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Natural History Survey

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  • Illinois Natural History Survey medical entomologist Jiayue (Gabriel) Yan peers through a viewing port as he works inside a sealed glove box, using tongs to carefully handle Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

    Starving mosquitoes for science

    A behind the scenes look at the Medical Entomology Laboratory at Illinois Nature History Survey and the work of Jiayue (Gabriel) Yan on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

  • Cultivating Innovation: The Intersection of Geography, Climate, and Agricultural Research in Illinois

    Since its inception in 2008, the Prairie Research Institute has conducted long-term monitoring of Illinois’ water, soil, and climate. These data, including growing and pest degree days, soil temperature and moisture, water table levels, and in-stream sediment, are used every day by thousands of Illinoisans and by the state’s agriculture, renewable energy, and construction industries.

  • Survey: Farmers’ attitudes about land ownership belies some stereotypes

    A recent Prairie Research Institute (PRI) study of attitudes about land conservation found that Illinois farmers view themselves as stewards of their land, balancing conservation with earning a profit. Nearly half of farmers surveyed said they would use conservation practices even without financial compensation from federal land conservation programs.

  • TJ Benson

    Do we need a new approach to prevent bird window strikes?

    In early October, nearly 1,000 birds perished after colliding with the windows of a convention center near Lake Michigan in Chicago, marking the largest mass bird die-off in decades. But bird window-strike fatalities are an ongoing threat. Illinois Natural History Survey wildlife ecologist Thomas J. Benson, an expert in bird population trends in Illinois, spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the problem and what new strategies may help.

  • hunting mourning doves

    Scientist studies support for non-lead ammunition in dove hunting

    A large majority of Illinois mourning dove hunters would oppose a state ban on lead shot when hunting doves, according to an Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) survey focused on beliefs about lead vs. non-lead ammunition. Hunters who already use steel shot for hunting waterfowl because of federal restrictions are the group most likely to oppose these same restrictions when hunting doves.

  • Two western diamondback rattlesnakes interacting near dens.

    New research shows rattlesnakes are social animals

    Researchers found that a population of rattlesnakes formed social groups that they frequently interacted within. Despite having overlapping home ranges, they rarely if ever interacted with snakes outside of their social groups. The groups were not formed based solely on geography or family relationships, but rather appear to be based on the time of year, as they leave and return to their winter homes.  

  • gray squirrel

    The squirrel experiment

  • Auriel Fournier

    Auriel Fournier elected First Vice President of Wilson Ornithological Society

    Fournier, director of the Forbes biological station and waterfowl ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) began her journey with the Wilson Ornithological Society (WOS), an international scientific society comprising professional and amateur ornithologists, when she attended the Society’s Annual Meeting in 2015 as a Ph.D. student. She will serve as First Vice President for two years before serving as President in 2025

  • Leellen Solter and Sam Heads

    Ancient katydid fossil reveals muscles, digestive tract, glands and a testicle

    Fifty million years ago in what is now northwestern Colorado, a katydid died, sank to the bottom of a lake and was quickly buried in fine sediments, where it remained until its compressed fossil was recovered in recent years. When researchers examined the fossil under a microscope, they saw that not only had many of the insect’s hard structures been preserved in the compressed shale, so had several internal organs and tissues, which are not normally fossilized. 

  • American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) egg  (parthenogen) showing banding pattern indicative of potential  viability.

    INHS researchers reveal “virgin birth” in a crocodile

    In a recent study published in the journal Biology Letters, this is the first known instance of a crocodile virgin birth, but virgin births (parthenogenesis) have been recorded in fish, birds, lizards, and snakes. Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in some animals where viable offspring are produced from an otherwise unfertilized egg. Mark Davis, a conservation biologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and co-author on the study helped examine the crocodile fetus' genomic makeup, ultimately discovering that the fetal genome resulted from reproduction without a male crocodile’s genetic contribution. 

  • Jeff Hoover

    How does climate change affect global bird reproduction?

    A new study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences assessed changes in the reproductive output of 104 bird species between 1970 and 2019. Illinois Natural History Survey avian ecologist Jeff Hoover, a co-author of the paper, discusses the findings and how climate change is altering bird ecology and health around the world. 

  • Pinto Bean

    Celebrated squirrel’s legacy lives on for visitors

    Pinto Bean, the beloved piebald squirrel that lived and died on the University of Illinois campus, is back. The squirrel’s taxidermied remains are now on display at the Forbes Natural History Building lobby, where visitors can see its rare gray and white coloration that attracted fans and followers at the university.

  • Ph.D. candidate Sulagna Chakraborty, center, led a study of farmer awareness of ticks and tick-borne diseases with U. of I. pathobiology professor Rebecca Smith, left, and Illinois Natural History Survey wildlife veterinary epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla.

    Are Illinois farmers aware of the risk of tick-borne diseases?

