Robert Rice's research centers around the intersection of humankind's most intimate relation with the earth—agricultural production—and the impact this has upon physical and social landscapes, with special attention to environmental and social change. His work is directed toward land use studies related to migratory bird habitat. Rice's approach draws upon agroecology and incorporates land use practices and policy in Latin America and the U.S., with a focus on agroforestry systems and their linkages, impacts and benefits within the ecological and social realms.
From a conservation perspective, Rice's work focuses on the sustainability dimensions of a range of production systems. Some of the subjects addressed include the global and local transformations occurring in the world's coffee sector, economic benefits related to silvo-pastoral systems and the potential habitat characteristics of a variety of managed lands. Certification systems developed for conservation goals have also been a subject of Rice's research.