Research topics

I am broadly interested in the role of species interactions in shaping plant communities and patterns of diversity, particularly in the context of global change. Much of my work is on plant-pollinator interactions, but your work does not have to be. I encourage applications from students with interests in community ecology, plant-animal interactions, plant and pollination ecology, climate and land-use change, species invasions, conservation, phenology, pollinator health, or interdisciplinary topics at least peripherally related to my areas of expertise. I am better able to advise students on projects that are related to my own research or systems, but I also encourage you to develop research ideas about which you are passionate and to do research in a system that is appropriate for your study questions.

My philosophy

I expect my students to develop their ideas and interests within a broad ecological and/or evolutionary framework, to engage in empirical research rooted in natural history, and to appreciate the wider theoretical and practical applications of their work. I expect you to be hard working, independent, and creative. Most importantly, I expect grad students to be excited about doing ecology! You can also expect to write grants, collaborate with fellow researchers, present and publish your work, have a good time, and learn how to be an ecologist.

A few words

Here are a few things that I have learned about the science of ecology and success as a grad student.

  1. find mentors and comrades – often someone(s) with similar research interests, but not necessarily. Find people that you can bounce ideas off of, who will give you honest feedback, you feel comfortable with….peers will become as important in this role as advisors.
  2. dream big – if you could study anything, what would it be, what are you passionate about, what are you willing to spend hours, days, years (often in uncomfortable conditions, or with great tediousness) learning about? This takes thought and soul searching.
  3. work hard – do your homework. Research topics interesting to you. What has been done before, what is not known? Are the gaps in knowledge interesting, has no one studied them previously because because creative technology or experimental design are required? Justify your research – “because it hasn’t been studied before” is not a good justification
  4. be flexible – after you find what you are passionate about, it is difficult to step away from your ideas. But you will continually receive feedback and comments from your mentors and peers and reviewers about your research and you must be willing to consider alternative study questions, alternative approaches. Be open minded and go where the research takes you.
  5. remember logistics – related to #4…ecology is full of field work and field conditions and logistical constraints. Recognize those constrains, plan accordingly, and be ready to change your plans.

These steps may seem straightforward and full of common sense. But really mastering these steps is a career-long goal. . .so be patient, ask a lot of questions, and continually revisit these steps when you feel you are struggling. 

Interested in joining the Burkle Lab?

If you are interested in coming to Montana State to work with me, please check out this website, read a few of our papers, and think through some specific research ideas that you might be interested in working on. Then, email me

  • your CV
  • an outline of potential research topics and how they fit into the Burkle lab
  • a summary of your research experience and any other relevant background info
  • your reasons for pursuing grad school
  • contact information for 3 references

We can then begin talking about research and funding opportunities. thanks! ---LB