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Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Research

Army Ants Emigrating

Studies from these disciplines focus on conservation, response to climate change, population genetics, physiological ecology, and the ecology and evolution of both social insects and symbiosis. Researchers use a combination of modeling, molecular ecology, genomics, and phylogenetics to address these focal areas. This work also combines manipulative and observational lab experiments with field research in sites across Costa Rica, central Africa, and the American subtropics.

Faculty Conducting Research in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

  Faculty Member Expertise
Edward (Ted) Daeschler, Professor, Curator and Chair of Vertebrate Zoology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Professor; Curator and Chair of Vertebrate Zoology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
ebd29@drexel.edu
  • Vertebrate Paleontology
  • History of the Earth
  • Late Devonian fossil vertebrates
  • Origin of tetrapods
  • Fossil collecting
  • Museum curation
Jon Gelhaus, Ph.D.
Curator and Department Chair, Entomology Department, Academy of Natural Sciences
Department of Entomology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
jkg78@drexel.edu
  • Taxonomy
  • Systematics
  • Entomology
  • Biodiversity
  • Water Quality
  • Museum Collections
Danielle Kreeger PhD
Research Associate Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science
PISB 315
dak29@drexel.edu
Tatyana Livshultz
Associate Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science
Assistant Curator of Botany, ANS
ANS
tl534@drexel.edu

The ca. 250,000 species of flowering plants around us display a vast diversity of floral forms. The fundamental questions I’m interested in are how differences in floral form produce different floral functions and how natural selection acts on floral function to produce the diversity of floral forms that we see.

My focus is on the Apocynaceae, the milkweed and dogbane family, a group of ca. 5000 species of flowering plants. Milkweeds (ca. 3000 of the 5000 Apocynaceae species) have evolved some of the most remarkable countermeasures to the unreliability of animal pollinators. The average pollen transfer efficiency (percentage of removed pollen grains deposited on conspecific stigmas) of milkweeds is greater than 10 percent while more typical animal-pollinated flowers with pollen dispersed in monads have an average pollen transfer efficiency of less than 1 percent). This extra-ordinary function is produced by some of the most structurally complex flowers in the world, comparable only to those of orchids. I’m using a diversity of approaches including pollination biology, evolutionary tree reconstruction, biogeography, climate niche analysis, and comparative development to understand where, when, how and why milkweeds got so efficient.

I’m also studying the evolution and species diversity of the genus Dischidia, a group of about 80 species from Southeast Asia that have evolved a symbiotic relationship with ants including some remarkable chemical and morphological modifications that function in this relationship. Species of Dischidia have ant-attractive seeds, inducing the ants to collect them, and some also modified leaves that function as ant houses.

As curator of the PH herbarium, one of my priorities is to develop databases that allow researchers to easily access information from herbarium specimens to track changes in plant distributions, flowering times and associations. These data are fundamental to helping us understand the unprecedented global change that we are experiencing today. As one of the oldest herbaria in North America, with specimens dating to the 18th century, the Academy’s collection represents a uniquely long record of plants over time. The information contained in these specimens is currently difficult to use since it is distributed among a million plus individual samples. Assembling this information into a database where it can be easily accessed and queried will help reveal how our environment has been changing over the past 300 years.

John Lundberg
Professor Emeritus, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science; Curator Emeritus, ANS

jgl43@drexel.edu

Most of my research concerns the diversity and diversification of fishes. I seek to document and interpret the character (morphological and molecular) and taxonomic diversity of living and fossil fishes in the interrelated fields of systematics, faunistics and biogeography, and paleobiology. My work has a significant field component with exploration and collecting in poorly-known tropical freshwater habitats and regions.

Richard "Rick" McCourt, professor, Drexel University Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Professor; Curator of Botany, Director of the Center for Systematic Biology and Evolution, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel, Botany Department
rmm45@drexel.edu
  • Molecular systematics
  • Algae
  • Evolution
  • Taxonomy
  • Algal ecology
Michael O'Connor PhD
Professor; Chair, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
PISB 318
oconnomp@drexel.edu
  • Thermal, hydric, & energetic effects on the activity and distribution of reptiles and amphibians
  • Physical constraints on heat and mass exchange by reptiles and amphbians
  • Physiological and physical constraints on gas exchange in sea turtle nests - effects on metabolism and development
Sean O'Donnell, PhD
Professor
PISB 324
so356@drexel.edu
  • Brain plasticity and the evolution of brain structure
  • Social behavior and division of labor, especially of eusocial Hymenoptera
  • Thermal ecology and thermal physiology
  • Network models of social group organization
  • Behavior and ecology of bird-army ant interactions
  • Human-safe insecticides
Daniel Otte, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science; Senior Curator Emeritus, ANS
Entomology, ANS
do332@drexel.edu

I am a taxon scientist who specializes on the the taxonomy and biogeography of Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and their relatives), but I concentrate mainly on grasshoppers (Acridoidea) and crickets (Grylloidea). My principal interest, besides discovering new taxa, is in studying the origin of species.

Over my career I have worked mainly on large faunal treatments of crickets (crickets of Australia, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Fiji, and New Caledonia) and grasshoppers (North America and southern Africa). I have discovered and named approximately 1600 species and have discovered nearly 25% of the World’s 5000+ cricket species.

My main emphasis has been in studying the earliest stages of speciation. In crickets I use mainly the songs for initial recognition of species. This allowed me to discover large numbers of species that could not be distinguished by morphology alone.

