Romi Burks

Professor of Biology

Areas of expertise
Aquatic ecology, wetland science, apple snails, invertebrate biology

I am an aquatic ecologist interested in how ecological life histories influence behavior, diversity and distribution of freshwater invertebrates. My research at Southwestern focuses on a group of large freshwater snails - commonly called apple snails because they can reach the size of an apple. Receiving my Ph.D. in the lab of noted exotic species authority Dr. David Lodge at the University of Notre Dame facilitated my early (and continued) interest on questions associated with invasion biology. In Texas, one species, Pomacea maculata (formerly P. insularum), occurs as a non-native, invasive species that my lab has been studying for about 10 years now. In particular, I collaborate with student researchers to investigate multiple aspects of basic life history of this successful invader. Although we have a good sense of its reproductive capabilities, distributions continue to change and there is still a lot to learn. Advances in the field have been happening faster than we can investigate. In addition, we compare and contrast the ecology and diversity of apple snails in non-native habitats with those populations found in the native range of South America. Much of this work has pushed my lab and students into the field of molecular ecology.  Furthermore, the work has expanded to include an international collaboration in Uruguay where native apple snails occur and a partnership with Dr. Kenneth Hayes at Howard University to study patterns of diversity and distribution.


PhD, University of Notre Dame 2000
BS, Loyola University Chicago 1995
BA, Loyola University Chicago 1995


Co-Chair of the Animal Behavior Program
Southwestern University
August 01, 2006 - present
I help direct the only interdisciplinary science major on campus.

Co-Chair Environmental Studies
Southwestern University
August 01, 2012 - present
I help administer one of the fastest growing interdisciplinary programs on campus.

Associate Professor of Biology
Southwestern University
August 01, 2009 - July 31, 2013

Paideia Professor
Southwestern University
August 01, 2009 - May 10, 2012
Mentored group of 5 young women through the Paideia Program

Assistant Professor of Biology
Southwestern University
August 01, 2003 - July 01, 2009

Teaching Philosophy

How I seek to "Engage Minds and Transform Lives" I teach because I never stopped being a student. My alma mater, Loyola University Chicago, recently adopted a new motto that states their dedication to preparing students to live extraordinary lives. Live beyond the ordinary. I have learned that the extraordinary aspect of living comes when we learn to function comfortably outside the norm, or ordinary. In The Courage to Teach, Education expert Parker Parmer writes of the courage necessary to take on this extraordinarily influential role of a teacher and states that students who learn are the finest fruits of teachers who teach. If I considered myself the fruit in that metaphor, I matured under close guidance of my professors. Now, I plant my own seeds, nourish them with 3 basic truths and watch them transform.


Truth 1: Teach who you are (Live the Teacher-Scholar Model): 

I place much faith in the practice of teach who you are. I am a planner, a scientist, an English major, a systematic individual, a lover of rubrics, an animal lover and a pretty creative thinker, although the dominance of these personalities changes depending on the task. I am also intense (students sometimes unfortunately mistake this for intimidating). I prefer the terms dedicated, direct and passionate. I believe in the learning process. Teaching who I am translates into genuine enthusiasm for teaching that students clearly recognize. I think this goes a long way toward being a successful long-term Southwestern faculty member. My undergraduate experience at a liberal arts university shaped the way I see connections between teaching and disciplines. By willing to experiment with innovative approaches, extraordinary things happen.

Truth 2: Make your classroom another lab (enhancing the Teacher half of the model)

For me, part of engaging minds involves shifting the way students approach questions. I wear many different hats during any given day at Southwestern. However, my scientist hat feels permanently glued to my head and my approach to each class mirrors my scientific side. Through experimenting with different teaching strategies and pedagogies, I refine my approaches in small slices. Without frequent enough change, things get stale. Still, I try and resist changing too much at once. I try to see each class as a series of small-scale experiments. Somewhat literally, I hope that I routinely engage a lot of little wheels turning in the heads of my students when I stress that everything eventually connects to everything else and that the study of life does not occur in a vacuum but spans disciplines. Of the few hundred evaluations of Biodiversity, one in particular sticks in my mind. I don?t remember which year but one student wrote something like 'Dr. Burks ruined me. I cannot watch TV, go shopping or to the movies or even relax without finding examples of biology everywhere.' I do not know if the student meant that as a compliment but I take it as one.

