Illinois Natural History Survey News

Illinois Natural History Survey News

  • 5/15/2017
    New research shows climate change is altering the delicate seasonal clock that North American migratory songbirds rely on to successfully mate and raise healthy offspring, setting in motion a domino effect that could threaten the survival of many familiar backyard bird species. A growing shift in the onset of spring has left nine of 48 species of songbirds studied unable to reach their northern breeding grounds at the calendar marks critical for producing the next generation of fledglings, according to a paper published on May 15, 2017, in Scientific Reports. The Illinois Natural History Survey was one of several institutions contributing to the study.
  • 5/12/2017
    The wild turkeys have not been cooperating with avian ecologist Christine Parker as she attempts to catch, weigh, measure, and fit them with micro-GPS units to learn about their habits.
  • 5/1/2017
    They found it in the Illinois River near the city of Marseilles, Illinois, about 80 miles west of Lake Michigan – a strange entry point for an invasive Asian clam. The scientists who found it have no idea how it got there. But the discovery – along with genetic tests that confirm its uniqueness – means that a new species or “form” of invasive clam has made its official debut in North America. This is only the latest invasive aquatic species to settle in North America, said Illinois Natural History Survey aquatic ecologist Jeremy Tiemann, who discovered the new clam with INHS mussel field biologist Sarah Douglass in late 2015.
  • 4/26/2017
  • 4/26/2017
  • 4/24/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 4/13/17: A University of Illinois researcher has created a new method to study potential climate change in protected areas.

    Scientists use a species distribution model and data on where flora and fauna occur to manage conservation areas. However, these methods can be incomplete because it may be difficult to determine where species live or what type of habitats they prefer, according to Jason Robinson, aquatic entomologist at the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois Natural History Survey.

    “We don’t always know where all species in a given habitat are located, but we do know where the national parks are,” Robinson said. “Scientists can consider a park environment as an entire protected habitat rather than using individual species to filter predictions of the future composition of ecological communities.”

    Robinson studied 163 noncoastal national parks in 48 states, hypothesizing that each park has at least one plant or animal that is unique to that park, a realistic assumption for at least some of the parks. This method eliminates uncertainty about exact locations of the species and offers a useful way to look at the unique climatic regions of the landscape in each park.

    Robinson also investigated areas surrounding national parks, studying particular climate features that predict future changes. He found that potential shifts in climate may vary among parks. Some were predicted to have very different temperature and precipitation levels in the future, while others were expected to have few or smaller changes, a function of the parks’ geographic positions.

    Overall, the different climates currently occurring within the entire park network may become more similar in the future and potentially affect species that live in those protected areas. Some plants and animals may be highly adapted to certain climate patterns, for example, the timing of seasonal precipitation events or the severity of cold or hot spells. A patchwork of variability across a network of protected areas could offer opportunities for small populations to persist or provide refuges from superior competitors.

    An altered climate creates both challenges and opportunities to improve management of protected areas with available resources.

    “Park managers can’t protect everything,” Robinson said. “We hope that these methods will be a useful tool for guiding management in the face of an uncertain and changing climate.”

    This study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.



    Media contacts: Jason Robinson, 217-300-3556,

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,

  • 4/18/2017U of I News Bureau writer U of I News Bureau by U of I News Bureau published by U of I News Bureau

    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.

    Read more

  • 4/18/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 4/18/17: 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.

    Bryan Reiley, a graduate research assistant at the Illinois Natural History Survey, studied the body condition and number of male warblers returning to two sites in southeast Arkansas during four breeding seasons. He investigated the warblers before the 2008 catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi River and three years after the flood.

    Swainson’s Warblers (Limnothlypis swainsonii) are rare, occurring in the Caribbean basin during the winter months and primarily in the southeastern United States from April through August. They also reach southern Illinois and the Appalachian Mountains. This species typically lives in canebrakes adjacent to rivers in floodplain forests.

    From 2005 to 2010, Reiley studied 278 males. He anticipated that their body condition would decrease in the years after the 2008 flood because warblers forage for insects under fallen leaves and debris. He also assumed that fewer birds would return to the previously flooded site in subsequent years.

    He found that the condition of males was actually better in the years after the flood, perhaps because the La Niña climate pattern created favorable conditions at the birds’ wintering grounds.

