With 30 years devoted to the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Chris Taylor, curator of the fishes and crustaceans collection, has been awarded the 2023 PRI Research Scientist Career Achievement Award. He has been described as a world-renowned expert in the systematics, ecology, and natural history of crustaceans, especially crayfish.
Taylor started his career at INHS in 1993 as a biologist in the Illinois Department of Transportation Biological Surveys Program. In 1995, he was named the curator of the INHS crustacean collection before completing his Ph.D. in 2003. Today, he conducts research, publishes journal articles, manages grants, and advises graduate students.
As curator of fishes, he has significantly expanded the collection, which is now the 8th largest in the United States. Taylor obtained or helped obtain over $3.3 million from the National Science Foundation to improve, expand, and digitize several INHS collections.
In his nomination letter, INHS Director Eric Schauber wrote, “Dr. Chris Taylor has had an exceptionally productive and consequential career, with extensive and positive impacts on our scientific understanding, on the quality and accessibility of INHS’ collections, and on the students and early-career biologists whom he has advised and mentored.”
Over his career to date, Taylor has become a leading expert on the evolution, distribution, and ecological requirements of freshwater crayfishes, and has been bestowed the Distinguished Astacologist Award from the International Association of Astacology. He has published four books, three of which contribute to our understanding of crayfish diversity, most recently, “The Crayfishes of Alabama,” in 2022. That same year, he also published “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change,” a scientific and visual guide to Illinois’ 217 current and extirpated fish species. In addition, he has published 78 peer-reviewed journal articles and two book chapters.
“Chris’ contributions to systematic astacology are among the greatest, probably the greatest, of any living scientist,” wrote Lawrence M. Page, professor, curator of fishes at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Taylor’s graduate advisor at the U of I.
In one notable project, Taylor and his graduate student, Caitlin Bloomer, developed the American Crayfish Atlas, the first website to provide nationwide coverage of crayfish distributions, showing where crayfish species have been found and the extent of their ranges. The Atlas contains more than 430,000 records. This resource has attracted thousands of users over the past two years.
Student and staff positions in Taylor’s lab are highly desirable because of his mentorship and guidance, according to Caitlin Bloomer and Molly Carlson, graduate students, and Dusty Swedberg, scientific specialist.
In a signed letter of support for the award, they wrote, “Dr. Taylor is an inspirational figure. His work in the astacology and ichthyology fields displays a level of academic achievement that we aspire to. His support and guidance make his research accessible and enable us to follow in his footsteps.”