    Tick-borne illnesses like ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are on the rise in Illinois, and outdoor workers like farmers are at higher risk than those who spend more time indoors. 

    blog post

    blog postsTick-borne illnesses like ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are on the rise in Illinois, and outdoor workers like farmers are at higher risk than those who spend more time indoors. 

    Tick-borne illnesses like ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are on the rise in Illinois, and outdoor workers like farmers are at higher risk than those who spend more time indoors. 

  • Earn course credit for attending INHS seminar series

    Students may earn one credit for attending the INHS seminar series by registering for NRES 512/IB 546, starting Fall 2023 with instructor Dr. Suneeti K. Jog. Students will be required to attend INHS seminars (in-person or virtual) to get full credit, and it is a Pass/Fail course. Graduate faculty are asked to encourage their graduate students to sign up for this course.

  • Salt Fork in Champaign County

    Scientists take a historical look at fishes of Champaign County streams

    Using data spanning 120 years, scientists in the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) have a unique view of long-term changes in stream fish populations and their habitats in Champaign County. The best news: several fish species that were last seen here in the 1960s have returned to the county, suggesting some streams are improving.

  • Illinois’ mild winter might benefit insect pests this spring

    Above normal air temperatures this winter kept Illinois average soil temperatures higher than usual. These mild conditions are favorable for insect pests that overwinter in Illinois, but many other factors will affect insect populations for the upcoming growing season, according to scientists at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), a part of the University of Illinois.

  • white-tailed deer

    Deer protected from deadly disease by newly discovered genetic differences

  • A new study adds to the evidence that apex predators like pumas play a unique role in ecosystems that is not fulfilled by smaller carnivores.

    Camera-trap study provides photographic evidence of pumas' ecological impact

    A camera-trap study of two ecosystems – one with pumas and one without – adds to scientists’ understanding of the many ways apex predators influence the abundance, diversity and habits of other animals, including smaller carnivores. The study followed multiple members of the order Carnivora, looking at how the largest carnivore in each locale influenced the behavior and presence of other animals in the same vicinity.

  • Miriam Schlessinger

    My experience at a Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory

    Miriam Schlessinger writes about her experience as an intern in the Illinois Natural History Survey's Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Lab for the Outdoor Illinois Journal.

  • bird banding

    A marvelous morning of migratory bird banding

    In a look Behind the Scenes, avian ecologist Tara Beveroth, other INHS staff, and students band birds at the Phillips Tract natural area. Data that they gather will be sent to the federal Bird Banding Laboratory, which collects, archives, and disseminates information for avian research. 

  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Ph.D. candidate Nicholas Antonson prepares a nest box to accommodate a prothonotary warbler nest.

    Cowbird chicks do best with two warbler nest mates – not four, not zero, study finds

    A new study seeks to understand the strategies cowbird chicks use to survive in prothonotary warbler nests when they hatch with different numbers of warbler nestlings. The study reveals that a cowbird chick does better with two than with four or zero warbler nest mates. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Asian tiger mosquito

    Researchers track the invasive Asian tiger mosquito in Illinois

    The exotic Asian tiger mosquito, known to transmit diseases to humans, is more widespread in southeastern Illinois than previously realized, according to Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) researchers who conducted a study on how invasive mosquito communities form and shift because of different land uses.

  • Digital Extended Specimens provide richer data, global access

    In an article published in BioScience, a team of collaborators including Deborah Paul, biodiversity informatics community liaison with the Species File Group at the Illinois Natural History Survey, describes the Digital Extended Specimen, a network of information with biodiversity data at its core.

  • 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.

  • a deer

    Chronic wasting disease: hunters' perceptions and attitudes

    For Outdoor Illinois Journal, INHS scientists describe what their surveys have revealed about deer hunters'perceptions and attitudes toward the management of chronic wasting disease in Illinois' deer population.

  • a deer

    Occurrence of hemorrhagic disease in Illinois: Four decades of spatial and temporal changes

    For Outdoor Illinois Journal, scientists in the Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory review the evolving understanding of two vector-borne viral disease affecting both domestic and wild ruminants in Illinois—bluetongue  and epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

  • 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.

  • Joseph Parkos

    INHS scientist comments on rebranding of invasive fish as 'copi'

    Illinois officials this month announced that "Asian carp" would now be called “copi” in an attempt to make the fish more desirable for eating. Joseph Parkos, the director of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Kaskaskia, Ridge Lake and Sam Parr biological stations, spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about scientific initiatives to study and control carp/copi fish populations and the potential for rebranding to aid those efforts.

  • 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.

