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Natural History Survey

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  • two yellow prothonotary warblers perched on a branch

    Warmer springs mean more offspring for prothonotary warblers

    Climate change contributes to gradually warming Aprils in southern Illinois, and at least one migratory bird species, the prothonotary warbler, is taking advantage of the heat. A new study analyzing 20 years of data found that the warblers start their egg-laying in southern Illinois significantly earlier in warmer springs. This increases the chances that the birds can raise two broods of offspring during the nesting season, researchers found.

  • Craig Miller stands in a fall forest

    Craig Miller describes risks of lead ammunition

    Illinois Natural History Survey human dimensions scientist Craig Miller spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the risks associated with using lead ammunition in hunting.

  • Greg Spyreas stands in the woods

    Decadeslong effort revives ancient oak woodland

    Vestal Grove in the Somme Prairie Grove forest preserve in Cook County, Illinois, looks nothing like the scrubby, buckthorn-choked tangle that confronted restoration ecologists 37 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team that focused on rooting up invasive plants and periodically burning, seeding native plants and culling deer, the forest again resembles its ancient self, researchers report in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • An eastern red bat.

    Project succeeds in increasing east-central Illinois bat population

    Thirty minutes before sunset, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) scientists and volunteers set up chairs in the prairie grass at Coles County’s Warbler Ridge Nature Preserve, look up at the summer twilight sky, and wait for the bat show to begin. Soon, the bats emerge from their bat houses to feed and fly off into the night. A good showing of bats is exciting news for the scientists: bat-focused habitat conservation efforts have proven to be effective in attracting and nurturing bat populations, but this work can take time to pay off.

  • Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) Photo: Susan Post, INHS

    Scientists call for global effort to monitor odonate populations

    INHS ecologist Jason Bried and more than 30 co-authors published an article calling for a worldwide effort to monitor not just locations but also quantities of Odonata species.

  • Joseph L Sencer rating roots before catching corn rootworm beetle populations so their eggs can be collected for bioassays in 2021. 

    Illinois researcher warns of growing corn rootworm threat

    Corn rootworms inflict more than $1 billion annually in lost revenue and control costs. PRI insect behaviorist Joseph L. Spencer regularly travels across Illinois collecting corn rootworms and studying their behavior, ecology, and their growing resistance to pest management, particularly resistance to Bt corn hybrids and crop rotation.

  • lichen

    INHS among collaborators on NSF-funded project to digitize bryophytes and lichens

    The Illinois Natural History Survey is among 25 institutions across the U.S. that will image and digitize associated metadata for close to 1.2 million lichen and bryophyte specimens thanks to a $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

  • leopard resting in a tree

    Study finds Serengeti leopard population densities vary seasonally

    A study of camera-trap data from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania found that leopard population densities in the 3.7-million-acre park are similar to those in other protected areas but vary between wet and dry seasons. The fluctuations appear to be driven by the abundance of prey and how this affects interactions with other large carnivores like lions.

  • A spotted turtle in water

    30 years of data show spotted turtle communities are still vulnerable

    Populations of the endangered spotted turtle in Illinois are holding up better than those in other states, based on 30 years of data at the University of Illinois. Still, only two populations remain, and the predictions are poor.

  • black bear

    Data analysis paints a clearer picture of translocation success among black bears

    Javan Bauder and Max Allen analyzed data from 1,462 translocations of 1,293 black bears in Wisconsin from 1979 to 2016, evaluating translocation success of black bears across Wisconsin.

  • Scientists use modeling techniques to tease out coyote and fox population trends in Illinois

    Asking licensed Illinois trappers about their experiences and the numbers of coyotes and foxes they harvest is one way to discover animal population trends. The trick, though, is to account for trappers’ motivations that can be swayed by economic factors and weather.

  • hands using tweezers to insert a tick into a tube

    Lone Star ticks in Illinois can carry, transmit Heartland virus

    Researchers have confirmed that Heartland virus, an emerging pathogen with potentially dire consequences for those infected, is present in Lone Star ticks in two Illinois counties hundreds of miles apart. The findings are reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

  • Tommy McElrath wields a net in Trelease prairie

    Chasing bumble bees on a patch of prairie

    Illinois Natural History Survey insect collection manager Tommy McElrath conducts surveillance for bees at the prairie near the University's Trelease Woods. Only 11 of the 18 bumblee bee species historically collected in Illinois have been seen in the last 15 years. Of those remaining here, three are endangered or threatened.

  • female cowbird and male cowbird perched on wire fence

    Cowbirds change their eggs’ sex ratio based on breeding time

    Brown-headed cowbirds show a bias in the sex ratio of their offspring depending on the time of the breeding season, researchers report in a new study. More female than male offspring hatch early in the breeding season in May, and more male hatchlings emerge in July.

