Illinois Natural History Survey News

Illinois Natural History Survey News

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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 zercher@illinois.edu.

  • 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.

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  • 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, cmroy2@illinois.edu;

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327, tlbarker@illinois.edu

  • 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, hhagy@illinois.edu

    Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327, tlbarker@illinois.edu

  • 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...

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  • 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 spencer1@illinois.edu.
     
    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 spencer1@illinois.edu.

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

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Relocating freshwater mussels from the path of a bridge construction site to a safer zone upstream is proving to be a time- and cost-effective conservation practice. Mussel survival rate after relocation is high, according to new research from the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI).

    Temporary dams erected for bridge construction alter silt and water levels in the river, and mussels are crushed from large equipment. Both common and endangered mussel species are at risk.

    Historically, about 80 freshwater mussel species inhabited Illinois streams. Only about 55 species remain today. Populations have declined largely because humans have changed river habitats.

    While relocation of mussels over short distances is preferred to minimize damage to mussel communities, its effectiveness in terms of recovery and survival is not well known.

    In a three-year study, aquatic ecologist Jeremy Tiemann and colleagues at the Illinois Natural History Survey, a division of PRI, relocated 100 mussels upriver during a reconstruction project on the Interstate 90 bridge over the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois.

    The team tagged individuals of two common mussel species, the Mucket and Plain Pocketbook, with microchips, and used an underwater radio receiver to locate the mussels without disturbance. Tagged mussels were monitored monthly in the spring and summer months of 2013–2015.

    The team lost the signals of 17 mussels, which may have moved or been swept out of the study area. Overall, the survival rate was high, with most deaths occurring during the first two months after relocation, Tiemann said.

    “The mortality we recorded in 2013 may have resulted from stress following the recent drought when the river started to return to its normal levels, as well as relocation to an unfamiliar habitat,” he said.    

    The researchers used a statistical model to predict survival rates, which indicated that 93 percent of the relocated Mucket species and 71 percent of the Plain Pocketbooks remained alive three years after relocation.

    “Our data suggest that short-distance relocation is a viable tool for mussel conservation,” Tiemann said.

    Mussels can live more than 50 years and play a vital role in improving river conditions.

    “We call them livers of the rivers because they purify water, removing bacteria, particles, and pollutants,” Tiemann said. “Their filtering capacity can be compared to a water treatment plant, because a single mussel can filter 8 or more gallons of water a day. They do their part to clean up the environment.”

    Considering that mussels occur in aggregations, the amount of water being filtered increases exponentially. Some sites in the Mississippi River support millions of mussels in a small area.

     This study was funded by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and was published in the journal Freshwater Mollusk Biology and Conservation.

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    Media contact: Jeremy Tiemann; jtiemann@illinois.edu; 217-244-0802

  • 12/13/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The aquatic nymphs of stoneflies are indicators of water and habitat quality and quantity. Loss of this habitat is resulting in rapid decline of many species, which are at serious risk of disappearing from agricultural and urban areas of the Midwest, according to Ed DeWalt, aquatic entomologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

    DeWalt and colleagues are interested in reconstructing the assemblage of stoneflies living in Ohio before they disappear. They recently discovered 102 stonefly species, the most of any state in the Midwest.

    Six of the Ohio species were reported as extirpated from the state because of poor water quality, including untreated waste, coal mining, agricultural chemicals, and DDT (used in the 1950s). Another 35 species were exceedingly rare; however, two new species were added to the list of Ohio stoneflies as a result of the study. A previous study found one stonefly species new to science, which DeWalt and team are now describing.

    Reconstructing a shrinking fauna is difficult. Many streams no longer hold natural populations of stoneflies, so the research team visited 20 research collections at universities and public and private museums to gather specimens, resulting in nearly 8,000 specimen records.

    "The data set spans the years 1880 to 2016 and is the largest data set of its kind," DeWalt said.