    Flooding did affect the number of males returning to the study site, however. Before the flood, 20 to 31 males returned to breed each spring, whereas in 2008, 18 males returned. The following year, Reiley counted only 7 birds, and in a follow-up observation in 2014, only 2 warblers were observed at the site.

    For birds that attempted to breed in these habitats in the years following the flood, reduced leaf litter and shrub cover might have resulted in reduced habitat quality and decreased nesting success, leading to a significant drop in the number of birds occupying the area in the second and third years post-flood.

    “Habitats are never static,” Reiley said. “Swainson’s Warblers may reside in upland habitats following a significant flood. I’ve seen them feeding in the trees when they would normally forage on the ground. They can be flexible when their habitat is continually changing.”

    To keep Swainson’s Warblers in a forest environment after a flood, increased forest management may be necessary, Reiley said. Flooding is not a unique condition, but the increased frequency and duration of flooding that may result from a changing climate can be stressful for birds.

    “If the habitat changes too much, Swainson’s Warblers will not use it, and they may never return to that area,” Reiley said.

    The study was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reiley is a PhD candidate in the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, and his advisor is Thomas Benson, a wildlife ecologist in the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois Natural History Survey. The article can be found at


    Media contacts: Bryan Reiley,

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,

  • 4/14/2017
    Illinois Natural History Survey scientist Kevin P. Johnson and former INHS post-doc Bret Boyd participated in a study that sought to better understand the evolutionary history of bacteria residing within lice.
  • 4/12/2017U of I News Bureau writer U of I News Bureau by U of I News Bureau published by U of I News Bureau

    Researchers in the Illinois Natural History Survey are investigating every aspect of snake fungal disease, hoping to find a treatment.

    Read more

  • 4/3/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    A staff member at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) recently learned of her family connection to a renowned amateur entomologist whose butterfly and beetle collection makes up a significant part of the 7.3 million specimen insect collection at INHS.

  • 3/29/2017College of ACES writer College of ACES by College of ACES published by College of ACES

    In recognition of James Karr's contributions to aquatic biology and environmental management, a new James R. Karr Lecture in Aquatic Biology will kick off on Friday, April 14 with an inaugural address from its namesake.

    Read more


  • 3/22/2017
    Go Behind the Scenes with graduate research assistant Benjamin Williams as he catches ducks and records data along the Wabash River.
  • 3/22/2017Andrew Casper writer Andrew Casper by Andrew Casper published by Andrew Casper

    INHS scientists examined five long-term fish monitoring programs in large rivers in the U.S. They outline best practices in Fisheries Magazine.

    Read more

  • 3/20/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    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.

    Read More

  • 3/15/2017Diana Yates, University of Illinois News Bureau writer Diana Yates, University of Illinois News Bureau by Diana Yates, University of Illinois News Bureau published by Diana Yates, University of Illinois News Bureau

    Steep declines in the number of monarch butterflies reaching their wintering grounds in Mexico are not fully explained by fewer milkweeds in the northern part of their range, researchers report in a new study.

    Read more

  • 3/13/2017
    Steep declines in the number of monarch butterflies reaching their wintering grounds in Mexico are not fully explained by fewer milkweeds in the northern part of their range, researchers report in a new study.
  • 3/6/2017Diana Yates, News Bureau writer Diana Yates, News Bureau by Diana Yates, News Bureau published by Diana Yates, News Bureau

    Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey report that the greater prairie chicken cannot persist in Illinois without help.

    Read more

  • 3/3/2017Southern Illinois University Edwardsville writer Southern Illinois University Edwardsville by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville published by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

    The Illinois Natural History Survey will partner with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on a three-year grant providing immersive research experiences to undergraduates in the areas of archaeology and ecology. Research opportunities will begin this summer.

    Read more

  • 3/3/2017Brad Zercher writer Brad Zercher by Brad Zercher published by Brad Zercher

    Each year an incredible 10 percent of birds, or 1 billion birds, die in North America from flying into building windows. Windows that mirror the image of the surrounding landscape entice birds to continue on their flight path until they strike the glass, according to Brad Zercher, wetland field biologist at the Prairie Research Institute’s Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS).

    Research has shown that most birds that hit a window will die from their injuries. Some will die almost instantly, while others seem to recover from the strike only to expire later.

