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 USA  

Drexel students

Spend next Spring Break (March 24th to 31st, 2019) in the Amazonian rain forests and Andean cloud forests of Ecuador

Drexel study abroad course: Tropical Field Studies (ENVS 323, 3 credits)

Apply now - deadline November 15th

Link to the study-abroad course page including the application.


Course syllabus and field intinerary


Slides from the course information session


 Scholarships are available- see the Drexel Study Abroad web page.

 This course is open to all class years including Freshmen and all majors -

No pre-reqs.



 O'Donnell lab 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, 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.


122 peer-reviewed research publications

GoogleScholar metrics (13 Oct 2018) 3951 citations, H-index 33, i-10 index 80

My Research Gate profile:

O'Donnell lab news...


New BEES Ph.D. student Virginia Caponera has joined our lab. Virginia earned her bachelors degree at Bard College.

Sean was awarded a Stein Fellowship to conduct thermal ecology research in the Negev Desert in Israel, summer 2019. He will be collaborating with Itamar Giladi at Ben Gurion University.


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)


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