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Natural History Survey

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  • Swarms of mayflies indicate good water quality

    INHS Aquatic Entomologist Ed DeWalt told the Peoria Journal Star that the presence of large numbers of mayflies indicates the water quality is high enough to support this species that spends the majority of its life in water. Mayflies emerge from the water this time of year for to live out their short adult life stage—finding a mate and returning to the water to lay eggs. While some people see them as a nuisance, they don't bite and according to Ed DeWalt, "they will make a mess for a week and then they'll be gone."

  • Swarms of mayflies are short-lived

    INHS Entomologist Chris Dietrich was interviewed about the infestation of mayflies long the Illinois River this week. After spending most of their life in the water, they emerge en masse, overwhelming predators, mate and then die, typically within 24 hours. According to Dietrich, mayflies are an environmental indicator for our rivers, so large numbers of them is a good thing.

  • Surveys to assess potential for Thousand Canker Disease on Illinois walnut trees

    Illinois Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Coordinator Kelly Estes is sampling black walnuts across the state to monitor for the potential of Thousand Canker Disease. If you have black walnut stands on your property or know of stands, ICAPS asks that you submit that information for mapping purposes.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Survey scientists researching moist-soil resources for waterfowl

    Natural History Survey scientists, Joshua Stafford, Aaron Yetter, Chris Hine, Randy Smith, and Michelle Horath have been continuing the moist-soil research of Frank Bellrose from the Forbes Biological Station and F. C. Bellrose Waterfowl Research Center in Havana since 2005. In an article featured in the March 2008 issue of Outdoor Illinois, the scientists discuss their research, the work of Frank Bellrose, and management issues for moist-soil habitats.

  • Aquatic biology team showing the mussels they've found

    Surveys and relocations protect vulnerable mussel populations

    In the summer’s heat, an Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) aquatic biology team can be found in shallow rivers or streams under bridges slated for reconstruction, wading in water and sliding their fingers through the rocks and sediment below, searching for the edge of mussel shells. They’ll move the mussels they find out of harm’s way of construction equipment that will soon roll into the area.

  • Survey finds farmers feel responsibility to protect land and waters

    Agricultural producers are typically blamed for applying fertilizer that pollutes local waters and carries oxygen-depleting nitrogen and phosphorus to the northern Gulf of Mexico. However, a strong majority of Illinois farmers believe they are doing their part to protect the environment, according to a study from the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI).

  • Success of new bug-fighting approach may vary from field to field

  • Least bittern perched on a plant.

    Study tracks waterbird use of Chicago-area wetlands

    A three-year study in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana found that – even at small scales – emergent wetlands or ponds support many wetland bird species. The study also found that, at least in the years surveyed, the level of urbanization had little effect on most of the studied species’ use of such sites, provided the right kinds of habitat were available.

  • Yanghui Cao, Valeria Trivellone, and Christopher Dietrich, photo by Fred Zwicky

    Study tracks plant pathogens in leafhoppers from natural areas

    Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis by researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.

  • Study shows disease can be more effective in controlling invasive species than management efforts

    Populations of the common carp, introduced from Eurasia and historically the most abundant fish species in parts of the Illinois River, declined from the 1970s to the 1990s and have never made a comeback. A recent University of Illinois study showed that natural factors, including disease, can more effectively curb invasive species populations than human management efforts.

  • prairie fire

    Study reconstructs 232-year history of prairie fire in Midwestern U.S.

    Researchers combed through thousands of historical documents for first-person accounts of fires occurring between 1673 and 1905 in the Midwestern tallgrass prairie. Their study is the first systematic analysis of the timing, causes and consequences of prairie fires in this part of the world. They report their findings in Natural Areas Journal.

