Romi Lynn Burks
Professor of Biology
During the last weekend of February, Professor of Biology Romi Burks and Professor of Biology Ben Pierce took eight biologists to the Texas Academy of Sciences (TAS) Annual Meeting in Clear Lake, Texas. Southwestern student contributions included two posters and two oral presentations as well as an exciting second-place team finish in “Science Jeopardy.”
- Two of Pierce’s research students, Sydney Cole ’23 and Claire Bason ’23, won second place for best undergraduate poster in the terrestrial ecology and management section for their work on chirping frogs and mites titled “Chigger Mite Prevalence in Texas Chirping Frogs Based on Citizen Science.” Additional student coauthors included Emma Kesterson ’23 and Gina Rameriz ’23.
- In the freshwater science section, Lillian Dolapchiev ’23 gave a talk titled “Filter Me … If You Can: Using Size Fractionation to Separate, Measure, and Determine the Size of Pomacea maculataeDNA.” Her coauthors included Cynthia Bashara ’23, Matthew Barnes ’06, and Burks. Dolapchiev earned first place for best undergraduate oral presentation within the freshwater science section.
- In the same section, Bashara gave an oral presentation titled “Snail (Pomacea maculata) Days of Summer: Associations Between Reproductive Output, Snail Removal Efforts, and Environmental DNA (eDNA) Concentration,” which included Dolapchiev, Barnes, Burks, and Chris Vaughn from the San Antonio River Authority as coauthors. Bashara took the second place award in the category.
- Together, Bashara and Dolapchiev presented their specific research objectives completed over the summer during SCOPE as a poster presentation titled “Stop Escargo in San Antonio: Developing Best Methodology for Detecting Pomacea maculataUsing Environmental DNA (eDNA).” This poster won second place for best undergraduate poster in the freshwater science section.
- Two more research students of Burks, Kate Henderson ’25 and Abby White ’25, also presented a poster in the freshwater science section titled “Keep Austin Snail-Free: Ongoing Removal of Pomacea maculataand Evaluation by eDNA.” The poster was coauthored by Bashara, Dolapchiev, and Dave Christie, who owns a home in Austin that has been invaded by apple snails. Henderson and White put together this poster based on just a semester of lab involvement.
- In addition to collaborating with Burks and coauthoring presentations with Bashara and Dolapchiev, Barnes, an associate professor at Texas Tech University, served as vice president of the academy and transitioned into his 2022–2023 role as president-elect. He will oversee the program at next year’s TAS meeting at San Angelo State University. His own undergraduate and graduate students from Texas Tech also won a poster presentation and a research grant award, respectively.
- Photos from the Awards Banquet can be seen on the TAS website.
Professor of Biology Romi Burks recently participated in a podcast called Conversations About Cocoa where she discussed her educational journey to becoming a “chocolate expert.” Host Lauren Heineck, a chocolate educator and moderator of the Facebook group for chocolate professionals Well Tempered, spoke with Burks about her mission in education, the chocolate industry, and how studying apple snails translates into understanding more about the genetics of cacao (the plant from which chocolate comes) and vice versa. You can access the podcast on Heineck’s website.—February 2022
Five Southwestern students had the opportunity to extend their coursework and research experience beyond the classroom with poster presentations at the Texas Conservation Symposium, which was cosponsored by Southwestern and the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. The students all had the opportunity to interact with keynote speaker Kelly Ramirez, assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and cofounder of 500 Women Scientists. Three of the presentations built on work the students did during the fall 2021 Conservation Biology course taught by Professor of Biology Romi Burks. These presentations, each of which delved into analyzing a particular Texas ecoregion, included the following:
- Katherine Montgomery ’23: “The Blackland Prairies in 2050: Never Lost, Just Too Often Forgotten”
- Lauren Wheat ’23: “Edwards Plateau 2050: Need for Increased Conservation of Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Nesting Habitat”
- Nicole Ratjak ’22: “2050 at the Beach? Conservation Concerns for the Future of the Texas Gulf Coast and Prairies Ecosystem”
In addition, two students mentored by Burks in the Molecular Aquatic Ecology Lab, Lillian Dolapchiev ’23 and Cynthia Bashara ’23, presented their research from the 2021 SCOPE program titled “Escar-go to San Antonio: Using Environmental DNA to Detect the Non-native Invasive Species Pomacea maculata.”
Both Montgomery and Dolapchiev received recognition for outstanding presentations. Michael Gervasi ’23 also had his poster, “Trans Pecos 2050,” on display. You can view the ecoregions posters on Burks’s website.
Professor of Biology Ben Pierce and Assistant Professor of Biology Jennie DeMarco also gave presentations on their research, “Relative Tail Width as an Indication of Body Condition in Central Texas Euryceasalamanders” and “Invasive Species Litter Quality Alters Ecosystem Function through Enhanced Litter Decomposition Independent of Drought Conditions,” respectively. Pierce works each year to organize this symposium on behalf of Southwestern.—January 2022
During spring and summer 2020, Professor of Biology Romi Burks was selected as a member of a Faculty Mentoring Network (Make TRUBLE) within the Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) consortium. QUBES represents a community of math and biology educators who share resources and methods for preparing students to use quantitative approaches to tackle real, complex biological problems. The FMN group Make TRUBLE, or Make Teaching with R to Undergraduates Be Less Excruciating, helped Burks contribute to an ongoing emphasis in the natural sciences at Southwestern to increase quantitative literacy and to use the open-source R language and software with students. As part of teaching Methods in Ecology and Evolution and Ecology, her lesson, which focuses on an element of statistical analysis, can be found online.—August 2020
Professor of Biology Romi Burks, Lauren Muskara ’20, Esther Nyaberi ’21, and Kaitlin Galassini ’21 attended the Texas Conservation Symposium, January 9–10th. Each gave a presentation. All three students received financial acknowledgments of the quality of their undergraduate research talks. The research on environmental DNA started during SCOPE 2018 and 2019 and will hopefully soon contribute to submissions to peer-reviewed journals. Their talk titles included the following:
- “Looking at and beyond the Horizon: Studying Nonnative Apple Snails in Texas and Diversity across the Globe” by Burks.
- “Indicating Invasion with eDNA: Detecting Apple Snails along Oyster Creek” by Muskara, coauthored by Shellsea Miller ’20, Burks, and Matthew Barnes ‘’06, assistant professor of natural resources management at Texas Tech University.
- “Old School or New School: Comparing the Efficiency of eDNA Sampling by Hand and with the ANDe™ eDNA Backpack” by Galassini, coauthored by Nyaberi, Burks, and Barnes.
- “Effect of the Degradation of eDNA in the Presence of Microplastics” by Nyaberi, coauthored by Galassini, Burks, and Barnes.
Professor of Biology Ben Pierce, the Williamson County Conservation Fund (WCCF), and Southwestern University cosponsored the symposium, which attracted 118 attendees and featured 25 talks.—January 2020