Patricia Brennan

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
Morphological evolution of reproductive structures, sexual conflict, post-copulatory sexual selection.
Patricia Brennan is interested in the morphological evolution of genital morphology in vertebrates, and the mechanisms that drive genital diversification, sexual conflict in particular.  She has a BSc in Marine Biology from her native Colombia, where she studied cardiac physiology of marine mammals. She went on to work in the Galapagos Islands aboard a research vessel (R/V Odyssey).  Brennan completed her Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell University, where she studied the breeding biology and reproductive system of the Great Tinamou (Tinamus major), a basal bird from south america related to the ostrich.  During this time she developed an interest on post-copulatory selection in birds, and went on to do her post-doctoral work on genital and sperm traits in ducks.  Her current interests have expanded to understanding genital evolution in vertebrates, in particular examining female genital morphology and coevolution. She worked as a research professor at Umass Amherst before joining the faculty at Mount Holyoke College. 
Brennan’s research has received much media attention and she has become very interested in public outreach and education, and is an advocate (in print and lectures) of the importance of science communication and defense of basic science. 

Recent Campus News

This is an artist's rendering of two dinosaurs circling each other; the cloaca of one is clearly visible.

A revealing look

Researchers have developed a 3D model of a dinosaur’s cloaca, a glimpse into prehistoric pudenda that has never before been seen.

Photo of Patricia Brennan

Professor’s research on “Last Week Tonight”

Mount Holyoke College’s Patricia Brennan has had her research discussed in a number of august journals — and now on a satirical HBO show.

 Patty Brennan, Visiting Lecturer of Biological Sciences

Evolution could lead to odd animals in future

Mount Holyoke College Assistant Professor Patricia Brennan discusses what evolution could mean for animals on a hotter, drier future Earth.  

 Patty Brennan, Visiting Lecturer of Biological Sciences

Study: sex may be pleasurable for dolphins

Recent research from Patricia Brennan, assistant professor of biology at Mount Holyoke, sheds new light on the inner workings of dolphin sexual anatomy.

The social life of a male duck

Research by MHC’s Patricia Brennan identifies mating competition as a social influence that inhibits male ruddy duck genital growth.

Recent Publications

Moore, B.C., Brennan, P.L.R., Francis, R., Penland, S. Shiavone, K. Wayne, K. Woodward, A.R., Does, M.R.  Kim, D. K. and D.A. Kelly. (2021). Effect of inflation on the morphology of phallic glans tissues in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and their relation to interactions with female reproductive tracts. Reproductive Biology, 104(2), 374-386.

Orbach, D.O. Brassey, C. Gardiner, J and Brennan, P.L.R. (2021)3D Genital Shape Complexity in Female Marine Mammals. Ecology and Evolution. 00:1-9. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.7269. 

Brennan, P.L.R. and Orbach, D.N. 2020. Copulatory behavior and its relationship to genital morphology. Advances in the Study of Animal Behavior (52), 65-122.

Orbach, D.N., Brennan, P.L.R., Hedrick, B.P., Keener, W., Weber, M.A. and S. L. Mesnick. (2020). Asymmetric and Spiraled Genitalia Coevolve with Unique Lateralized Mating Behavior. Scientific Reports. 10, 3257. 

Recent Honors

Was elected a fellow of the American Ornithological Society at the Annual conference held this past August. The AOS was originally founded in 1886, and Dr. Brennan joins a distinguished group of just over 500 fellows. AOU Fellows are chosen for exceptional and sustained contributions and service to the society.  

Was featured in the Q&A section of Current Biology, that highlights the work of scientists chosen by the Editors.

Invited as the Darwin Day invited Speaker at Bridgewater University where she gave two seminars; one on her research on genital evolution, and one open to the general public on the importance of basic science. (February 28, 2020).

Was named the Hann Endowed Lecturer at University of Michigan Biological Station. On June 30, she delivered her talk "Genital Evolution in Birds" as part of the Virtual Summer seminar series.

Was named the Grad Fest Lecturer at University of Berkley on May 15.  She delivered her remarks on "Defending Basic Science" virtually.