    After years of collecting dead birds at the Forbes Building located in Research Park, some of the INHS staff decided to find a solution to modify the large windows that were causing so many avian deaths. Several options were available that disrupt, hide, and reduce external window reflections, including patterned glass, screens, shades, window films, and coated glass (Ornilux glass uses a UV coating visible to birds). 

    After consulting with the University of Illinois’ Architectural Review Committee (ARC), staff chose an Acopian Bird Saver for the south windows and a lined window film for the north windows where most of the bird casualties occurred. The Acopian Bird Saver is a simple window treatment constructed from strips of parachute cord. Both options provide a visible image so that birds can adjust their flight path away from the windows.

    With the help of ARC and the Facilities and Services Department, both window treatments were recently installed just in time for the spring migration.

    “We are excited and anxious to see the results,” Zercher said. “Hopefully we won’t find any dead birds this year and our efforts will feel validated.

    Now that staff have addressed their own building, they plan to create more awareness of bird strikes across campus.

    Many college campuses have already incorporated modified glass in some of their newer buildings. Cornell, University of California-Santa Barbara, Vassar, Smith, and Augustana College, to name a few, have all incorporated sustainable architecture to minimize bird strikes.  As for existing buildings, window treatments can still be installed to deflect birds. 

    Zercher encourages others who are concerned about bird strikes on campus to contact him at

  • 3/2/2017College of Veterinary Medicine writer College of Veterinary Medicine by College of Veterinary Medicine published by College of Veterinary Medicine

    INHS Scientists Nohra Mateus-Pinilla and Richard Lampman will partner with the College of Veterinary Medicine to conduct research for the new Upper Midwestern Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center is headquartered at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

    The Illinois team will develop forecasting models and statistical spatial risk maps of regionally important mosquitoes and ticks and the diseases that they cause. Using optimization algorithms, historical data on field trapping of mosquitoes and ticks, and other ecological methods, the Illinois team will also help determine the level of surveillance data required to make effective control decisions.

    Read more 


  • 3/1/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. –Songbird species that carry the ticks responsible for Lyme disease and other diseases forage close to the ground in large wooded areas, according to a recently published study by Christine Parker, a graduate research assistant at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey.

    Researchers studied songbirds and their foraging habitats to determine which environmental factors affect bird-tick encounters and the dispersal of ticks in Illinois. Birds are known to move ticks long distances and play a role in spreading the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), a primary vector of Lyme disease.

    Along with her colleagues, Parker (who conducted this study for her master’s research in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois) set up mist nets in 22 forested areas in Champaign, McLean, Piatt, Putnam, and Vermilion Counties. They trapped birds twice in fall and again in spring over three years.

    Researchers examined the birds’ heads and necks where ticks are most likely to be found because birds are unable to effectively groom these areas. During the study, the scientists captured and released 1,077 birds of 83 species.

    Of the species studied, 42 percent were infested with at least one tick. Nearly 370 ticks were found on 136 (13 percent) of the birds captured.

    “These numbers are fairly typical of what we would expect to see on birds in forested areas in central Illinois,” Parker said. “None of the birds had a large infestation.”

    Birds with the largest number of ticks included the white-throated sparrow, Northern cardinal, and gray catbird. About 20 percent of ticks found were the black-legged tick.

    The most important factor influencing bird infestation by ticks was the height above the forest floor at which birds forage, Parker said. Birds that forage closest to the ground were most likely to have ticks, since ticks live on the ground and in low vegetation, surviving on moisture from the underbrush.

    The researchers expected higher infestation rates in patches where invasive shrub cover was relatively high. Invasive species such as honeysuckle and multiflora rose form a dense understory with abundant fruit and cover for wildlife, and also suitable conditions for the black-legged and other tick species. Instead, the researchers found that as the vegetation cover increased, tick infestation among captured birds declined. Parker suggested that the fruit grows across the crown of these shrubs, which may reduce tick-bird interactions if ticks are searching for hosts at lower levels below shrub crowns.

    Tick infestations were also more prevalent among birds captured in large forest plots compared with smaller plots, likely because tick populations tend to flourish where there are abundant deer and other large animals available for blood meals.

    “It is important for people to be aware that migratory birds move ticks, and thereby pathogens, into areas where ticks were previously not established,” Parker said. “Just because Lyme disease isn’t a problem in one area doesn’t mean that disease-carrying ticks won’t inhabit that area in the future.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

    Media contact: Christine Parker,;

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,

  • 2/23/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – When waterfowl return to Illinois in early spring on their way north, will they find enough food for a two-week layover? A limited food supply during spring migration and subsequent declines in duck populations can affect Illinois’ multi-million-dollar waterfowl hunting industry, say researchers from the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI).