  • Study of bird lice shows how evolution sometimes repeats itself

  • Study links fish stress hormones to whether they take the bait

    Take a fish out of water and its stress hormones will go up. Adrenaline and noradrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormones, peak first, followed more gradually by cortisol. A new study reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology finds that largemouth bass whose cortisol levels rise most after a brief bout of stress are inherently harder to catch by angling. This could affect recreational fishing. If anglers are primarily capturing fish whose stress levels dictate whether they are likely to strike at a lure, “we could potentially be selecting for fish that are harder to catch,” said University of Illinois natural resources and environmental sciences professor Cory Suski, who led the new research with Illinois Natural History Survey research scientist Jeffrey Stein and graduate student Michael Louison.

  • Study Found Male Fish that Had Female Qualities in the Des Plaines River

  • Study Finds Waterfowl Hunters’ Spending Benefits Rural Areas

    Guns, gear, gas for the truck, drinks for the cooler, and the faithful dog: such recreational expenses for a day of duck or goose hunting in Illinois add up to a big boost to the local economy, according to Craig Miller, human dimensions scientist at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute.

  • 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.

  • Study Finds Recent Size Changes in Illinois River Mussel Shells

    Man-made levees and water pollution have made an impact on the fish and other fauna of the Illinois River throughout the 20th century, but researchers at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), University of Illinois, have taken an even longer view of human-induced changes in freshwater mussels, dating back to pre-Columbian times.

  • Study finds minimal risk of exposure to legionella from irrigated wastewater at a safe distance

    Potential exposure to legionella bacteria in municipal wastewater used to irrigate crop fields will likely not pose a health threat to residents living downwind, according to a postdoctoral researcher at the Illinois Natural History Survey.

  • Study Finds Illinois Farmers View Feral Hogs as a Nuisance

    Illinois farmers, even those who have experienced no damage to their land or crops, dislike feral hogs and support hog control, according to a new study from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

  • Study finds ethical and illicit sources of poison frogs in the U.S. pet trade

    With their vibrant colors and small size, poison frogs are popular among amphibian pet owners in the U.S. Most poison frogs come from legitimate frog breeding operations here and abroad, but some are still snatched from the wild illegally in their native countries, according to Devin Edmonds, doctoral student at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS).

  • Eastern woodrat

    Study explores reasons why relocated woodrat populations have fared well in Illinois

    In a new study, researchers analyzed capture histories of 205 woodrats in the summers of 2013 and 2014 in areas of the Shawnee National Forest where woodrats had been reintroduced. The goal was to estimate local population size and determine how abundance and survival rates were associated with availability of nest-site crevices in rocks, the abundance of owls as predators, availability of nut-producing trees, and the risk of raccoon roundworm infection, which is fatal to woodrats.

  • Jorge Doña and Kevin Johnson

    Study explores coevolution of mammals and their lice

    According to a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the first louse to take up residence on a mammalian host likely started out as a parasite of birds. That host-jumping event tens of millions of years ago began the long association between mammals and lice, setting the stage for their coevolution and offering more opportunities for the lice to spread to other mammals.

    The study was led by Illinois Natural History Survey ornithologist Kevin P. Johnson and Jorge Doña, a Marie Curie postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Granada, Spain.

  • Puma

    Study: Black bears are eating pumas' lunch

    A camera-trap study in the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California reveals that black bears are adept at finding and stealing the remains of adult deer killed by pumas. This “kleptoparasitism” by bears, as scientists call it, reduces the calories pumas consume in seasons when the bears are most active. Perhaps in response to this shortage, the pumas hunt more often and eat more small game when the bears are not in hibernation.

  • Students helping fill in the gaps in INHS herpetology collection records

    Scott Saffer, teacher at Tri-Point Junior High School and former employee at INHS, seeks out opportunities for his students to be engaged in actual science. His students have participated in bird research, studied insects, and cruised the Illinois River looking for Asian carp. This year the students are working on filling in the gaps in our knowledge of reptile and amphibian species in Livingston and Ford County. With the help of INHS Herpetologist Andy Kuhns verifying identifications and occurrence records, the students are documenting the species found in these two under-surveyed areas.

