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Christopher Smith


Professor of Biology
Specialty: Evolutionary Ecologist

Headshot of Christopher Smith

Contact Information

Salem Campus

Olin Science Center 208
900 State Street
Salem  Oregon  97301
503-375-5425 (Fax)


  • Ph.D., Harvard University, 2003

Teaching Philosophy

Students learn best when they are actively involved in the educational process. As an educator, I strive to engage my students by designing lectures that are dynamic and interactive, and that involve extensive discussion and dialog between students and the instructor. Ultimately, that philosophy transcends the classroom, by involving students in research, and helping them to design independent projects. By undertaking their own research, students gain independence from the instructor and become the architects of their own education. By the time they graduate, my students should have a curiosity about the natural world, grounding in the fundamental concepts in biology, and the skills to sustain intellectual growth as biologists throughout their lives.

Research Interests

My work examines the role of ecological processes in shaping evolutionary patterns over both microevolutionary and macroevolutionary time. I am particularly interested in exploring ecological and evolutionary questions in the context of interactions between plants and insects. Much of my work relies on coalescent and phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequence data and simulated datasets, but I also incorporate many traditional methods in field ecology. More details about my research can be found on my lab web page.


  • Smith, C. I., and J. H. LeebensMack. 2024. 150 Years of Coevolution Research: Evolution and Ecology of Yucca Moths (Prodoxidae) and Their Hosts. Annual Review of Entomology. 64: 375-391
  • Smith, C. I., L. Sweet, J. B. Yoder, M. R. McKain, K. Heyduk, C. W Barrows. 2023. Dust Storms Ahead: Climate Change, Renewable Energy, and Endangered Species in the Mojave Desert. Biological Conservation. 277: 109819.
  • Mónica Medina, David Michael Baker, David Baltrus, … Christopher Irwin Smith, Kevin R Theis and Jesse Robert Zaneve. 2021. Grand Challenges in Coevolution. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
  • Smith, C. I., McKain, M. R., A. Guimond, and R. Flatz. 2021. Genome-scale data resolves the timing of divergence in Joshua trees. American Journal of Botany. doi: 10.1002/ajb2.1633.
  • Royer , A. M., J. Waite-Himmelwright*, S. Stankowski, and C. I. Smith. 2020. Strong selection against early generation hybrids in Joshua tree hybrid zone not explained by pollinators alone. Frontiers in Plant Science. 11: 640.
  • Kessler, A. E., M. A. Santos*, R. Flatz, N. Batbayar, T. Natsagdorj, D. Batsuuri ... C. I. Smith. 2018. Mitochondrial divergence between western and eastern Great Bustards: implications for conservation and species status. Journal of Heredity. 109 (6): 641-652.
  • Cole*, W. S, A. James*, and C. I. Smith. 2017. First Recorded Observations of Pollination and Oviposition Behavior in Tegeticula antithetica (Lepidoptera: Prodoxidae) Suggest a Functional Basis For Coevolution with Joshua Tree (Yucca) Hosts. Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 110 (4): 390-397.
  • Royer, A. M., M. Streisfeld, and C. I. Smith. 2016. Population genomics of divergence within an obligate pollination mutualism: selection maintains differences between Joshua tree subspecies. The American Journal of Botany. 103:1730-1741
  • Svensson, G., R. Raguso, R. Flatz, and C. I. Smith. 2016. Floral scent of Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia (Agavaceae): divergence in odor profiles between varieties but breakdown of specificity in a narrow hybrid zone. The American Journal of Botany. 103:1793-1802.
  • Yoder, J. B., C. I. Smith, D. J. Rowley, R. Flatz, W. K. Godsoe, C. Drummond, and O. Pellmyr. 2013. Effects of gene flow on phenotype matching between two varieties of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia: Agavaceae) and their pollinators. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 26 (6): 1220-1233. PDF
  • Starr, T., K. Gadek, J. B. Yoder, R. Flatz, and C. I. Smith. 2012. Asymmetric hybridization and gene flow between Joshua trees (Agavaceae: Yucca) reflects differences in pollinator host specificity. Molecular Ecology. 62 (3): 898-906. PDF
  • Smith, C. I. In Press. Relentless Evolution by John N Thompson, reviewed by Christopher Irwin Smith. Reports of the National Center for Science Education.