  • Researchers on a boat

    Research fieldwork comes with safety challenges

    Prairie Research Institute (PRI) researchers and technicians may not know exactly which hazards they’ll face when they conduct fieldwork to study the natural world. What they do know is that there are plenty of dangers to prepare for as they start another field season.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • PRI scientists provide winter soil conditions and an insect pest forecast for Illinois

    Near-average winter soil and air temperatures are an indication that crop insect pests may have survived the cold in Illinois, according to scientists Jennie Atkins and Kelly Estes at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois.

  • Aerial view of fully installed submerged rubble ridges

    Underwater innovation at Illinois Beach State Park to help mitigate coastal erosion

    This past summer, with funding from the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a US Army Corps of Engineers crane carefully placed over 10,000 tons of stone five hundred feet offshore of Illinois Beach State Park (ISBP) and Hosah Park, a Zion Park District property wedged between the north and south units of IBSP. These stones form three “rubble ridges” that are intended to work in concert to lessen storm waves and protect the eroding beach and unique terrestrial ecosystem in the dunes while preserving views and enhancing fish habitat.

  • Holly Tuten, vector ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS).

    Improving the health of Illinoisans through mosquito and tick surveillance and research

    PRI's medical entomology team’s state-of-the-art research and surveillance activities help Illinois reduce the risks associated with mosquitoes and mosquito-borne pathogens, improve the effectiveness and sustainability of mosquito-borne pathogen control approaches, and develop and maintain robust emergency outbreak preparedness capacity.

  • a hand clad in a purple latex glove holds a small snake against a grassy backdrop

    PRI offers applied science internships for summer 2022

    PRI is offering hands-on summer internships that will enable undergraduate students from populations underrepresented in graduate study at Illinois to explore careers in applied science. There are opportunities in atmospheric science and climate; biology, ecology, and environmental science; geology; sustainable energy; and water supply and safety. To see all of the internship options and to apply, visit https://go.illinois.edu/PRI-interns

  • Drone in the sky

    New project is multistate, on-farm study of futuristic corn rootworm management

    As the toxins from Bt corn become less and less effective at managing western and northern corn rootworms, what’s next? It will take a combination of innovative techniques to provide sustainable control, according to University of Illinois researchers, who are gearing up for a project involving next year’s crops.

  • Western corn rootworm behavior in soybeans offers clues to understanding rotation resistance

    Illinois farmers’ concerns about increasing western corn rootworm populations and plant damage in rotated cornfields have University of Illinois researchers taking a closer look at how rootworm diets affect the beetles’ flights from soybeans to cornfields.

  • 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.

  • Chris Taylor and Eric Larson standing in a stream

    Team discovers invasive-native crayfish hybrids in Missouri

    In a study of crayfish in the Current River in southeastern Missouri, researchers discovered that the virile crayfish, Faxonius virilis, was interbreeding with a native crayfish, potentially altering the native’s genetics, life history and ecology. Reported in the journal Aquatic Invasions, the study highlights the difficulty of detecting some of the consequences of biological invasions, the researchers say.

  • Tagging a turkey with a GPS monitor

    Prescribed fires affect wild turkey habitat selection

    Prescribed fires used to improve the health of forests influence where wild turkeys choose to nest and roam, according to recent research at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS). It turns out that turkeys prefer a variety of forest conditions, from non-burned plots to forests burned each year.

  • PRI projects and data boost agricultural producers’ productivity

    With some of the best farmland in the country, Illinois has a competitive advantage over other states in the agriculture sector. The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois is leveraging this advantage, investing in Illinois’ agriculture economy by offering programs, tools, and research projects to support producers and address current farming issues.

  • A stonefly in the Kathroperlidae family

    INHS entomologists identify new family of stoneflies

    Entomologists at the Illinois Natural History Survey have discovered a new family of stoneflies, a finding that helps scientists studying the insects organize information and distinguish the species that need protecting.

  • leafhopper

    Illinois team reports results of Earth BioGenome pilot project

    The Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence, catalog, and characterize the genomes of all of Earth’s eukaryotic biodiversity over a period of 10 years. With seed funding provided by the Illinois Innovation Network, the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology have completed a year-long pilot study to demonstrate the potential for Illinois to join a global network of communities engaged in genome sequencing and the conservation of biodiversity. 

  • Valeria Trivellone

    How can the world prevent emerging infectious diseases, protect food security?

    According to a new report co-written by Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, climate change, poverty, urbanization, land-use change and the exploitation of wildlife all contribute to the emergence of new infectious diseases, which, in turn, threaten global food security. Trivellone spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about how global authorities can tackle these intertwined challenges.

  • Working with scientists better informs managers’ decisions on bird conservation

    Scientists studying birds have the data, and conservation managers make the decisions in the field, but if the two groups collaborate, together they can form the best outcomes on real-world bird conservation issues.

  • Check in with INHS online before heading out to hunt or fish

    Whether it’s for hunting or fishing, the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) collects data and provides information and education to support hunters and anglers in exploring Illinois and its many biological resources.

  • 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.