  • Strong floods drive warblers away from their known breeding sites

    Fewer migratory Swainson’s Warblers return to breed after high flood waters alter the quality of their wetland forest habitat, according to new University of Illinois research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

  • Stoneflies, a bioindicator of river quality, mapped across Ohio

    INHS scientists worked with peers at Western Kentucky University to conduct a statewide assessment of stoneflies in Ohio. Utilizing over 30,000 specimens from 18 museums they determined that there are between 102 and 120 species of stonefly in Ohio. These environmentally sensitive insects are an indicator of river health and this study will help Ohio prioritize high quality streams for protection.

  • Statewide bird survey shows changes in bird diversity and distribution

  • bee on flower

    Spring forest flowers likely a key to bumble bee survival, Illinois study finds

    For more than a decade, ecologists have been warning of a downward trend in bumble bee populations across North America. While efforts to preserve wild bees in the Midwest often focus on restoring native flowers to prairies, a new Illinois-based study finds evidence of a steady decline in the availability of springtime flowers in wooded landscapes. The scarcity of early season flowers in forests – a primary food source for bumble bees at this time of year – likely endangers the queen bees’ ability to start their nesting season and survive until other floral resources become available, researchers say. They report their findings in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

  • Spawning Bigmouth Buffalo found in local Champaign drainage ditch

    INHS Fisheries Research Scientist Josh Sherwood was called out by WCIA to catch and identify some large fish found in a drainage ditch. The large fish were Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus), usually found in large rivers, but spawn in tributaries. The flooding caused by the recent heavy spring rains likely allowed the adults to swim up to these ditches where they will lay their eggs before returning downstream.

  • Soybean Aphids setting up for potential comeback

    INHS Entomologist David Voegtlin sampled soybean aphids this fall and found levels that could lead to higher densities of aphids on crops in 2012. In 2009, fall densities were extremely high and fungal infection wiped out large numbers of the aphids. This fall's lower humidity and lower density of aphids could lead to greater survival of overwintering aphids.

  • Soybean Aphids have lowest impact in years

    INHS Entomologist David Voegtlin reported that this year's soybean aphid population had its lowest recorded impact, starting early but then disappearing. The low trap numbers so far this fall indicate that there may be lower numbers of eggs overwintering and a smaller flight of aphids in the spring.

  • Southern White Pelicans at Rend Lake in large numbers

    INHS Ornithologist T.J. Benson was featured in an article about the Southern White Pelicans currently being seen in large numbers at Rend Lake. Unlike the Brown Pelicans, which dive into the water for food, White Pelicans align themselves in a circle and scoop up the fish. Benson stated that in the spring the birds might migrate through more quickly needing to get to the breeding grounds, the fall migration can be more spread out, with birds lingering in places with good resources. Asked about the number of birds, he stated that "Anecdotally, you're definitely seeing more and more. It's kind of true that wetland birds in general are tending to do better over time. Some of that is habitat restoration and cleaning up waterways."

  • Some wildlife greatly affected by drought

    Hot, dry temperatures have been a devastating problem for some species. INHS Avian Ecologist Jeff Hoover was interviewed for an article about the impact of this year's drought on songbirds. According to Hoover, caterpillar populations have been impacted by the drought, which means less food for the nestlings and more time spent foraging by adults. Their monitoring has shown a failure of 37% of nests this year, compared to 22% in 2010.

  • Soil temperatures this winter in Illinois were warmer than normal

  • Soil characteristics may be related to chronic wasting disease persistence, study finds

    Deer infected with chronic wasting disease are doomed to a slow and certain death, eventually wasting away as they lose the ability to eat and drink. There is no cure and no vaccine, and the number of infected deer continues to rise every year. But University of Illinois scientists recently published a new study that could help explain the movement of the disease across the landscape.

