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Sean O'Donnell, PhD

Sean O'Donnell, PhD

Interim Department Head (Biology), Professor
Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Department of Biology
Office: PISB 321
Phone: 215.571.4177
Lab Location: PISB 310 E
Lab Phone: 215.571.4198
Additional Sites: O'Donnell Lab


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, NSF (DEB-9303244) and University of California/NSF Animal Behavior Research Training Grant. University of California-Davis, 1993-1996
  • PhD, Zoology and Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1990-1993
  • MS, Entomology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1989
  • BS, Biology Cum Laude, Saint Joseph's University (Philadelphia PA), 1986

Research Interests:

  • 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

Selected Publications:

  • Gilkey P., D. Bolshakov, J. Kowala, L. Taylor, S. O’Donnell, D. Marenda, & L. Sirot. In press. Lethal effects of erythritol on the mosquito Aedes aegypti Linnaeus (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Applied Entomology.
  • O'Donnell, S., S. Bulova, M. Barrett, & C. von Beeren. In press. Worker-caste differences in brain investment reflect soldier behavioral specialization (Eciton army ants, Formicidae: Dorylinae). BMC Zoology. 
  • O’Donnell, S., K. Fiocca, M. Campbell, S. Bulova, P. Zelanko, & D. Velinsky. In press. Adult nutrition and reproductive physiology: a stable isotope analysis in a eusocial paper wasp (Mischocyttarus mastigophorus, Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
  • Baudier K.M., C.L. D’Amelio, R. Malhotra, M.P. O’Connor & S. O’Donnell. In press. Extreme insolation: climatic variation shapes the evolution of thermal tolerance at multiple scales. American Naturalist.
  • O’Donnell, S. 2018. The neurobiology of climate change. Science of Nature - Naturwissenschaften 105: 11.
  • O’Connor M.P. & S. O’Donnell. 2017. Implications of iterative communication for biological system performance. Journal of Theoretical Biology 436: 93-104.
  • O’Donnell S., S.J. Bulova, S. DeLeon, P. Khodak, S. Miller, & E. Sulger. 2015. Distributed cognition and social brains: reductions in mushroom body investment accompanied the origins of sociality in wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20150791.
  • O’Donnell, S., K.M. Baudier & D.R. Marenda. 2017. Erythritol ingestion impairs adult reproduction and causes larval mortality in Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies (Diptera: Drosophilidae). Journal of Applied Entomology. DOI: 10.1111/jen.12409
  • O’Donnell, S. 2017. Evidence for facilitation among avian army-ant attendants: specialization and species associations across elevations. Biotropica. DOI: 10.1111/btp.12452

Current Funding

  • PI on Stein Fellowship for collaborative research in Israel (Ben Gurion University), Thermal physiology of ants and the ecology of seed dispersal, July 2018-December 2019.
  • Lead PI on Sponsored Research Agreement, Biologic Insecticides/Academic Venture Technologies, Developing erythritol as a novel human-safe insecticide (Daniel Marenda co-PI).
  • Co-PI on Wistar-Morris fund grant (D. Velinsky PI): Using stable isotopes to test the role of nutrition in division of labor.