  • Bobwhites nesting in a field of flowers.

    Bobwhites listen to each other when picking habitat

    Northern bobwhites are attracted to a habitat based on whether other bobwhites are present there, research led by Illinois Natural History Survey avian ecologist Michael Ward. This phenomenon, called conspecific attraction, could aid conservation efforts.

  • Researchers studied bobcat population in Wisconsin.

    Researchers find that data from hunters can help assess bobcat population

    Wildlife managers track animal groups to control populations and determine the number of permits provided to hunters and trappers each year. Whether data are taken from the forest or from hunter surveys, their accuracy is necessary to inform conservation, according to Javan Bauder, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois’ Illinois Natural History Survey.

  • Asian tiger mosquito

    Asian tiger mosquito gains ground in Illinois

    Researchers report that the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, has become more abundant across Illinois in the past three decades. Its spread is problematic, as the mosquito can transmit diseases–like chikungunya or dengue fever–to humans.

  • cluster of Humboldt penguins on the shoreline

    Blood markers predict Humboldt penguin nest type, reproductive success

    Researchers looked at metabolic markers in the blood of 30 Humboldt penguins nesting in the Punta San Juan Marine Protected Area in Peru, finding that penguins in guano-rich burrows and unsheltered locations had consistent – and distinct – patterns of several sugars in their blood. 

  • Learn to Hunt Program bases hunter recruitment on science

    Today’s hunters are more diverse and more likely to hunt for the meat than for the camaraderie of fellow hunters than in generations past. Understanding these motivations and constraints with scientific data helps staff of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s (INHS) Learn to Hunt Program draw new hunters to the activity.

  • The insect now known as Kaikaia gaga, a new genus and species of treehopper.

    Grad student names new treehopper species after Lady Gaga

    The insect now known as Kaikaia gaga represents a new genus and species of treehopper.

  • Amblyomma maculatum (Gulf coast tick), female (left) and male (right)

    Disease-carrying coastal tick established in Illinois

    Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey and Southern Illinois University have new evidence of the Gulf Coast tick becoming established in Illinois. They also have found that it often harbors a pathogen that can make people sick. 

  • Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap

    Camera-trap study captures Sumatran tigers, clouded leopards, other rare beasts

    Scientists deployed motion-sensitive camera traps across a 50-square-mile swath of Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra and, over the course of eight years, recorded the haunts and habits of dozens of species, including the Sumatran tiger and other rare and endangered wildlife. Their observations offer insight into how abundant these species are and show how smaller creatures avoid being eaten by tigers and other carnivores.

  • Researchers describe crayfish conservation concerns and strategies

    Whether you call them crayfish, crawfish, or crawdad, this creature needs protection nationwide to prevent extinction, according to Chris Taylor, Illinois Natural History Survey curator at the University of Illinois. In a recent article published in the journal Hydrobiologia, Taylor and colleagues have outlined possible strategies for conservation practices to protect crayfish from invasive species, habitat changes, and potential overexploitation.

  • INHS staffer makes massive contribution to species name index

    In a project to build an index containing the names of all biological species found on earth, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) informatician Dmitry Mozzherin and the HathiTrust team scanned one-tenth of all published human knowledge on occurrences of scientific names in less than a day.

  • Owls eat roadkill, research finds

    Owls have never been known as scavengers that eat decaying flesh, but the behavior is more widespread than once believed, according to University of Illinois researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) who photographed owls scavenging in the night.

  • INHS joins effort to digitize North American parasite collections

    The Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) joins Purdue University and 25 other institutions to lead an effort to modernize the world’s knowledge of arthropod parasites by digitizing more than 1.3 million specimens using a three-year, $4.3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

  • copperhead snake photo by Chuck Smith

    Severe drought shuts down reproduction in copperhead snakes, study finds

    A long-term study of copperhead snakes in a forest near Meriden, Connecticut, revealed that five consecutive years of drought effectively ended the snakes' reproductive output.

  • plants and fungi

    Fire-spawned forest fungi hide out in other organisms, study finds

    When a wildfire obliterates a forest, the first life to rise from the ashes is usually a fungus – one of several species that cannot complete its life cycle in the absence of fire. Scientists have long argued about where and how such pyrophilous (fire-loving) fungi survive, sometimes for decades, between fires. A new study finds that some of these fungi hide out in the tissues of mosses and lichens.

