top of page

Plenary Session

The ecology, evolution and conservation potential of anti-herbivore defenses in rainforest trees


Phyllis Coley

Monday July 11; 8:00 hrs

I have worked in New and Old World tropical rainforests since 1976 and have been a professor at the University of Utah sine 1982. My research has documented patterns of the benefits, constraints and costs of plant defenses, which led to the Resource Availability Theory. More recently, using untargeted metabolomics, we have demonstrated that the local diversity of trees depends on divergence in chemical defenses from neighbors (Janzen-Connell) at the scale of meters as well as kilometers. Selection by herbivores has also caused rapid divergence in defenses among close relatives. With my spouse, the late Dr. Thomas Kursar, we parlayed this basic science into a highly productive applied project in Panama linking discovery of new pharmaceuticals with education and conservation. I have received the Utah Governor’s Medal of Science and am a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Last year I received the wonderful honor of becoming an ATBC Honorary Fellow. And I have had the pleasure and responsibility of mentoring >200 students from North and South America who I know will continue to shape science and conservation in the tropics.

bottom of page