Susan Dudley, Ph.D. is a plant evolutionary ecologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, whose early work in plant kin recognition sparked both controversy and interest among many scientists. With a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Chicago, Dudley joined the Biology Department at McMaster in 1995 and became a full professor in 2014, where she runs the Dudley Plant Lab.
One of her primary areas of research focuses on how plants sense the presence of other plants, and then respond, usually by producing a more competitive phenotype. Responses to cues of neighbors are thus important in competition. In addition to her work on plant interactions with other plants, Dudley’s lab also studies plant adaptation to abiotic stresses such as drought.
Dudley’s discoveries on plant kin recognition, an impossible notion according to many biologists just a decade ago, came from her research in the woodlands, beaches and subarctic regions of North America, which showed how plants change their shape and biomass allocation in the presence of other plants. Recently, researchers in China and elsewhere around the world have corroborated Dudley’s findings that plants do “recognize” kin and are researching the implications for agricultural use.
Dudley has authored dozens of academic papers and was featured in an episode of the nature documentary series “The Nature of Things” called “Smarty Plants.”
Hometown: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Education: Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution
Occupation: Professor researching plant evolutionary ecology, establishing a permanent tree monitoring project, restoring prairies
Expeditions: Field work in North American deciduous forests, Great Lakes beaches, sagebrush desert, Taiwan montane forest, and greenhouse studies on plants from these sites
Favorite Place to Be: Under a pine tree
Best Discovery: Plant kin recognition showing that plants change their phenotype depending on the relatedness of their same-species neighbors
Favorite Item in the field: Swiss army knife
Personal Hero: My postdoctoral supervisor, Annie Schmitt, who combines excellence in research with being a fine and warm human being
Hobbies: Reading, hiking, drinking coffee
Advice: For research, let your curiosity drive you. For your personal life, don’t rush to compromise on what you want, because you may be able to get it all.