Robin Verble: In the right place at the right time

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On May 22, 2019

Dr. Robin Verble, director of Missouri S&T’s Ozark Research Field Station and associate professor of biological sciences, examines native plants and how insects are using them at the research site. Photo by John Rodenberg.

Tracking the state of the ecosystem by studying its forests, fires and insect population makes Robin Verble tick, and she uses her findings to help advance healthy and sustainable management of natural areas.

Verble joined Missouri S&T in summer 2018 as founding director of its Ozark Research Field Station and associate professor of biological sciences.

“I put a lot of value on finding ways to provide students more hands-on experience,” says Verble. “This opportunity not only increases their employability, but also helps them find their passion.”

The field station’s nine-acre biological resource site was made available to S&T through a partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation. It will position S&T at the state’s leading edge of teaching and learning about environmental issues, conservation and natural resources in an outdoor classroom rich in ecological history. It’s located about 20 miles southwest of Rolla on land settled in the 1860s containing ponds, streams, woods, wildlife and a historical house.

The Ozark Research Field Station biological site is located about 20 miles southwest of Rolla in Newburg, Missouri. Photo by Sam O’Keefe.

Verble’s vision for extending S&T’s academic offerings through the field station includes adding courses in field ecology, organismal biology and field taxonomy and other courses across various university departments. She’s making the field station available throughout S&T and the community through the public school system and organizations like the Girl Scouts, Missouri Master Naturalists and the Audubon Society.

In April, over 100 community volunteers from ages 4 to 95, participated in the Mill Creek Watershed clean-up day with a lunch hosted by the Ozark Research Field Station. Photo by Robin Verble.

“There’s so much to be learned from our local ecology and land use history,” says Verble. “As climates change, individual places change along with them — and place-based studies allow us to observe our impacts on these local systems. It’s important to connect this knowledge to college students, the university, public school students and naturalist groups.”

Verble’s research focus is fire ecology. She studies the effects of wildland and prescribed fires on the insect community, a bio-diverse species group that is easy to find and identify.

“Insects are a barometer for ecosystem health,” says Verble, “especially after a fire, they’re a ubiquitous, bottom-up indicator of what shape the environment is in.”

From 2012 to 2018, Verble was director of the Center for Fire Ecology at Texas Tech in Lubbock and an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Natural Resources Management. Before that, she worked for three years as the curator of insects at the Watson Museum of Entomology at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock.

Verble holds a Ph.D. in applied ecology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, an M.S. in entomology from the University of Arkansas, and a B.S. in biophysics from the University of Southern Indiana.

“Dr. Verble joins our department at an important time as we build on existing strengths by broadening our academic expertise in new areas of ecology and organismal biology,” says David Duvernell, chair and professor of biological sciences. “Her leadership as our field station director is central to these efforts.”

Visit the Ozark Research Field Station page to learn more about the field station and to see how you can get involved. The Insect Biodiversity course offered at the field station starts June 3.

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