    Today, stonefly communities are most abundant and diverse in the lower Scioto River drainage of central and southern Ohio, especially in the Hocking Hills area. Populations of stoneflies once were much more widely distributed across the state.

    A study of Illinois stoneflies found that 22 of 80 species had been extirpated from the state. Ohio's fauna is in much better shape.

    “Often researchers study species in far-flung places,” DeWalt said. “Although it is important to describe new species from other countries, it is also important to protect the species in our own backyard before we lose them forever.”

    The research data were reported in an open access article that was published in the November 16 issue of Biodiversity Data Journal and may be viewed and downloaded at the following URL: http://bdj.pensoft.net/articles.php?id=10723.

    Funders of the research include the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, National Science Foundation, the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, and Crane Hollow Nature Preserve.

    Media contact: Ed DeWalt, (217) 649-7414; dewalt@illinois.edu

  • 11/17/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Researchers have detected prescription and over-the-counter medications and personal care products in Illinois groundwater, an indication that humans are contaminating water that is vital to aquatic life.

     In a University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute (PRI) study, researchers collected 58 water samples from eight springs and five cave streams in southwestern Illinois in 2014 and 2015. Hormones were detected in only 23 percent of groundwater samples, but medications and personal care products were detected in 89 percent of samples, according to Walt Kelly, head of the Groundwater Science section at the Illinois State Water Survey, PRI.

    The study location was in karst terrain, which is notable for caves, sinkholes, and smaller openings in the land surface through which contaminants can readily enter underground streams and springs. The hilly landscape outside of the St. Louis metropolitan area contains numerous small farms and has become a draw for rural residential development.

    Karst groundwater is different from other types in that water moves more quickly from the surface and is easily contaminated by leaking sewage systems, fertilizers, livestock manure, road salt runoff, and garbage and trash discards in sinkholes.

    “Water lines for drinking water are linked from towns to rural homes, but often there are no city sewer lines servicing rural homes, so private septic systems are installed for each property,” Kelly said. “State regulations require that septic tanks must be inspected at a minimum of every three years to prevent leakage, but that doesn't always happen because inspections are expensive.”

    Most water samples were significantly contaminated by bacteria, particularly from humans, hogs, and cattle. Sewage systems also leak pharmaceuticals and other products. From analyses performed by Wei Zheng and Laurel Dodgen, environmental chemists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, PRI, the two most common products found in streams and springs were triclocarbans, used in antibiotic soaps and found in 81 percent of samples, and the cardiovascular drug gemfibrozil, found in 57 percent of samples.

    Contaminant levels were well below human dosages, but even low levels may affect aquatic organisms, according to Steve Taylor, conservation biologist in the Illinois Natural History Survey, PRI. Of concern are endangered species living in caves, such as the Indiana bat and the Illinois Cave amphipod.

    Many questions related to groundwater contaminants are still unanswered, including the interaction among the different substances, the actual effects of the contaminants, and whether the contaminants have been a problem for decades since the technology to detect many of these compounds in low levels in the environment has only been available for about 10 years, Kelly said. 

    “The largest concern is the effect of hormones,” Kelly said. “They don’t persist as long as other compounds found in groundwater, but they can cause a lot of damage to fish and possibly other animals.”

    Previous recommendations for disposing of medications were to flush them down the drain or into the sewage system. New recommendations encourage taking unused drugs to collection facilities in communities. See www.unwantedmeds.org for proper disposal information and locations of take-back programs.

    This study was funded by PRI and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, and is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.


    Media contact: Walt Kelly, (217) 333-3729; wkelly@illinois.edu

  • 11/14/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Extinct feather lice, invasive fish from the Great Lakes, and rare plants from Pakistan are a few of the millions of species no longer viewed just in dark academic warehouses and museums. Curators at the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) who have helped to preserve these biological specimens are digitizing them for anyone who is interested in science to view them online.