  • Althoff, D.M., K. A. Segraves, C. I. Smith, J. Leebens-Mack, O. Pellmyr. 2012. Geographic isolation trumps coevolution as a driver of yucca and yucca moth diversification. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 62 (3): 898-906. PDF
  • Flatz, R., J.B. Yoder, E.l. Barnes, and C.I. Smith. 2011. Characterization of microsatellite loci in Yucca brevifolia (Agavaceae) and cross-amplification in related species. American Journal of Botany. 98 (3): e67-69.
  • Godsoe, W., J.B. Yoder, C.I. Smith, C.S. Drummond, and O. Pellmyr. 2010. Absence of population-level phenotype matching in an obligate pollination mutualism. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 23 (12): 2739-2746.
  • Smith, C.I. 2010. Coevolution of Joshua trees and their Pollinators: A Short Review. Mojave National Preserve Science Newsletter. 2010 (1): 4-8.
  • Yoder, J. B., C. I. Smith, and O. Pellmyr. 2010. How to become a yucca moth: Minimal trait evolution needed to establish obligate pollination mutualism. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 100 (4): 847-855.
  • Smith, C.I., J.B. Yoder, W.K. Godsoe, and O. Pellmyr. 2009. Host specificity and reproductive success of yuccs moths (Tegeticula spp. Lepidoptera: Prodoxidae) mirror patterns of gene flow between host plant varieties of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia: Agavaceae). Molecular Ecology. 18 (24): 5218-5229.
  • Godsoe, W, E. Strand, C. I. Smith, J. B. Yoder, T. C. Esque, and O. Pellmyr. 2009. Divergence in an obligate mutualism is not explained by divergent climate factors. New Phytologist. 183: 589-599.
  • Drummond, C., C. I. Smith, and O. Pellmyr. 2009. Species identification and sibsip assignment of sympatric larvae in the yucca moths Tegeticula synthetica and T. antithetica (Lepidoptera: Prodoxidae). Molecular Ecology Resources. 9 (5): 1369-1372
  • Smith, C.I., W.K.W. Godsoe, S. Tank, J.B.Yoder, and O. Pellmyr. 2008. Distinguishing coevolution from covicariance in an obligate pollination mutualism: Asynchronous divergence in Joshua tree and its pollinators. Evolution. 62 (10): 2676-2687.
  • Godsoe, W., J. B. Yoder, C. I. Smith, O. Pellmyr. 2008. Coevolution and diversification in the Joshua tree yucca moth mutualism. American Naturalist. 171 (6) 816-823
  • Smith, C. I., O. Pellmyr, D. M. Althoff, M. Balcazar-Lara, J. Leebens-Mack, K. A. Segraves. 2008. Pattern and timing of diversification in Yucca (Agavaceae): Specialized pollination does not escalate rates of diversification. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences. 275: 249-258.
  • Smith, C. I. 2007. Historical biogeography: The new synthesis. Current Biology.17: R598-R600.
  • R. Gomulkiewicz, D. M. Drown, M. F. Dybdahl, W. Godsoe, S. L. Nuismer, K. M. Pepin, B. J. Ridenhour, C. I. Smith, and J. B. Yoder. 2007. Do’s and Don’ts of testing the geographic mosaic theory of coevolution. Heredity. 98: 249–258.
  • Smith, C. I. and B. D. Farrell. 2006. Evolutionary consequences of dispersal ability in cactus-feeding insects. Genetica. 126: 323-334.
  • Smith, C. I. 2005. Re-wilding: introductions could reduce biodiversity. Nature. 437 (7057): 318.
  • Smith, C. I. and B. D. Farrell. 2005. Recent range expansions in the flightless longhorn cactus beetles Moneilema gigas and M. armatum in response to Pleistocene climate changes. Molecular Ecology. 14: 1025-1044.
  • Smith, C. I. and B. D. Farrell. 2005 Phylogeography of the longhorn cactus beetle Moneilema appressum LeConte (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) Was the differentiation of the Madrean sky-islands driven by Pleistocene climate changes? Molecular Ecology. 14: 3049-3065.
  • Smith, C.I. and B.D. Farrell. 2005. Historical biogeography of the longhorn cactus beetles: The influence of Pleistocene climate changes on American desert communities. Pp 135- 139 in Biodiversity and Management of the Madrean Archipelago II: Connecting Mountain Islands and Desert Seas. G. Gottfried et al. Editors. 2004 May 11-15; Tucson, AZ. Proceedings RMRS-P-36. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.
  • Miller, R.M., C. I. Smith, J. Jastrow, and J. D. Bever. 1999. The mycorrhizal status of the genus Carex (Cyperaceae). American Journal of Botany. 86: (4) 547-553. Journal Impact Factor: 2.4.
  • Yun, W., S. T. Pratt, R. M. Miller, Z. Cai, D. B. Hunter, A. G. Jastfer, K. M. Kemner, B. Lai, H.-R. Lee., D. G. Leegnini, W. Rodrigues, and C. I. Smith. 1999. X-ray imaging and microspectroscopy of plants and fungi. Journal of Synchrotron Radiation. 5: 1390-1395.
Willamette University

Biology Department

Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.
503-375-5425 fax