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Phyllis Coley

Distinguished Professor Emerita

Ph.D. University of Chicago


Office/Building: ASB 550A
Phone: 801-581-7088
Email: coley@biology.utah.edu
Coley/Kursar Lab: http://coley.biology.utah.edu/

Research Statement


My work focuses on the role of defenses in protecting plants from damage by herbivores and pathogens. My research quantifies patterns of plant defenses and tried to understand how selection may have favored different defense investments in species of different life histories and habitats (e.g. 'resource availability theory'). Currently we are characterizing chemical defenses and linking these to other plant traits, within a phylogenetic context to understand the macroevolutionary interactions that drive selection for defenses. I have chosen to address these questions in tropical rain forests because the high diversity allows multi-species comparisons, and because biotic interactions have played a particularly strong role in promoting diversity.

Specific Interests
  • Community ecology of tropical forests
  • Herbivory and the ecology and evolution of plant defenses
  • Chemical ecology
  • Bioprospecting and conservation of tropical rainforests

Selected Publications


  • Coley, P.D. and T.A. Kursar. 2014. Is the high diversity in tropical forests driven by the interactions between plants and their pests? Science 343: 35-36.
  • Endara, M-J., P.D. Coley, G. Ghabash, J.A. Nicholls, K.G. Dexter, D.A. Donoso, G. N. Stone, R.T. Pennington and T.A. Kursar. 2017. Coevolutionary arms race versus host defense chase in a tropical herbivore-plant system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114:E7499-7505. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1707727114.
  • Coley, P.D., M-J. Endara, and T.A. Kursar. 2018. Consequences of interspecific variation in defenses and herbivore host choice for the ecology and evolution of Inga, a speciose rainforest tree. Oecologia187:361-376. doi: 10.1007/s00442-018-4080-z.
  • Forrister, D.L., Endara, M-J., Younkin, G.C., Coley, P.D., and T.A. Kursar. 2019. Herbivores as drivers of negative density dependence in tropical forest saplings. Science 363:1213-1216. doi: 10.1126/science.aau9460.
  • Endara, M-J., Soule, A., Forrister, D.L., Dexter, K., Pennington, T., Nicholls, J., Loiseau, O., Kursar, T.A., and P.D. Coley. 2021. The role of plant secondary metabolites in shaping regional and local plant community assembly. J. of Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13646.