    As part of a 10-year, $100 million National Science Foundation initiative, PRI scientists at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) have received numerous grants to digitize portions of their 9.5 million specimens in 11 collections on the University of Illinois campus. These collections hold secrets to the past and serve as an enduring reminder of the rich diversity that nature has to offer.

    Fungi

    With over 150,000 specimens, the INHS Mycological Collection of both common and rare fungi dates back to the 1800s. Its heavy emphasis on Illinois specimens makes it a unique assemblage of mildews, bread molds, rusts, mushrooms, and other fungi. The database brings the collection together in one place for scientists to explore different environmental aspects, such as how climate change affects the distribution of native and invasive fungi.

    “Scientists can use the data for climate change modeling, answering questions such as ‘where were they before? and ‘how have their distributions changed over the past 200 years?” said Andrew Miller, lead principal investigator for the microfungi digitization project. A collection can also indicate gaps in our knowledge of biodiversity and provide a baseline from which to continue studies.

    One feature of the data is georeferencing, which means to assign latitude and longitudinal coordinates, to pinpoint the location of a particular species on a map. Labels identifying the species typically indicate a location at a given time.

    Miller also uncovers samples that may have been missing for over 100 years. New “old” collections are added as they are rediscovered in some forgotten collections or when they change hands when professors retire.

    “Some collections have been stuck back in dirty, old, creepy rooms where there is no sunlight,” Miller said. “With digitization, we’re bringing these collections into the light.”

    http://www.mycoportal.org.

    Fish

    Fish species from around the world make up the INHS Fish Collection, totaling 900,000 specimens dating back over 135 years. For his project, the goal is to photograph 23,000 specimens, said Curator Chris Taylor.

    One aspect of the project is the collection of invasive species from Midwestern lakes, informing studies about the role of invasive species in the Great Lakes and the damage that fish have caused to the lake environment.

    “The Great Lakes are a poster child for all the bad things that can happen,” Taylor said. “The lakes have a long history of impacts from invasive species.” The zebra mussel, round goby, and other fish that invade lakes degrade habitats and out-compete native species. Invasive species are now available for viewing online and can assist the public in their identification.

    For digitization, a technician removes a sample fish from archival jars, sets it into a glass container with fluid, and uses a high-resolution camera to photograph the sample for posterity. Fish scales are plainly visible. Scientists can note fish sizes and characteristics that make each species unique.

    With so many specimens in the collection, one benefit to the digitization project is to correct human errors related to location and species identification, Taylor said. A fish captured in 1915, for example, may not have been properly identified or may have been identified in a questionable location. With the acquisitions now widely available, experts can study photographs to correct these errors.

    Digitizing the collection increases its exposure and increases peoples’ perceptions of the collection’s value, Taylor said.

    http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/collections/fish

    Plants

    With a dab of archival glue, plant specimens are attached to paper and stored in climate-controlled conditions to minimize insect and mold damage. Three U. of I. collections total 1.1 million specimens of plants that date back to 1808. Over 90,000 plants have been digitized.

    The herbarium collection manager, Jamie Minnaert-Grote, relies on volunteers to help with databasing. Botanists in the field continue to add several thousand specimens to the collection every year.

    In the past, plant samples were loaned to scientists around the world who would snip a piece of leaf or flower for analysis. The data have been used for molecular studies of plant DNA, biography studies on how species have moved from one location to another, and studies on how various plants are related.

    With the digitization project, Minnaert-Grote noted that loans of samples have dropped, as more scientists access the information—and images—online. The database can be useful for students as well.

    “This information, which is so readily available, can open the doors for students interested in plants,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know what a herbarium is. Getting that vocabulary out there so students know what we do is important. This project can make others more aware of the vast biodiversity of plants in Illinois and beyond.”

    http://www.midwestherbaria.org/

    Insects

    In the vast insect collection of 7.3 million specimens located in seven rooms within the INHS, larger insects are stored in vials or pinned in drawers and smaller specimens have been preserved in Canada Balsam (tree sap) on slides. To grasp the vastness of the acquisitions, 100,000 slides of thrips, also called storm flies or corn flies, are filed in a bookcase. The insect collection dates back to the time of Thomas Edison, when electric light was new.

