Research - Publications - Lab members and collaborators

evolutionary neurobiology - thermal physiology - social behavior - community ecology - tropical biology

Sean O'Donnell, Ph.D.

Professor of Biodiversity Earth & Environmental Science (BEES) and Biology

Drexel University

PISB 321, 3245 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA 19104  


Overview statement of research

Research in the O'Donnell lab addresses questions at multiple levels of biological organization (individuals, social groups, and ecological assemblages) and across levels of causation (genetics, organismal and social physiology, nervous system development and plasticity, and the evolution of brains and behavior). Ongoing projects include comparative analyses of the evolution of brain size and brain region investment, social insect caste differences in brain development, thermal physiology of individuals and of social groups across elevation gradients, and analysis of how species interactions affect mixed-foraging group assembly. We use a diverse array of social insects (army ants, paper wasps) and Neotropical birds as study organisms. We are also pursuing applied work aimed at developing the non-nutritive sweetener erythritol for use in human- and mammal-safe insect control.

113 peer-reviewed research publications

GoogleScholar metrics (20 November 2017) 3572 total citations, H-index 31, i-10 index 76

What's happening in the O'Donnell lab...


-Sean taught a two-week Drexel field course in Costa Rica: ENVS 323 Tropical Field Studies, assisted by PhD student Katie Fiocca. Nine Drexel undergraduates from several majors explored montane forests near Monteverde.

-Sean, Susan Bulova, Katie Fiocca (PhD student) and undergraduate iSTAR fellow Meghan Campbell spent 3 weeks in July doing field work in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This year we focused on paper wasp (Mischocyttarus) behavioral physiology and army ant trail pheromone studies.

-Meghan Barrett (PhD student) completed the renowned "Bee Course" at the Southwest Research station in Portal, Arizona.


Recent press coverage and interviews

Clips from some of my natural history film work


New paper on social insect brain evolution:  Current Opinion in Insect Science

New paper on reproductive suppression of fruit flies by erthritol and Drexel press release



-PhD student Meghan Barrett was awarded "best lightning talk" at the American Society of Naturalists Three Rivers Evolution Event (TREE).

-PhD student Meghan Barrett earned a 2017 Drexel Arts & Sciences teaching award

-PhD student Katie Fiocca was recipient of the 2017 Jeanne award for social wasp research from the International Union for the Study of Social Insects North American section

-PhD Kailtin Baudier defended her dissertation in April 2017 and is now doing postdoctoral work at Arizona State University


Continuing grants:

Sponsored research agreement with Academic Venture Technologies: Toward developing erythritol as a human-safe insecticide (with Dr. Daniel Marenda)

Wistar-Morris fund: Stable istope analysis of the role of nutrition in division of labor (with Dr. David Velinsky)

Drexel Venture fund grant: Toward developing erythritol as a human-safe insecticide (with Dr. Daniel Marenda)


Current lab members:

Graduate (PhD) students Meghan Barrett (Biology PhD student) and Katie Fiocca (Biology PhD student)

Undergraduate researchers: Kelsey Capobianco, Meghan Campbell (iSTAR fellow), Natalie Carroll, Annette Kang, Cheyenne McNair (STAR fellow), Michaela Schuster,Sumaiya Zahid


Research projects:

Neuroanatomy and evolution of social insect brain architecture (termites, paper wasps, and army ants) (Bulova, with Barbara Thorne- Univ. of Maryland)

Non-nutritive sweeteners as insecticides (Barrett and Fiocca, with Dr. Daniel Marenda- Drexel Biology)

Thermal tolerances and thermoregulatory abilities of Neotropical army ants (Baudier)

Avian social and ecological interactions in army ant exploitation (DeLeon, Driver)

Life-table models for analyzing division of labor in complex systems (with Dr. Mike O'Connor- Drexel)

Biomechanics and evolution of ant larvae (Baudier, with Drexel Materials Engineers Caroline Schauer and Marjorie Kiechel)

Pheromone chemistry of army ants (Fiocca, with Bob Vander Meer USDA/ARS, Gainesville)

Population genetics of the army ant Eciton burchellii (with Tom Soare and Kerry Naish of UWashington)


-See my Youtube video postings! Search for MrEciton

 Web page designed and produced by Sean O'Donnell