Jim Coleman

Jim Coleman

Professor and Provost, Executive Vice Chancellor

(336) 334-5494


Plant physiological ecology, plant-herbivore/plant-pathogen interactions, ecosystem ecology, plant and ecosystem responses to global environmental change, evolutionary ecology and evolutionary physiology of plant heat shock proteins


Ph.D., Yale University


My recent work has focused on university administration. My most recent research focus is the ecological effects of environmental change, particularly elevated CO2 and how elevated CO2 interacts with changes in patterns of temperature, nutrients and water to affect plant physiology and performance, plant communities, ecosystem productivity and carbon and nutrient flux in both natural and laboratory settings. Other research focused on integrating plant anatomical and physiological development, originally using eastern cottonwood as a model system, toward gaining new perspectives on the susceptibility of plants to abiotic and biotic stresses; and using this integrated perspective to assess whether variation in plant responses to environmental variables is related to the optimization of costs and benefits. My laboratory also used this perspective to examine the physiological and evolutionary ecology of low molecular weight plant heat shock proteins (hsps), and we were the first lab to demonstrate a physiological function of these hsps in protecting photosynthesis during heat stress, as well adding significantly to our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary causes and consequences of variation in hsp production by plants. I also collaborated on a project using EcoCELL technology to understand the flux and accumulation of mercury in an experimental ecosystem.

Research Contributions:

Plant resource allocationOur most cited work revolves around integrating plant developmental allometry into analyses of how plants change resource allocation among organs (leaves, stems, roots, reproduction, etc) in response to environmental stress. Our results and analysis led to significant refinements into a “theory” of optimal partitioning.

Global change, plants and ecosystems–  We published two papers in Nature, including one that was highlighted on the cover. The first presented initial results from a large, multi-million dollar field study of the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on desert ecosystems.  This work showed that under conditions of elevated carbon dioxide, and high rainfall, that not only did plant production increase by over 50% but that there was an explosion in the growth of an invasive species. Several additional studies elucidated complex interactions in deserts between plants, photosynthesis, water use efficiency, soil, microbiotic crust on desert soils, and water on ecosystem processes. We also demonstrated that desert ecosystems accumulate far more carbon than had been traditionally assumed.  In a second Nature paper, we used EcoCELL technology and a grassland ecosystem and found that extreme warming decreases net ecosystem exchange (NEE)  in both the extreme year and the following year by inducing drought that suppresses net primary productivity in the extreme year and by stimulating heterotrophic respiration of soil biota in the subsequent year.  

Plant heat shock proteinsOur lab set out to understand the evolutionary and ecological significance of variation in the production of low molecular weight heat shock proteins among species and genotypes.  In doing so, we collaborated with molecular biologists and became the first lab to demonstrate a specific function of these proteins in protecting the light reactions of photosynthesis.  We also provided some of the first studies looking at the costs/benefits of heat shock proteins and testing hypotheses (with complicated results) regarding the degree to which the variability of heat stress in the environment leads to variation into the induction of plant heat shock proteins.

Plant-herbivore interactions:  Our major contribution has been to use eastern cottonwood and tobacco as model systems to show the importance of plant development in regulating plant-herbivore interactions.  Results included demonstrations that herbivores track leaf physiological development stages, not leaf chronical age or position; that  induction of induced defenses or systemic induced reaction in response to herbivores, pathogens or environmental stress on leaves is controlled by  plant vasculature which is highly predictable, and that patterns of leaf production (e.g., determinate vs. indeterminate) can predict the prevalence of specialist vs. generalist herbivores in plant communities. 

Grant Awards (PI, Co-PI or administrative PI for over $64 million in grants and contracts). Recent ones have been infrastructure focused and include.

  • Infrastructure support for research and commercialization, Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation (co-led with Joe Steinmetz, Stacy Leeds and Laura Jacobs), $23,700,000. 2018-2023
  • APLU, Accelerating Adoption of Adaptive Courseware at Public Research Universities Executive Sponsor (project leads were Pauline Entin and Don Carter), 2016-2019 $575,000.
  • National Center for Research Resources, NIH, Computational Biology Cluster (Administrative PI; Jan Odegard and Moshe Vardi scientific leadership), $1,635,302 08/12/2010 – 08/11/2011

Representative Publications:

Administrative perspective:

  • Sui, D. and J. Coleman. 2020. Convergence Research in the Age of Big Data: Team Science, Institutional Strategies, and Beyond. Merrill Advanced Studies Center Report 123: in press. 