    In the digitization process, part-time employees photograph individual insects and entire drawers for online viewing. For specific collections, drawers full of insects can be rotated online to view the label underneath.

    As species become endangered or decline, such as the 50 percent reduction in some local bee species, the collection becomes a historic snapshot of the bee population in Illinois, revealing the types of bees in various locations across the state and across time, said Chris Grinter, collection manager.

    “Because some species of bumblebee are so rare now, the collection makes up a lot of what’s known about that entire species,” Grinter said.

    The collection of agricultural pests can be particularly important, even for today’s producers. Having a historic window of a particular species informs developments in agricultural production and pest control. Researchers can study changes in insect populations over time to learn how various species have evolved.

    “Value is added to the collection as time goes by,” Grinter said.

    wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/collections/insect

    Fossils

    Tiny remnants of the past encased in amber are a glimpse into the world of over 16 to 20 million years ago. Amber is fossilized tree resin, said Sam Heads, INHS paleontologist.

    “When you look up close, you see the microcosm that exists in that piece of amber,” he said.

    The INHS amber collection is one of the largest and most complete collections of Dominican amber in the world, containing ants, bees, spiders, mosquitoes, and countless other species. Approximately 160 pounds of amber was collected in the Dominican Republic by INHS entomologist Dr. Milton Sanderson in 1959.

    The pieces remained in storage until 2011, when processing began. Now, a sophisticated microscope system is used to take high resolution photos for a clear view through the amber to the insects and other fossils within. The images will soon be available to anyone who wants to view them online as part of the NSF-funded Fossil Insect Collaborative project (fossilinsects.colorado.edu).

    Researchers will use these images and data to study evolution, paleobiodiversity, ancient climate, and environmental changes, and to discover new species.

    But it’s not all about amber. Many other types of fossils are housed in the PRI paleontological collections which contain over 1 million fossils from all over the world ranging in age from the Cambrian Period some 500+ million years ago, to the end of the last ice age, around 11,700 years ago.

    http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/collections/fossils

    Mollusks

    A digitization project has provided detailed photos of 30,000 freshwater mussels from museums around the world. INHS researchers visited 22 museums in places such as London, Paris, Sydney, Australia, and Brussels, using cameras to photograph specimens and georeferencing images to locations where specimens were found.

    Researchers can use this database to find diversity hot spots, or where particular mussel species are most likely to be found.

    “You can now view thousands of museum lots via the web,” said INHS Curator Kevin Cummings. “Digitization enables examining specimens without having to travel. While it’s fun to visit London or Paris, it’s also fun to access the information without having to leave your desk.”

    The full INHS mollusk collection contains nearly 475,000 specimens, including species that have become extinct. Freshwater mussels are particularly vulnerable to human disruption of habitats, from pollution, dams, changing land uses, invasive species, and other factors. For some species, databases and mollusk collections are the only proof that they existed.

    Open access through technology is bringing backroom collections to the forefront. What’s ahead? 3-D construction of specimens will allow Internet users to spin images around to view all sides, not unlike holding a specimen in your hand and seeing it from every angle.

    Mussels specimens from around the world can be viewed at the Mussel Project Web page http://mussel-project.uwsp.edu/.

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    About the Prairie Research Institute: The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign comprises the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. PRI provides objective natural and cultural resource expertise, data, research, service, and solutions for decision making, the stewardship of Illinois’ resources, and the public good. www.prairie.illinois.edu 

     

    Media contact: Andrew Miller (217) 244-0439, amiller7@illinois.edu

  • 11/11/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The 2017 Illinois First Detector Workshop on invasive plants, diseases, and insects will be offered at eight Illinois sites beginning in January 2017.