Truth 3: Make your lab another classroom (enhancing the Scholar half of the model)

My experience has taught me that the extraordinary happens through the process of teaching students the art of doing ecological research. In the beginning, I found it hard to recruit students early enough to invest in the long-term nature of research. I also found that snails are not necessarily as sexy to students as something medically-related like cancer. It takes my enthusiasm for the crazy critters or the word from one of the already ecologically-converted to convince some students otherwise. Students make up my lab community and I consider them real contributors to the research. The practice of guiding students through the complete scientific process (i.e. where outcome results in some type of publication) serves as the best evidence of my teaching effectiveness. I look for every opportunity to combine teaching and research. I do not consider them separate or opposing pursuits. I teach research methods and I research teaching methods.

Previous Courses

BIO50112 Biodiversity (now Living Systems)

BIO50434 Invertebrate Ecology

PSY33111 Introduction to Animal Behavior

BIO50434 Ecology

UST105 First Year Seminar: Does Chocolate have a Dark Side

BIO50222 Methods in Ecology and Evolution


In addition to lab alumni and current students, collaborators on apple snail research include Mariana Meerhoff (email) and colleagues in Uruguay, Mark Kramer (email) at Armand Bayou Nature Center and Dr. Kenneth Hayes (email) and colleagues.

Our current research efforts focus on:

  1. Examining the genetic diversity found in native and non-native populations of apple snails
  2. Investigating whether hybridization occurs among Pomacea spp.
  3. Examining the influence of environmental factors on sensory abilities
  4. Uncovering patterns of cryptic diversity among apple snails in Uruguay
  5. Looking for morphological patterns to tell apart species


Professional Work

You can follow me on Twitter @ProfRomi

Click here for a link to my full curriculum vita, which can be found on my personal website.



·       Burks, R. L., J. Bernatis, J. E. Byers, J. Carter, C. W. Martin, W. G. McDowell and J. van Dyke.  2015.  Not all apple snails are golden:  A review of the identity, reproductive potential, distribution, biotic ecology and management of invasive Pomacea maculata in the southeastern United States.  Invited and accepted for 2nd edition of Global Advances in Ecology and Management of Golden Apple Snails. 

·       Hayes, K.A, R. L. Burks, A. Castro-Vazquez, P. C. Darby, H. Heras, P. R. Martín, J.-W. Qiu, S. C. Thiengo, I. A. Vega, T. Wada, Y. Yusa, S. Burela, M. P. Cadierno, J. A. Cueto, F. A. Dellagnola, M. S. Dreon, M. V. Frassa, M. Giraud-Billoud, M. S. Godoy, S. Ituarte, E. Koch, K. Matsukura, M. Y. Pasquevich, C. Rodriguez, L. Saveanu, M. E. Seuffert, E. E. Strong, J. Sun, N. E. Tamburi, M. J. Tiecher, R. L. Turner, P. L. Valentine-Darby & R. H. Cowie. 2015. Insights from an integrated view of the biology of apple snails (Caenogastropoda: Ampullariidae). Malacologia 58(1-2): 245-302.


·       Burks, R. L., A. Miller and A. Hill.  CABI Compendium project on Pomacea maculata.  Draft posted & under review (Not traditional peer-review):

·       Liebl, M.*, K. Roberts*, A. Mohammed*, M. Lowther*, E. Navaira*, A. Frankel*, S. Pukys and R. L. Burks.  2014.  Staying SMArT: Introduction and assessment of a one-on-one inquiry model to teach the scientific method to elementary school students.  Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal 6(1): 32-44.  PDF: 


·       Kyle, C. H.*, A. Plantz*, T. Shelton and R. L. Burks.  2013. Count your eggs before they invade: Identifying and quantifying egg clutches of two invasive apple snail species (Pomacea).  PLoSOne Open Access.


