In introducing Dr. Patricia Brennan, UMBS Natural History and Evolution instructor Jordan Price insists that Brennan boasts some of the wildest research stories of anyone he knows. As Brennan begins to discuss her work, it is clear that Price was not exaggerating.

Brennan’s lecture title sets the stage for the unique, creative, and, as Price says, “rated PG,” research to follow: Genital Evolution in Birds: Losing the Penis and Winning the Battle.

Brennan studies the evolutionary consequences of the interactions between the environment, morphology, and behavior in regards to copulatory and post-copulatory traits in birds. She introduces the notion that a male vs. female evolutionary arms race is playing out in many species, and genitalia represent the primary battleground. To illustrate this surprising observation, Brennan discusses the underpinnings of extreme genital diversity in birds, sexual conflict and the mechanics of penis function, phenotypic plasticity and male-male competition, and why the loss of the male avian penis may signal a win for females.

Insider tip: Do not miss the question and answer session immediately following Brennan’s lecture. In addition to answering questions about methodology, Brennan offers a powerful statement on the importance of science education, basic research, and funding in the field of organismal biology. In particular, Brennan compellingly addresses (and denounces) commentary that has cited her duck genitalia research as “wasteful government spending.” 

Please join us for the next installment of our Summer Lecture Series next Tuesday, July 7 for Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s Pettingill Lecture in Natural History.