Phyllis D. Coley
Distinguished Professor of Biology


U of U Campus View

Most of my work has focused on the role of defenses in protecting plants from damage by herbivores and pathogens. My early research quantified 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').

I have also used physiological approaches to examine the costs and benefits of defense as well as the adaptations of plants to life in the understory. A major current focus in the lab is to characterize chemical defenses and link these to other plant traits, within a phylogenetic context. We are focusing on the speciose and widespread tropical tree genus Inga (Fabaceae) as a model to understand how herbivores may be driving rapid evolution of defenses and how this might contribute to community assembly and speciation in the genus.

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 shaping tropical communities.

Curriculum Vitae