·       Burks, R. L. 2012. One McBug Burger Please: Eating insects in ecology class to contextualize climate change discussion. EcoEd Digital Library,


·       Kyle, C. H.*, A. W. Kropf and R. L. Burks. 2011. Prime waterfront real estate: Apple snails choose wild taro for oviposition sites. Current Zoology 57(5): 630-641.

·       Burks, R. L., S. A. Hensley* and C. H. Kyle*. 2011.  Quite the appetite: juvenile island apple snails (Pomacea insularum) survive consuming only exotic, invasive plants. Journal of Molluscan Studies 77(4): 423-428.


·       Burks, R. L., C. H. Kyle* and M. K. Trawick*. 2010. Pink Eggs and Snails: Field oviposition patterns indicate shallow aquatic systems susceptible to invasion by Pomacea insularum.  Hydrobiologia, Shallow Lakes 2009 Special Volume 646: 243-251.

DOI 10.1007/s10750-010-0167-1.

                                                                                 EDITORIAL SUMMARY (not peer-reviewed):

Meerhoff, M., M. Beklioglu, R. Burks, F. García-Rodríguez, N. Mazzeo and B. Moss.  2010.

Shallow Lakes: Preface.  Hydrobiologia DOI 10.1007/s10750-010-0247-2.



·       Burks, R. L. and M. M. Chumchal.  2009. To Co-author or Not to Co-author: How to write, publish, and negotiate issues of authorship with undergraduate research students. Sci. Signal. 2 (94), tr3. [DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.294tr3] PDF Available via RB website

·       Burks, R. L. 2009. A Kernel of Truth: Microwave popcorn makes it easier to teach basic statistics.  The L&O Bulletin 18(2): 36-40.  PDF Available via RB website

·       Kyle, C. H.,* M. K. Trawick,* J. P. McDonough* and R. L. Burks.  2009.  Population dynamics of an established reproducing population of the invasive apple snail (Pomacea insularum) in suburban southeast Houston, Texas.  Texas Journal of Science 61(4): 1-5.



·       Barnes, M.A.*, R. K. Marfurt*, J. J. Hand and R. L. Burks.  2008.  Fecundity of the exotic applesnail, Pomacea insularumThe Journal of the North American Benthological Society 28(3): 738-745 (with color photo).  PDF Available

·       Youens, A. K.* and R. L. Burks.  2008. Comparing applesnails with oranges: the need to standardize measuring techniques when studying PomaceaAquatic Ecology 42(4): 679-684. DOI: 10.1007/s10452-007-9140-0. PDF Available

·       Boland, B.*, M. Meerhoff, C. Fosalba, N. Mazzeo, M. Barnes* and R. L. Burks.  2008.   Juvenile snails, adult appetites: Contrasting resource consumption between two species of applesnails (Pomacea).   Journal of Molluscan Studies 74(1): 47-54.  [DOI: 10.1093/mollus/eym045.] PDF Available


·       Burks, R. L. and L. Boles.  2007.  Evolution of the Chocolate Bar: A creative approach to teaching phylogenetic relationships within evolutionary biology.  The American Biology Teacher 69(4): 229-237.  PDF Available


Burks, R. L. 2007.  Math for Wiser Decisions (a review of Rockwood’s Introduction to Population Ecology). BioScience 57(3):  288-289.


·       Burks, R. L., G. Mulderij, E. Gross, I. Jones, L. Jacobsen, E. Van Donk, and E. Jeppesen.  2006.   Chapter 3 - Center stage: The Crucial Role of Macrophytes in Regulating Trophic Interactions in Shallow Lake Wetlands. Pages 37-59 in R. Bobbink, B. Beltman, J. T. A. Verhoeven, and D. F. Whigham (eds) Wetlands: Functioning, Biodiversity Conservation, and Restoration.   Ecological Studies, Volume 191, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. 

