Projects and Collaborations

Current Projects:

Photo credit: Bruce Taubert

Morphology, reflectance, and sensory differentiation in male Centris pallida bees – My thesis work in the lab of Dr. Sean O’Donnell at Drexel University. Partially funded by a 2019 APS Lewis and Clark Grant and a 2019 ESA SRT Award. Performed in part at the University of Arizona, in part at Arizona State University, and in part at the FSMRL facilities at University of Illinois. Undergraduate student Angelina Gomez (for her senior thesis) is following up on work by Sumaiya Zahid in demonstrating morphological differences in external sensory structures between the dimorphic C. pallida males; Purnima Sachdeva, Rheanna Congdon, and Sophi Schneider have all helped demonstrate neuroanatomical differentiation between large and small males. Pieces of this project were profiled in Drexel EXEL magazine.

C. punctulatus head.

Brain resource allocation across development in Cryptocercus wood roaches and Zootermopsis termites. – Assisted Susan Bulova, PhD, and Stefan Bonestroo on projects assessing changes in brain resource allocation patterns during development in both sexes (across adult caste differentiation in termites and across nymph to adult development in roaches).



The progression of ovary development in solitary Centris cockerelli and Centris pallida females from emergence through mating, foraging, and nesting – Collaborative project with Dr. Dan Papaj and Dr. Stephen Buchmann at the University of Arizona. Mentored undergraduate students Lauren Hultgren and Michaela Schuster on this work.

Natural history, adult morphology, communal brood chambers, sex allocation ratios and prey associations of Isodontia wasps in New York – Project funded by the Huyck Preserve Research Grant, given to Meghan Barrett as PI in 2018. Cheyenne McNair performed field work in relation to this project and Devneet Kainth and Angelina Gomez have each worked on quantify prey capture in nests. Undergraduate student Annette Kang worked on this for her 2018-2019 senior thesis project.

Effects of task specificity on brain resource allocation patterns in Panamanian stingless bees – Collaboration with Dr. Kaitlin Baudier at Arizona State University. Mentored undergraduate students Rheanna Congdon and Purnima Sachdeva on this project.



Photo credit: Idris Robinson

Genetic links to source populations and morphology of worker Melipona beecheii in Cuba – Collaboration with Dr. Dane Ward at Drexel University and Dr. Jose Machado at University of Cienfuegos, funded by the Eva Crane Trust (Co-PI with Dr. Ward) in 2018. Mentored undergraduate students Chandler Olson, Serena Joury, Zachary Smith, Broderick DeAngelis, and Maggie McCurdy on this project.



Photo: USGS Native Bee Lab + Sam Droege

Mandible overlap in bees – Collaboration with the USGS Native Bee Lab and Sam Droege in 2019. Do bees put their left or right mandible forward? Manuscript currently in preparation.





Designing effective course materials using active learning strategies to improve undergraduate STEM Biology courses – Collaboration with Dr. Susan Gurney and Molly Mitchell at Drexel University, to create effective course materials reliant on active learning strategies for Applications in Biology I and II and assess their effectiveness.

Past Projects:

How does caste (soldier vs worker) influence the brain resource allocation patterns of army ants? 

  1. Worker-caste differences in brain investment reflect soldier behavioral specialization (Eciton army ants, Formicidae: Dorylinae) in BMC Zoology, here (O’Donnell et al. 2018)

How does body size, sociality, and caste impact brain resource allocation patterns in paper wasps? 

Paper wasps are a favorite system of the O’Donnell lab for studying brain resource allocation patterns across body sizes, castes, colony sizes, and sensory constraints:

  1. Brain structure differences between solitary and social wasp species are independent of body size allometry in Journal of Comparative Physiology (O’Donnell et al. 2019)
  2. Size constraints and sensory adaptation in brain architecture (paper wasps – Vespidae: Epiponini) in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (O’Donnell et al. 2018)
  3. Caste differences in the mushroom bodies of swarm-founding paper wasps: implications for brain plasticity and brain evolution (Vespidae, Epiponini) in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (O’Donnell et al. 2017)

What is the impact of erythritol on termite survival? On ant survival?

Studying the impact of polyols on insect development and survival is a long-standing collaboration between the O’Donnell and Marenda labs at Drexel University. Read the resulting publications on termite and ant survival:

  1. Erythritol causes concentration-dependent mortality in the Eastern subterranean termite (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae) in Journal of Economic Entomology here (Caponera et al. 2019)
  2. Potential for use of erythritol as a socially-transferrable ingested insecticide for ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Journal of Economic Entomology here (Barrett et al. 2020)

What is the impact of mannitol on Drosophila melanogaster survival and development?  

Read the resulting first-author publications on adult/larval survival and development in D. melanogaster when feeding on mannitol:

  1. Mannitol ingestion causes concentration-dependent, sex-biased mortality in adults of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) in PLoS One here (Fiocca and Barrett et al. 2019)
  2.  Larval mannitol diets increase mortality, prolong development and decrease adult body sizes in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in Biology Open here (Barrett and Fiocca et al. 2019)