372 (1712): 20160034

Turcotte, M.M., H. Araki, D.S. Karp, K. Poveda, and S. R. Whitehead (2017). The eco-evolutionary impacts of domestication and agricultural practices on wild species. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B372 (1712): 20160033

Chautá, A., S.R. Whitehead, M. Amaya, and K. Poveda (2017). Leaf herbivory imposes fitness costs mediated by hummingbird and insect pollinators. PLoS One 12(12): e0188408

Thompson, L.R., J.G. Sanders et al. [with 300+ co-authors including S.R. Whitehead] (2017). A communal catalogue reveals Earth’s multiscale microbial diversity.  Nature 551: 457-463

Whitehead, S.R., M.F. Obando-Quesada*, and M.D. Bowers (2016).  Chemical trade-offs in seed dispersal: defensive metabolites in fruits deter consumption by mutualist bats. Oikos125: 927-937