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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., J.P. Bryant, F.S. Chapin, III. 1985. Resource availability and plant anti-herbivore defense. Science 230:895-899.
  • Kursar, T.A. and P.D. Coley. 2003. Convergence in defense syndromes of young leaves in tropical rainforests. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 21:929-949.
  • Coley, P.D., M.V. Heller, R. Aizprua, B. Ara�z, N. Flores, M. Correa, M. Gupta, P.N. Solis, E. Ortega-Barr�a, L.I. Romero, B. G�mez, M. Ramos, L. Cubilla-Rios, T.L. Capson and T.A. Kursar. 2003. Using ecological criteria to design plant collection strategies for drug discovery. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(8):421-428.
  • Fine, P.V.A., I. Mesones and P.D. Coley. 2004. Herbivores promote habitat specialization by trees in Amazonian forests. Science 305:663-665.
  • Dyer, L.A., M.S. Singer, J.T. Lill, J.O. Sitreman, G.L. Gentry, R.J. Marquis, R.E. Ricklefs, H.F. Greeney, D.L. Wagner, H.C. Morais, I.R. Diniz, T.A. Kursar and P.D. Coley. 2007. Host specificity of Lepidoptera in tropical and temperate forests. Nature 448:696-699.
  • Brenes-Arguedas, T., P.D. Coley and T.A. Kursar. 2009. Pests vs. drought as determinants of plant distribution along a tropical rainfall gradient. Ecology 90:1751-1761.
  • Kursar, T.A., K.G. Dexter, J. Lokvam, R.T. Pennington, J.E. Richardson, M.G. Weber, E. Murakami, C. Drake, R. McGregor and P.D. Coley. 2009. The evolution of anti-herbivore defenses and their contribution to species coexistence in the tropical tree genus Inga. PNAS 106:18073-18078.