Sean O'Donnell, Ph.D.

Interim Department Head of Biology (2019-2020)

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

Drexel University

Papadakis Integrated Science Building, room 321, 3245 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia PA 19104 USA  

Research - Publications - Lab members and collaborators

Recent press coverage and interviews - Natural history film work

 Fall 2019 PISB EEE schedule



Tropical Field Studies course in Ecuador Fall break 2020

Planned course intinerary - Photos from the 2019 course

Study Abroad page for this course...

Applications are open!

This unique field study course gives students hands-on experience in the ecology of tropical rain forests. Tropical Field Studies will explore the physical and biological factors that result in the formation of these forests, and their impressively high biodiversity. We will be based in a global biodiversity hot-spot in eastern Ecuador (Amazon basin), and at two higher-elevation cloud forest lodges in the Andes mountains. Students will explore some of the key animal and plant players in diverse ecosystems and their complex interactions. We will also consider the effect of human impacts on these forests, and how development processes affect local communities. Teaching methods will include faculty and guest lectures by local experts, immersive hands-on field teaching modules, and group field projects.

O'Donnell lab news

Sean, Ginny Caponera and Karmi Oxman recently spent two weeks researching the thermal physiology of ants in the Negev Desert in Israel, funded by a Stein Fellowship. We collaborated with Dr. Itamat Giladi of Ben Gurion University.

Katie Fiocca mentored a team of three Drexel and Haverford College undergraduates for field research in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Congratulations to PhD candidates Meghan Barrett and Katherine Fiocca for receiving the 2019 Drexel Graduate College Award for Teaching Assistant Excellence; this was Meghan's second award.

Sean taught a Drexel field ecology course in Ecuador in March, followed by work with a natural history film crew in Amazonian Peru in April.

PhD students Virginia Caponera (talk) and Katherine Fiocca (poster) presented at the 2019 Drexel Emergring Graduate Scholars Conference.


-See my Youtube video postings! Search for MrEciton


128 peer-reviewed research publications

GoogleScholar metrics (18 November 2019) 4488 citations, H-index 36, i-10 index 83

Research Gate profile:




Research summary
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). Much of our work involves a strong field component; recent tropical field research sites include Costa Rica, Ecuador, Israel and Taiwan. The lab uses a diverse array of social insects (army ants, paper wasps) and Neotropical birds as study organisms.
Ongoing projects include:

Neurobiology and behavior- comparative analyses of brain evolution in arthropods; social insect caste differences in brain development

Thermal physiology of social insects- species and population differences in temperature tolerances across landscapes; individual differences within social groups; group-level thermoregulation

Ecology & behavior of mixed-species foraging groups- species differences in bird attendance of army ant raids; social and ecological interactions among birds at shared resources

Population genetics of the army ant Eciton burchellii, examining gene flow and landscape effects

Thermal and sensory physiology in alternative-tactic mating systems (Meghan Barrett, Ph.D. research)

Nutritional physiology and chemical signalling in social insects (Katherine Fiocca, Ph.D. research)

Human- and mammal-safe insect control- testing effectiveness of the polyalcohol sweetener erythritol as an ingested insecticide in social and solitary insects

Mathematical models of communication and division of labor in organized biological systems


Web page designed and produced by Sean O'Donnell