I spent approximately 15 years assembling major online catalogs to the world’s species of Orthoptera, Mantodea, Phasmida and Blattodea. All told, the catalogs cover about 45,000 species. The databases are almost unique in biology in scope; they cover all known species and have begun to accumulate everything known about the world’s species (images, distribution, habitat, ecology, life cycles, etc). The Orthoptera Species File is now financially endowed and will be supported in perpetuity. No other taxonomic databases are as comprehensive.

I am currently attempting to complete two faunal treatments of grasshoppers: an all-species taxonomic treatment of North American grasshoppers, covering the entire continent (plus the Caribbean basin), plus an all-species treatment of the grasshoppers of Southern Africa (from the Zambezi southwards). Each volume will contain approximately 1000 species (of these about 20% of the species are expected to be new to science).

I spend much of my time working in museums that have good holdings of North American and southern African grasshoppers (Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, University of Michigan, California Academy of Sciences, and the National Insect Collection in Pretoria).

Marina Potapova
Associate Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science
Assistant Curator of Diatoms, ANS
Diatom Herbarium, ANS
mp895@drexel.edu

My research is on the taxonomy, ecology and biogeography of diatoms. I am using light and scanning electron microscopy, geometric morphometric shape analysis, molecular methods and ecological modeling techniques to study diatom communities of various geographical areas, to understand how environmental change affects their structure and function and to reveal biogeographical patterns of diatoms. Current projects include 1) diatoms of mid-Atlantic coastal wetlands as indicators of pollution, sea level and climate change; 2) environmental DNA metabarcoding of microeukaryotic assemblages in rivers and streams; 3) effects of stream restoration on diatoms, 4) biogeography of Beringian diatoms (Northeastern Siberia and Alaska).

Gary Rosenberg
Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science; Pilsbry Chair of Malacology, ANS
Malacology, ANS
gr347@drexel.edu

My research centers on the magnitude and origin of species-level diversity in the Mollusca. Estimates of the total number of living mollusk species range from less than 100,000 to more than 200,000, but that the actual number known is about 75,000. I use an informatics approach to better document the known diversity of mollusks and to estimate their total diversity. I developed Malacolog, an online database of Western Atlantic marine gastropods, and am an editor for the Mollusca in the World Register of Marine Species. My field work is currently centered in the Philippines, which has the world’s highest diversity of marine mollusks, where I am a Co-PI on the Philippine Mollusk Symbiont ICBG, and in Jamaica, which has one of the most diverse faunas of terrestrial mollusks in the world, for which I have developed an interactive key.

Jacob Russell
Professor
PISB 325
jar337@drexel.edu
  • Roles of bacterial symbionts in ant evolution
  • Function, stability, and dynamics of heritable symbiont communities in aphids
  • Genomic mechanisms driving correlations between symbiosis and insect ecology
  • Coevolutionary histories between insects and their microbes
Alexis Schulman
Assistant Research Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science; Director of the Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program
Dolan Fellow for Innovation in Water Science, Patrick Center for Environmental Research, ANS
Patrick Center 336
as5293@drexel.edu
  • Environmental policy and politics
  • Urban planning
  • Sustainability and resilience transitions
  • Policy implementation
  • Local knowledge and community science
Jocelyn Sessa, assistant professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Evironmental Science, Drexel University
Assistant Professor; Assistant Curator, Invertebrate Paleontology Department, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
jsessa@drexel.edu
  • Ocean acidification
  • Mollusks
  • Climate change
  • Paleobiology
Loÿc Vanderkluysen, PhD
Associate Professor
PISB, Room 322
loyc@drexel.edu
  • Volcano remote sensing and monitoring
  • Volcanic gasses
  • Igneous petrology and geochemistry
  • Large Igneous Provinces
David Velinsky
Department Head and Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science
Constantine N. Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building (PISB) 3245 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA

The Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA
velinsky@drexel.edu
  • Fate and transport of chemical contaminants
  • Stable isotope and nutrient biogeochemistry
  • Sediment geochemistry and deposition
  • Water quality
Dane Ward
Assistant Teaching Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science
PISB 315
dcw33@drexel.edu
  • Urban Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Pine Barrens Ecology
  • Marine Ecology
  • STEM Diversity & Inclusion
  • International Education
  • International STEM Mentorship
Elizabeth Burke Watson, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science; Senior Scientist, Patrick Center for Environmental Research, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
318 Patrick Center, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
ebw49@drexel.edu

Elizabeth Watson is an associate professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Sciences, with a joint appointment as a Senior Scientist in the Patrick Center for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Watson's research focuses on the impact of climate and anthropogenic change to coastal watersheds and habitats to promote informed management and conservation. Watson is best known for drawing attention to rapid loss of coastal wetlands occurring in Southern New England, consistent with the symptoms of accelerated sea level rise. Together with other scientists and communicators, Watson participated in a series of meetings for managers, scientists, and the interested public, and helped coordinate special issues in the Narragansett Bay Journal, and Estuaries and Coasts. These efforts shifted the approach to coastal conservation in Southern New England, where the focus is now more strongly on coastal climate change adaptation.

Watson is the coordinator for a university-wide minor in climate change, and cares about preparing students to confront the challenges brought by climate change, and to overcome their ecological anxiety. As a scientist who has studied the impacts of climate change to coastal areas since 2000, climate change touched her family in 2017 where her family and collaborators were affected by severe fires as well as Hurricane Maria. Since that time, Watson has worked to include a more explicit focus on people in her work to address impacts of climate change to coastal areas, such as community-engaged research projects, public facing outreach, and community organizing.

Jason Weckstein, PhD
Associate Professor, Associate Curator of Ornithology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Ornithology Department
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19096
jdw342@drexel.edu
  • Phylogenetics
  • Host-parasite coevolution; Ornithology
  • Systematic biology; Comparative biology
  • Biodiversity surveys
  • Genomics