Research - Publications - Lab members and collaborators

Recent press coverage and interviews -- Natural history film work

Sean O'Donnell, Ph.D.

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

Drexel University

Papadakis Integrated Science Building room 321

3245 Chestnut Street

Philadelphia PA 19104


See my blog  about army ant brain evolution with BMC Zoology...


Drexel students- looking for adventure?

Spend next spring break (2019) in the rain forests of Ecuador! New Drexel study abroad course offering, Tropical Field Studies (ENVS 323).

Biodiversity that will knock your socks off...

Link to the course page including application.

Here are some images of the main field site the course will visit- Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a global biodiversity hotspot, and the link to the Tiputini Station Facebook page.


118 peer-reviewed research publications


GoogleScholar metrics (26 June 2018) 3839 citations, H-index 33, i-10 index 78

My Research Gate profile:


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). Much of our work involves a strong field component; recent tropical field research sites include Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Taiwan.

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. The lab uses a diverse array of social insects (army ants, paper wasps) and Neotropical birds as study organisms. We are developing mathematical models of communication and division of labor in organized biological systems. The lab is also pursuing applied work aimed at developing the non-nutritive sweetener erythritol for use in human- and mammal-safe insect control.

O'Donnell lab news...

 Empirical paper using stable isotope ratios to test for effects of adult nutrition on reproductive caste. In press, Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology.

Empirical paper (from Kaitlin Baudier's thesis) on the evolutionary ecology of thermal tolerance- Extreme insolation: climatic variation shapes the evolution of thermal tolerance at different scales. In press, American Naturalist.

Review paper on the neurobiological implications of climate change Science of Nature/Naturwissenscaften

Empirical paper on body size constraints on brain evolution Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Theory paper on communication and activation in biological systems Journal of Theoretical Biology  



PhD student Katie Fiocca was selected to present a talk a the 2018 Drexel Emergring Graduate Scholars Conference, and a poster at International Research Showcase.

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



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