Areas of Expertise

Aquatic ecology, wetland science, apple snails, invertebrate biology and CHOCOLATE


Hi! I’m @ProfRomi, an aquatic ecologist at Southwestern University. Visit my comprehensive webpage at to learn more about my integration of research, teaching and life-long education in chocolate.


  • PhD in Aquatic Ecology, University of Notre Dame 2000
  • Bachelor’s of Science in Biology with Honors, Loyola University Chicago 1995
  • Bachelor’s of Arts in English with Honors. Loyola University Chicago 1995



    2017 – present            Chairperson, Department of Biology, Southwestern University (SU)

    2013 – present            Professor, SU Department of Biology

    2009 – 2013                Associate Professor, SU Department of Biology

    2003 – 2009                Assistant Professor, SU Department of Biology

    2012 – 2018                Co-Chair, SU Environmental Studies Program

    2006 – 2018                Co-Chair, SU Animal Behavior Program

    2009 – 2012                Paideia Professor, Southwestern University

    2003 – 2008                Associate Doctoral Faculty, Texas State University

    08/01 – 7/03                Research and Teaching Fellow, Rhodes College (RC)

    12/00 – 7/03                Postdoctoral Fellow, The Ohio State University

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


Find out more about undergraduate research, project descriptions and collaborators on my website.

Overall, we 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.


Can access publications by clicking here.




  • Perez, K. P., V. G. Gamboa, C. M. Schneider* and L. Burks. 2017. Resaca supports invasive apple snails (Pomacea maculata, Perry, 1810; Caenogastropoda: Ampullariidae) within the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. CheckList 13(3):
  • Glasheen, P. M.*, C. Clavo, M. Meerhoff, K. A. Hayes and L. Burks. 2017. Survival, recovery, and reproduction of apple snails (Pomacea spp.) following exposure to drought conditions. Freshwater Science 36(2): 316 - 324.
  • Burks, R. L., J. Bernatis, J. E. Byers, J. Carter, C. W. Martin, W. G. McDowell and J. van Dyke. 2017. Identity, reproductive potential, distribution, ecology and management of invasive Pomacea maculata in the southern United States. Pages 293-334. 2nd edition of Global Advances in Ecology and Management of Golden Apple Snails.


  • Sterling, E., A. Bravo, A. Porzecanski, Burks, J. Linder, T. A. Langen, D. S. Fernandez, D. Ruby and N. Bynum. 2016. Think before (and after) you speak: Practice and self-reflection build student confidence and bolster performance in oral communication skills in ecology and conservation biology classes. Journal of College Science Teaching 45(6): 87-99.
  • Burks, R. L., Miller* and A. Hill*. 2016. CABI Compendium project on Pomacea maculata. (Not traditional peer-review):
  • Perez, B. J.*, A. H. Segrest*, S. R. Campos*, R. L. Minton and L. Burks. 2016. First record of Japanese Mystery Snail CipangopaludinaCheckList 12(5):


  • 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. Martin, 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.



  • 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 insularum. The 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 Pomacea. Aquatic 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 laboratory. Cell 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 and Awards

2016 - 2017:

  • SU, Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Works
  • International Chocolate Awards Worlds Final, Judge, London

2015 - 2016:

  • Fulbright Alternate
  • Speaker, Dallas Chocolate Festival and Northwest Chocolate Festival

2014 - 2015:

  • International Chocolate Awards, Judge, Americas Competition, NY

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