  • Snowy Owls invade Illinois

    This winter, Snowy Owls have been sighted in Illinois almost daily. According to INHS Ornithologist Steve Bailey, "It's probably the biggest Snowy Owl invasion in years." He explains that this year's high lemming population led to an increase in young snowy owls. Bailey asks bird watchers to be responsible and keep their distance. Flushing an owl causes them to expend a great deal of energy and these birds have already migrated up to 1,000 miles. And as for those fabulous photographs of a snowy owl approaching the camera with talons outstretched? Those are often staged by photographers baiting the owls with captive raised mice. Bailey reminds bird watchers to "keep the bird's welfare in mind," and not lure the owls towards dangerous roadways with store bought mice that may harbor diseases.

  • Snake Road sojourn

    INHS Conservation Biologist Mark Davis describes his journey along Snake Road in the Shawnee National Forest in search of snakes, frogs, salamanders, and other creatures in the wild.

  • Snake fungal disease parallels white-nose syndrome in bats

  • snake

    Snake fungal disease alters skin microbiome in eastern massasaugas

    In the first study of its kind, researchers characterized the skin microbiome of a population of free-ranging snakes to begin to understand how the animals’ environmental microbial community may promote disease resistance as well as how it may be disrupted by infection.

  • Small-mouthed salamander observed in Hancock Co.

  • Smallmouth Bass released in DuPage River will help evaluate habitat restoration success

    Approximately 100 smallmouth bass were released into the DuPage River yesterday. The fish, which spent the first 7 years of their lives in the Jake Wolf Fish Hatchery, have been fitted with a plastic tag with an ID number and phone number for anglers to call if they catch one of these fish. The size and location data collected from this will help track their movement and give insight into the success of habitat restoration projects within the DuPage basin. This project is a collaboration between the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Natural History Survey. For more information about the project, visit the I Fish Illinois Website.

  • Small mosquitos more likely to carry dengue virus

    Research conducted by Dr. Barry Alto, and others, found that small mosquitos are more likely to carry the dengue virus than larger mosquitos. The study fed mosquitos dengue infected blood, and found that the smaller mosquitos had a higher rate of infection when tested. This research was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. An article discussing the work was also picked up by UPI. Dr. Alto is the director of the Medical Entomology Program at the Illinois Natural History Survey, a division of the University of Illinois' Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. The full text of the UPI article can be viewed on NewsBank: Small mosquitoes are likely virus carriers and the abstract of the paper can be viewed on the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene site: Size Alters Susceptibility of Vectors to Dengue Virus Infection and Dissemination

  • Smaller stoneflies may be better at colonizing islands

    INHS entomologist R. Edward DeWalt and graduate student Eric J. South of the Illinois Natural History Survey and Department of Entomology have a recently published paper on the size of stoneflies on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Not only did their results show that there were significantly fewer species, compared to the mainland, but also that smaller stonefly species appeared to be more capable of recolonizing the island.

  • Slow spring for soybean aphids

    INHS Entomologist Dave Voegtlin conducted his annual spring survey for soybean aphids on buckthorn in Indiana and Michigan. He found the majority of locations had no soybean aphids and only a few sites had low numbers of colonies.

  • Skunk cabbage—Illinois' earliest native flower

    INHS Botanist John Taft and Outreach Coordinator Jen Mui were quoted in an article in the Chicago Tribune about skunk cabbage. Skunk cabbage, Illinois' earliest flowering native plant, gets its name from the foul odor produced as it generates heat. The heat and odor attract pollinators including flies, carrion beetles and honey bees. A link to a video about skunk cabbage pollination produced by the Outreach Department was also included in the article.

  • Six new rattlesnake species in Western United States

    In a recently published paper, INHS Conservation Geneticist Mark Davis and colleagues recommended elevating several rattlesnake subspecies to full species status. The team collected data from 3000 individuals, measuring physical characteristics and analyzing genetic samples.

  • 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.

  • Serpents of the Badlands

    What's it like to hunt for sunning serpents with the wind whistling in your ears? Find out in this Behind the Scenes story by INHS conservation biologist Mark Davis.