Collaborative Research with Students


 Though her eclectic interests vary from fine chocolate to “the effects of macrophyte density on the interactions between benthic predators and pelagic prey” (whew!), Professor Romi Burks is keenly focused on training young minds via collaborative research on the invasive apple snail (Pomacea insularum). For five years, her Apple Snail Ecology Lab at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, has enabled students to investigate multiple aspects of basic life history of this new invader. “The diversity of questions that can be explored is endless. I work directly with the student to develop his/her own research question that includes a reasonable degree of personal ownership or investment. To get the most out of the research process, students need to work on questions that pique their own interests.”

 Dr. Romi Burks writes, “When first embarking on a research projects, students review primary literature and then draft a proposal that includes a rationale, hypotheses, and proposed methods for developing experiments. We spend substantial time developing the context of the research and determining the appropriate methods. After executing the experiments, students participate directly in data analysis and dissemination through poster and oral presentations and, hopefully contributions to a scientific paper.” In fact, three of her students presented their research findings on the Island Apple Snail this week at the Texas Academy of Sciences meeting (See Recent Publications Page).  

There are two news items that Dr. Burks would like to share: First, “my South American colleagues and I think we have found a clear, native population of Pomacea insularum in western Uruguay.  I am sending samples to Rob Cowie for genetic confirmation.  This is exciting because it gives me an accessible population with which to compare patterns with the exotic population in Texas.” Second, she visited a newly reported site of exotic apple snails in Texas, where she didn’t find any live snails but numerous shells. “Based on variable shell morphology or shape, I cannot tell if the snails present are only P. insularum or could include P. canaliculata. We found an intact individual to send for genetic identification. In addition, we saw recent egg clutches which strongly suggest P. insularum. We brought back four recently laid clutches, but I’m not sure if they are going to yield any hatchlings. I expect that when it warms up that this site will definitely show productivity.”   

Aside from news, she also had some kind words: “I really appreciate the added awareness that your site brings. As you have observed, the amount of interest and incidents regarding Pomacea has been steadily rising over the past five years.  When I first got into this [snail] business, I definitely felt alone.  Now, the science is almost happening too fast for me to keep up. I also know that we have lots of information to get out to the scientific community, but the process of publication is slow — even slower when you focus on teaching undergraduates how to do research and publish. Your site speaks to the broader need for [scientific] integration. Clear time-pressure exists to protect native biodiversity. Exotic invaders routinely move faster than scientific publication processes.”

Thanks, Romi! “Scientific blogging” is a new and fascinating format. It holds great potential because it is incredibly fast. Dissemination of information on the internet is instantaneous and “viral.” Started in December, this site has been viewed by thousands of people all over the world. The downside of all blogs is that the quality of the information is unknown. Though a slow process, publication in a scientific journal is “refereed” or “peer-reviewed” to assure accuracy. I do my best to stick to the facts or clearly hedge when I’m uncertain, but I need your help. PLEASE let me know if you have any criticisms or corrections by clicking Comments above. Help make this a peer-reviewed, scientific blog! Posted by Jess Van Dyke

For more information, contact: 

Romi L. Burks, Ph.D.
Southwestern University
1001 E. University Avenue

Georgetown, TX 78626E



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About Snail Busters

The Snail Busters Blog was created to facilitate communication between aquatic resource managers who are fighting the spread of invasive, South American apple snails, specifically Pomacea maculata (formerly P. insularum) and P. canaliculata, in the U.S.

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