  • Scientists foretell the fate of Illinois’ threatened and endangered plants in a changing climate

    Scorching summers are predicted for Illinois’ future, threatening already vulnerable plant species. University of Illinois scientists have presented a new way to prioritize restoration efforts, not necessarily focusing on the most precarious plants.

  • male and female cowbird on a fence

    Illinois study finds surprising level of monogamy among cowbirds

  • Purple martin migration behavior perplexes researchers

    Purple martins will soon migrate south for their usual wintertime retreat, but this time the birds will be wearing what look like little backpacks, as scientists plan to track their roosting sites along the way.

  • How are Illinois birds faring?

    According to a new study reported in the journal Science, bird populations in North America have experienced a troubling decline in the past five decades. The scientists estimate the continent has lost close to 3 billion birds, roughly 29% of their total numbers in 1970.

  • Bass learn from experience not to take the bait

    Largemouth bass apparently don’t learn to avoid fishing lures from other bass but instead from their own past experiences, according to University of Illinois research.

  • Survey shows species of marsh birds that decline when nearby cities thrive

    Wading into the springtime muddy marshland, pushing aside a wall of plants taller than her head, ornithologist Anastasia Rahlin looks and listens for signs of black terns and yellow-crowned night herons. She plays a recording, waits 30 seconds, and listens for a return call. The species of birds that she doesn’t find in the marsh are the ones she doesn’t want scientists to forget.

  • Forests help shield streams from pollutants in cropland areas

    Streambank forests that help to buffer streams from pollutants are particularly important for stream quality, even in areas such as east-central Illinois where cropland predominates and the river system has deteriorated, according to a University of Illinois study.

  • Recent surveys find few of once-common bat species

    Bat species that used to be common in Illinois are scarce in recent surveys, sending up a red flag.

  • eDNA helps researchers track and identify endangered and at-risk species

    A promising technology and unlikely collaboration give scientists greater insights into five rare and hard to find species in Fort Polk, Louisiana. 

  • jumping silver carp

    Assessment of Asian carp in Illinois waterways

    Scientists and policymakers have long struggled with managing Asian carp numbers in Illinois waterways. PRI's Joe Parkos and Steve Butler explain what's working to scale back these intruders as they inch toward the Great Lakes.

  • Serina Taluja scans a plant specimen from the INHS herbarium

    Bringing yesterday's plants to digital life

  • Dr. Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailovic and Jaclyn Adams working with a snake in a field of grass

    Uncovering the mystery of Kirtland's snakes

    The Kirtland's snake is shy and secretive, and, as a result, not a lot is known about it. A group of researchers is working hard to change that. They're developing a better understanding of this small but beautiful snake that is widely scattered in small enough numbers to put it on Illinois' threatened species list.

  • non-native cattail

    Aggressive, non-native wetland plants squelch species richness more than dominant natives do

  • fox in snow

    'Citizen scientists' help track foxes, coyotes in urban areas

    As foxes and coyotes adapt to urban landscapes, the potential for encounters with humans necessarily goes up. A team of scientists is taking advantage of this fact to enlist the eyeballs and fingertips of humans – getting them to report online what they see in their own neighborhoods and parks.

  • Monarch butterfly

    Butterflies of Illinois field guide is now available from University of Illinois Press

  • Bitter cold in January likely won’t reduce field crop pests in the spring

    Despite the record cold air temperatures, soil temperatures averaged slightly warmer than normal this winter. Consequently, the Arctic conditions are expected to have little effect on overwintering field crop insect pest populations.

  • Jim Lamer

    INHS welcomes Jim Lamer as director of the Illinois River Biological Station

    Jim Lamer joined the Illinois Natural History Survey as a large river ecologist and director of the Illinois River Biological Station in Havana. 

  • Buckeye butterfly

    Become a citizen scientist for pollinators with University of Illinois

    University of Illinois Extension is calling all lovers of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that keep our crops and gardens growing to join scientists in tracking their distribution and habitat use across the state, from the comfort of your home, school, or community garden.

  • Ant in the Sanderson collection

    National Science Foundation awards more than $480,000 to amber preservation project

    The National Science Foundation has awarded more than $480,000 to a Prairie Research Institute project to preserve and digitize an extensive collection of Dominican amber that is in danger of deterioration without proper curation and care. The plants, arthropods, and vertebrates captured in the amber provide insights into life 16-18 million years ago, during the Early Miocene epoch.

  • Survey seeks ideas to help specialty crop growers make pest control decisions

    Researchers at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute are developing new pest degree day tools for the state’s specialty crop growers. A short online survey offers growers the opportunity to contribute their opinions on how this information is delivered.

  • Conservation efforts help some rare birds more than others, study finds

  • Camera trap study reveals the hidden lives of island carnivores