    In its fifth year, the workshop is being offered through University of Illinois Extension and coordinated in conjunction with the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS), the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Morton Arboretum. The one-day course teaches participants how to report potential invasive threats. Topics this year include invasive plants and human health, oak tree diseases, and emerging invasive forest insects.

    The program focuses on current and new invasive pests, but also provides updates on previously covered topics, according to Kelly Estes, CAPS coordinator. The popular hands-on portion of the workshop allows participants to examine invasive species samples in detail and learn identification techniques that will help them to distinguish these invasive pests in the field. Workshop participants take the knowledge they acquire to their own communities.

    “This program increases the eyes and ears in the field,” Estes said. “The threat of invasive species is large, and we can’t get to every corner of the state. Having many people take an interest in learning more about invasive species and how to report them is fantastic.”

    In four years, 900 people have taken the workshop, and an estimated 108,000 additional people have become more aware of invasive species indirectly through the dissemination of information by the workshop participants.

    Illinois locations, dates, and contact information include:

    January 25 – Waterloo; Sarah Ruth (618-939-3434)

    January 26 – Makanda; Maggie Rose (618-687-1727)

    February 9 – Bloomington; Kelly Allsup (309-663-8306)

    February 10 – Sterling; Bruce Black (815-632-3611)

    February 14 – Lisle; Sarah Navrotski (630-955-1123)

    February 15 – Orland Park; Margaret Burns-Westmeyer (708-679-6894)

    February 22 – Pekin; Jason Haupt or Christine Belless (309-547-3711)

    February 23 – Taylorville; Andrew Holsinger (217-532-3941)

    The $40 registration fee includes instruction, an on-site lunch, and training materials. This year, a student rate of $25 is offered. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are also available. The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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    Media contact: Kelly Estes, (217) 333-1005; kcook8@illinois.edu

    This program and materials are based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and coordinated by Kelly Estes, state survey coordinator, IL CAPS Program at the Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, and Diane Plewa, Plant Clinic diagnostician and outreach coordinator, Department of Crop Sciences. Additional support for this program will be provided by Christopher Evans, extension forester, University of Illinois, Scott Schirmer, plant and pesticide specialist supervisor, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and Tricia Bethke, forest pest outreach coordinator, Morton Arboretum.      

    Photo credit: Tom Coleman, USDA Forest Service, bugwood.org            

  • 11/10/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – What’s in your firewood? Tree-killing insects or diseases may be hiding in or on firewood that may be transported hundreds of miles to campsites or fireplaces.

    The spread of invasive pests often has serious economic consequences, according to Kelly Estes, coordinator of the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS), at the Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute.

    In a 2011 study published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, researchers projected that wood-boring insects are anticipated to cause nearly $1.7 billion in local government expenditures in the U.S. and $830 million in lost residential property values over a ten-year time span.

    Hunters and campers bringing firewood long distances from home to wooded areas or homeowners stacking untreated wood in their yards could be spreading invasive insects.

    “The problem is that insects are hidden in firewood, and you may be moving these pests to new areas without knowing it,” Estes said. “This can lead to the potential destruction and death of trees in natural and urban areas, a decline in the diversity and quality of natural forests, and even a decline in property values.”

    One noteworthy invasive pest associated with the movement of firewood is the emerald ash borer (EAB). The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) has lifted restrictions on the movement of firewood and other materials from ash trees, partly because the EAB is now so prevalent in the state. However, it is still illegal to move these materials across state lines.

    Although IDOA no longer regulates hardwood firewood, invasive pests such as the European Gypsy Moth, an oak defoliator, and Thousand Cankers Disease of walnuts, transmitted by the Walnut Twig Beetle, are regulated and/or under state and federal quarantines. Check with IDOA if you have any questions about the movement of plant or plant materials.

