Brian Penney


+1(603) 641-7149



1994 - B.S., Cornell University, Biology
2002 - Ph.D., University of Alberta, Biology

  • Research Interests and Background

    My major interest is how an organism's form or functioning affects its interactions with other species. I am especially curious how some factors might lead to increased specialization, as specialization is a major generator of biodiversity.

    My research background includes work in insect chemical ecology, especially host-finding behavior and pheromones. I currently work on nudibranchs---shell-less, often brightly colored marine snails that typically use some form of chemical defense. Many groups of sea slugs steal these chemicals from their prey, and I am broadly interested in how this effects which prey they find acceptable. Accordingly, my work has ranged from studies of potential chemical and physical defense to lab and field studies on prey use.

  • Directed Study Projects

    I am generally interested in invertebrate ecology, and am happy to supervise a variety of projects within this realm. In fact, I expect you to develop your own project depending on your interests, and my previous students have studied topics from nudibranch parasites to crab suspension feeding to tenacity of sea star tubefeet. These projects take a combination of hard work, independence and creativity, so before you take this on I'd prefer you have coursework in Ecology and/or Invertebrates to get a head start. Regardless, come talk to me if you are interested, and we'll see what we can work out.

    For the coming year, I am focusing on the networks of spicules in small, elongate bits of calcium carbonate posessed by some nudibranchs. These networks have two potential functions: a) predator deterrence, or b) body support and muscle antagonism. (Yes, that means some slugs might have a skeleton, which might seem a bit strange...). Currently, both hypotheses are being evaluated and there are numerous opportunities to develop projects on nudibranch histology and structure, or use of spicules as antipredator defenses.