·       R. G. Howells, L. E. Burlakova, A. Y. Karatayev, R K. Marfurt*, and R. L. Burks.  2006.   Chapter 5 - Native and introduced Ampullaridae in North America: History, status and ecology.  Pages 73-112 in R. C Joshi (ed) Global Advances in Ecology and Management of Golden Apple Snails.  Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Philippines.  PDF available


·       Lindquester, G., R. L. Burks, and C. R. Jaslow.  2005. Developing information fluency in introductory biology students in the context of an investigative laboratoryCell Biology Education 4: 58-96.  PDF available


·       Tuchman, N. C., R. L. Burks, C. A. Call, and J. J. Smarrelli.  2004.  Flow rate and vertical position influence ingestion rates of colonial zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha). Freshwater Biology 49: 191-198. (revisions completed at SU)



·       Burks, R. L. and D. M. Lodge.  2002.  Cued in: advances and opportunities in freshwater chemical ecology.  Journal of Chemical Ecology.  28(10): 1881- 1897.

·       Burks, R. L., N. C. Tuchman, C. A. Call, and J. E. Marsden.  2002.  Colonial aggregations: the effect of spatial position on zebra mussel responses to interstitial water quality.  Journal of the North American Benthological Society 21(1): 64-75.  PDF available

·       Burks, R. L., D. M. Lodge, E. Jeppesen and T. L. Lauridsen.  2002.  Diel horizontal migration of zooplankton: costs and benefits of inhabiting littoral zones.  Freshwater Biology 47: 343-366. PDF available



·       Burks, R. L., E. Jeppesen and D. M. Lodge.  2001.  Pelagic prey and benthic predators: impact of odonate predation on Daphnia among complex structure.  Journal of the North American Benthological Society 20(4): 683-696.  PDF available

·       Burks, R. L., E. Jeppesen and D. M. Lodge.  2001.  Littoral zone structures as Daphnia refugia against fish predation.  Limnology and Oceanography 46(2): 230-237.  PDF available


·       Burks, R. L., E. Jeppesen and D. M. Lodge.  2000.  Macrophyte and fish chemicals suppress Daphnia growth and alter life history traits.  Oikos 88(1): 139-147.  PDF available


·       Lauridsen, T. L., E. Jeppesen, S.F. Mitchell, D. M. Lodge and R. L. Burks.  1999.  Horizontal distribution of zooplankton in lakes with contrasting fish densities and nutrient levels.  Hydrobiologia 408/409: 241-250.



Honors & Awards

2014 - 2015:

  • Judge: International Chocolate Awards
  • Speaker: Uruguay Congress of Zoology

2013 - 2014:

  • Mentor: Women Evolving the Biological Sciences
  • Collaborator: American Museum of Natural History


  • NSF-IRES Principal Investigaor
  • ECO-DAS Mentor
  • Texas Academy of Sciences President
  • Associate Editor, American Midland Naturalist


  • Ph.D. Opponent, Lund University, Sweden
  • Section Chair, Ecologists at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, Ecological Society of America
  • Texas Academy of Sciences President-Elect and 2011 Program Chair
  • Editorial Board, Freshwater Biology


  • Invited participant, Vision and Change: Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education conference
  • Panelist for IRES, National Science Foundation (NFS)
  • Texas Academy of Sciences Fellow
  • Guest Editor, Hydrobiologia, 2008 Shallow Lakes Meeting
  • Selected as BEN (BioEdNet) Scholar, AAAS
  • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award SU


  • Southwestern University Nomination for Piper Professor
  • Finalist for Brown Junior Investigator Award
  • Panelist for NSF DDIG Review in Ecology
  • Nominated for Outstanding Teaching Award, SU
  • Recognized for work with disability issues, SU


  • ACS Environmental Fellow
  • ACS Technology Fellow
  • Invited participant (16 chosen from 70 applicants) for SEEK
  • Invited panelist for NSF Grant Review in Ecology

Before Southwestern:

  • DIALOG IV in Bermuda
  • Kaneb Center Graduate Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • Fulbright Scholar
  • Denmark Graduate Teaching Assistant of the Year Award
  • 1995 Presidential Medal Recipient, Loyola University Chicago
  • 1993 Phi Beta Kappa



Two pseudochildren Bichons Twinkie & Cupcake, fiction reading, travel, chocolate