    Estes suggests that hunters and campers gather firewood at the campsite, if permitted, or buy it in the local area. Bundled, heat-treated firewood sold at gas stations and stores has been heated to a temperature that kills insect invaders. Look for the USDA APHIS treatment seal that indicates the bundle has been properly treated.

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    Media contact: Kelly Estes, (217) 333-1005; kcook8@illinois.edu

  • 10/27/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Bats, long associated with Halloween and tales of horror, have far more to fear from humans than we do from them.

    Researchers at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, monitor bats statewide by capturing, identifying, and banding individuals in fine-meshed netting (mist nets) and collecting acoustic recordings of high-frequency bat calls. Bat numbers in Illinois have declined drastically over the past few years, particularly species that hibernate in caves through the winter, according to Steve Taylor, a conservation biologist at INHS.

    The northern long-eared bat was listed as threatened in 2015 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Illinois researchers have documented declining populations as likely associated with the arrival of white nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that spreads among bat populations. Infected bats emerge periodically from hibernation and fly, using up energy needed to survive to the end of the hibernation period. Many die from the disease.

    Until this year, WNS appeared to be spreading westward from New York throughout bat populations in eastern North America. However, in 2016, an infected bat was recovered in Washington State, possibly the result of human transport of the fungus.

    Bats are also threatened by wind energy farms, where they are hit by spinning turbine blades.

    Bat populations grow slowly; female bats have only one or two offspring per year. However, adults can live up to 40 years, depending on the species.

    “In terms of their longevity and reproductive rate, bats are more like elephants than mice,” Taylor said.

    Illinois’ bats are beneficial, providing ecosystem services by eating moths, mosquitoes, and crop pests. But we are only beginning to understand details of their diets. In the past, scientists have looked for fragments of insects in feces (guano) under a microscope to attempt to identify prey.

    Matt Niemiller, a scientist working in the INHS Ecological Genetics Laboratory, is analyzing guano using environmental DNA to reveal genes of insect prey in the bat guano. If the results show corn rootworm DNA, for example, scientists know that the bats have foraged in corn fields. These studies help us understand bat behavior and habitat use.

    “We are hoping that this information will tell us which microhabitats the bats are feeding in, not just what they are eating,” Taylor said. “With details of a bat diet giving us a better picture of how they use the landscape, land managers can make more informed decisions that will help these vulnerable animals survive in the face of changing land use.”

    Although bats may occasionally be found in or near buildings, the myth that they attack people is not true. No blood-feeding vampire bats occur in Illinois, although vampire bats, which range from Mexico into South America, do feed on the blood of sleeping animals. They approach from the ground and make a small cut, from which they lap up the blood. Even among the vampire bats, feeding on humans is rare; feeding on livestock and birds is more typical.

    Bats are also not blind, contrary to the popular saying, “blind as a bat,” said Tara Hohoff, bat survey and monitoring coordinator with the newly initiated Illinois Bat Conservation Program, http://www.illinoisbats.org/.

    “They can see very well in the dark and also echolocate, allowing them to find objects using reflected sound. Using night vision to watch the nets, we typically observe many more bats flying over the nets rather than flying into them. Bats are very hard to catch,” Hohoff said.

    Bats use echolocation to catch tiny insects in the dark and swoop through dense forests and in caves. They do not bump into humans and become entangled in their hair—except in the movies.

    Ultrasonic acoustic monitoring of bats, conducted by the Illinois Bat Conservation Program, and by researchers conducting environmental research for the Illinois Tollway, provides additional data about habitat use throughout Illinois. Hohoff uses the distinctive characteristics of bat calls to identify the bat species occurring in different areas and habitats throughout Illinois.

                                                                                                                                             

     

     

    Media contact: Steve Taylor, (217) 714-2871, sjtaylor@illinois.edu

  • 10/24/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – “Birds of omen, dark and foul,” wrote Sir Walter Scott about owls, once considered harbingers of doom, death, and destruction. In Medieval Europe, owls were thought to be witches and an owl’s call meant someone was about to die.