    More than 1 million ducks stop each spring in the backwater lakes and shallow wetlands of the Illinois River, dining on annual grass seeds, underwater vegetation, and waste grain in crop fields.

    Spring is important for duck populations because it precedes the breeding season. Healthy ducks in good condition typically have more ducklings with higher survival rates. Thus, more food in the spring can help ensure more abundant duck populations in the fall.

    In 2010 and 2011, researchers studied ducks’ eating habits by identifying the amount of seed left over in artificial foraging patches and using computer models to consider various factors, such as predator risks, seed depth in sediment, and seed size.

    “We want to know how many acres of wetlands to protect and restore for waterfowl populations for spring and fall flights,” said Heath Hagy, director of the Forbes Biological Station at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), a division of PRI. “To do this, we use energetic carrying capacity models. One aspect of this model is the giving-up density, or the point at which ducks stop foraging and move on to another patch.”

    Hagy likened this term to a serving pan of cold, soggy macaroni and cheese that is left at the buffet after diners have filled their plates and their stomachs. If this unpalatable food is not discounted, there is a tendency to overestimate the amount of food that is available.

    Hagy and colleagues buried 34 round dog food bowls filled with rice and millet seeds underwater in locations throughout the central Illinois River Valley, and they later sorted seeds to figure out how much food the ducks left behind. They also tested effects of habitat characteristics on food use. For example, they erected a barrier to block the ducks’ surrounding view of the area, increasing the ducks’ perceived risk from predators.

    “There was a small effect of predation risk on movement away from the feeding patch when food was plentiful, but it is perhaps more interesting that there was no effect of predation risk when food was limited.” Hagy said.

    During the year with abundant rain, food was plentiful, and ducks could be picky about the food they chose. During the drier year, however, more food was consumed per plot because ducks had fewer dining choices.

    Studies of this kind help land managers predict how many acres of wetlands are needed to sustain duck populations. A healthy population is important for the recreational waterfowl hunting industry, which provides $453 to the Illinois economy for each bird harvested, according to an INHS survey.

    This study has been published in the Journal of Avian Biology, and was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Media contacts: Heath Hagy, 217-300-5620,

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,

  • 2/21/2017Scientific American : Hannah Nordhaus writer Scientific American : Hannah Nordhaus by Scientific American : Hannah Nordhaus published by Scientific American : Hannah Nordhaus

    There is, despite the name, nothing urban about Piper City, Ill. It is a farm town with a skyline of grain elevators, a tidy grid of pitch-roofed houses and, a few blocks beyond, endless fields: corn, soybean, corn, soybean, corn, corn, corn, perfectly level, perfectly square, no trees, no cows, no hedgerows, no bare land. In late August of 2013, a man named Joseph Spencer followed a corn-flanked county road northwest from Piper City until his GPS advised him to leave the road altogether and turn onto a gravel track. Spencer, an entomologist who studies farm insects, was looking for a farmer named Scott Wyllie...

    Read more

  • 2/10/2017Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    Applications will be accepted for the 2017 William H. Luckmann Award for Student Research in Applied Entomology until 5 p.m. on Friday, March 31.

    The 2017 award will provide $1,000 for travel, lodging, and related expenses for presenting research results at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting, or a meeting of another appropriate professional society within the 12 calendar months following the award.

    Current graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Illinois are eligible to compete for this award. Research may be carried out in any University department and may be basic and/or applied, but should have some focus on aspects of applied entomology, such as arthropod pest management, use of insects in biological control programs, pollinators, or health of natural areas. The research may be carried out for agricultural, horticultural, urban, or medical or natural areas systems.

    Previous award winners are not eligible to apply. The award announcement will be made by Friday, April 14, 2017.

    To apply, complete a brief written summary of your research goals, methods, and results. Download application here. Supply the completed application as one document submitted electronically to
    Dr. William H. Luckmann served as a researcher and administrator for applied entomological programs at the Illinois Natural History Survey from 1949 through 1984. His work contributed greatly to advances in integrated pest management in field and vegetable crops. Upon his retirement, an endowment was established to foster and reward research in applied entomology.

    Questions can be directed to Dr. Joseph Spencer at