Plant resource allocation 

  • Ackerly, D.D., S.A. Dudley, S.E. Sultan, J. Schmitt, J.S. Coleman, R. Linder, D.R. Sandquist, M.A. Geber, A.S. Evans, T.E. Dawson and M.J. Lechowicz. 2000. The evolution of plant ecophysiological traits: Recent advances and future directions. BioScience 50: 979-995.
  • McConnaughay, K.D.M. and J.S. Coleman. 1999. Biomass allocation in plants: ontogeny or optimality? A test along three resource gradients. Ecology 80: 2581-2593.
  • Gedroc, J.J., K.D.M. McConnaughay, and J.S. Coleman. 1996. Plasticity in root/shoot partitioning: optimal, ontogenetic, or both? Functional Ecology 10: 44-50.
  • Coleman, J.S., K.D. M. McConnaughay and D.D. Ackerly. 1994. Interpreting phenotypic variation in plants. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 9: 187-191.

Global change, plants and ecosystems

  • Arnone, J.A. III, P.S.J. Verburg, D.W. Johnson, J.D. Larsen, R.L. Jasoni, A.J. Lucchesi, C.M. Batts, C. von Nagy, W.G. Coulombe, D.E. Schorran, P.E. Buck, B.H. Braswell, J.S. Coleman, R.A. Sherry, L.L. Wallace, Y. Luo and D.S. Schimel. 2008. Prolonged suppression of ecosystem carbon dioxide uptake after an anomalously warm year. Nature 455:383-386.
  • Ericksen, J.A., M.S. Gustin, D.S. Schorran, D.W. Johnson, S.E. Lindberg and J.S. Coleman. 2003. Accumulation of atmospheric mercury by forest foliage. Atmospheric Environment 37: 1613-1622.
  • Smith, S.D., T.E. Huxman, S. F. Zitzer, T.N. Charlet, D.C. Housman, J. S. Coleman, L. K. Fenstermaker, J.R. Seemann, and R.S. Nowak. 2000 Elevated CO2 increases productivity and invasive species success in an arid ecosystem. Nature 408: 79-82.
  • Taub, D., J.R. Seemann, and J.S. Coleman. 2000, Growth at elevated CO2 protects photosynthesis from damage by high temperature. Plant, Cell and Environment 23: 649- 656.


Plant heat shock proteins

  • Barua, D., S.A. Heckathorn, J.S. Coleman. 2008. Variation in heat-shock proteins and photosynthetic thermotolerance among natural populations of Chenopodium album L. from contrasting thermal environments: implications for plant responses to global warming. Journal of Integrative Plant Biology: 50: 1440-1451.
  • Heckathorn, S.A., C.A. Downs, T.D. Sharkey and J.S. Coleman. 1998. A small chloroplast heat-shock protein protects photosystem II during heat stress. Plant Physiology 116: 439- 444.
  • Coleman, J.S., S.A. Heckathorn and R.L. Hallberg. 1995. Heat shock proteins and thermotolerance: Linking ecological and molecular perspectives. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10: 305-306. 

Plant-Herbivore interactions

  • Wait, D.A., C.G. Jones, J.S. Coleman and M. Schaedle. 1998. Effects of nitrogen fertilization on leaf chemistry and beetle feeding are mediated by changes in leaf development. Oikos: 82: 502-514.
  • Coleman, J.S. and A.S. Leonard. 1995. Why it matters where on a leaf a folivore feeds. Oecologia 101: 324-328.
  • Jones, C.G., R.F. Hopper, J.S. Coleman, and V.A. Krischik. 1993. Plant vasculature controls the distribution of systemically induced defense against an herbivore. Oecologia 93: 452-456.
  • Coleman, J.S. and C.G. Jones. 1991. A phytocentric perspective of phytochemical induction by herbivores. In: D. Tallamy and M. Raupp (eds.). Phytochemical Induction by Herbivores. J. Wiley and Sons. pp. 3-45.
  • Coleman, J.S. 1986. Leaf development and leaf stress: increased susceptibility associated with sink-source transition. Tree Physiology 2: 289-299.