Heidi Dobson

Professor of Biology, Director of the Anderson Herbarium (WCW), and Director of the Whitman teaching greenhouse

Biography

Heidi Dobson was born in Berkeley, California, and spent 10 years of her childhood in Switzerland. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, earning a B.S. in Agricultural Sciences (honors) and A.B. in Botany (high honors and distinction). In the summers of 1974 and 1975, she conducted research on the ecological carrying capacity of subalpine vegetation in Yosemite National Park.

Graduate studies

  • M.S. in Entomology at the University of California at Davis (bee biology; thesis on the interactions of bees and shrubs in the California chaparral community)
  • Ph.D. in Botany at the University of California at Berkeley (dissertation on the chemistry of pollenkitt lipids and their role in flower selection by solitary bees)  

She conducted postdoctoral research for five years in Sweden at the Ecological Research Station located on the island of Öland, University of Uppsala, and University of Gothenburg (chemistry of floral scents and pollen odors; behavioral studies of flower-selection in pollen-specialist solitary bees) and in the USA at U.C. Davis (histology of pollen digestion in solitary bee larvae).  

Before joining the Biology Department at Whitman in 1992, Dr. Dobson taught Plant Ecology for two years at UC Berkeley and was a visiting faculty for one year at Gettysburg College (Pennsylvania). 

Her hobbies include hiking, gardening, and exploring the world.  

Research

Her interests lie mainly in the evolutionary ecology of plant-animal interactions, with emphasis on bee-flower associations and pollination. Her research addresses the role of floral traits and pollen in flower selection by bees, which she investigates through behavioral studies of wild bee species (solitary pollen-specialist bees and bumble bees), chemical ecology, and anatomical studies of pollen feeding in bees. 

She has conducted collaborative research projects in Sweden, Spain, Israel, and Austria, and was an initial organizer of the Gordon Research Conference on the Biology, Chemistry and Evolution of Floral Scent.  

Most of her field work takes place in Sweden, at the Station Linné on the island of Öland, where she welcomes students majoring in Biology to do research for their senior thesis with her during the summer. A total of 60 Whitman biology students have joined her in Sweden for research since 1994. She also researches bee ecology in the Walla Walla Valley and supervises student projects investigating local insect and plant life of the Pacific Northwest.