    Today, owls are considered to be creatures of beauty, wise and mysterious birds that are hunters of the night. Four species of owls are year-round Illinois residents, the barn owl, screech owl, barred owl, and great horned owl (also known as the hoot owl).

    The barn owl occurs globally but was listed as Illinois-endangered in 1977 and is currently considered a threatened species in the state, according to Tara Beveroth, avian researcher and monitoring coordinator, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

    Owls typically call most often at dawn and dusk, but on a clear, moonlit night with little wind, some may be heard calling periodically throughout the night. They are territorial creatures and use their calls to warn others to stay off their turf.

    Each owl species has a unique call. Screech owl calls sound like a horse’s whinny, and the great horned owl, the bird of storybooks, produces the well-known hooting sound. The barn owl emits a blood-curdling scream in the darkness, and the barred owl’s call sounds like, “Who, who cooks for you”?

    As part of the INHS Monitoring for Owls and Nightjars (MOON) Program, Beveroth’s volunteers learn to distinguish the calls of owls and nightjars, then drive routes that consist of 10 roadside stops, listening for 6 minutes at each stop.

    “Most owls respond to prerecorded calls, especially during the breeding season,” Beveroth said. “Sometimes, in response to a recorded call, barred owls, usually a male and female, can be heard caterwauling (hooting loudly) to each other. This can be spectacular to hear.”

    Illinois owl species can share a habitat. Barred owls tend to prefer old bottomland forests, and eastern screech owls are dependent on forested areas, although they are now also observed in forested urban areas. Great horned owls can be successful in many different habitats.

    Since their decline, barn owls have come to depend on man-made nest box structures and barns that fit their nesting needs. They are considered to be “farmers’ friends” for their mouse-hunting ability; a family of barn owls can consume as many as 3,000 mice in a season.

    Barn owls are known for their ability to capture prey by sound alone, Beveroth said. They have asymmetrical hearing, with one ear higher than the other, and depend on their hearing to find rodents scurrying in foliage on the ground.

    Great horned owls are powerful hunters and can take down medium-sized mammals, including skunks and even other birds of prey. They also may take over platform nests of hawks high up in tree branches.

    “Their toes are built like a ratchet,” Beveroth said. “Once prey is grasped they can hold on or perch without expending excess muscle energy.”

    Barred owls and screech owls usually nest in tree cavities. When these two species compete for a nesting site, the larger barred owl will likely win. Competition for nesting cavities may have pushed screech owls to towns and urban areas. The screech owl diet is diverse, consisting of insects, rodents, and small birds.

    Owls may engulf entire smaller prey, but because they cannot digest feathers, fur, scales, or bones, they regurgitate “pellets” of the indigestible materials. Owl pellets are typically smooth or furry, round, dark masses.

    To find owls, look for pellets on the ground near trees or barns. Also look for “whitewashed” trees, trees with white owl droppings on tree trunks or branches. For those who are courageous enough to venture into the woods at night under a full moon, the calls of the owls in the darkness are a welcome reward.

                                                                                                                                            

     

    Media contact: Tara Beveroth, (217) 265-7303, beveroth@illinois.edu

  • 10/12/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – 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.

    Significant size changes in mussel shells suggest that the river environment has been altered.

    Scientists at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) of the PRI selected specimens of the Threeridge mussel and Mapleleaf mussel from the INHS Mollusk Collection that had been collected from the Illinois River in the years 1897, 1912, 1966, and 2013. They also examined Illinois State Museum shell collections from archaeological excavations along the Illinois River that were dated to 1,000–1,200 years before present (~850 AD).

    The researchers studied mussel growth, maximum size, and diet. Annual rings are produced in shells as they grow and age, much like tree rings. Mussels are filter feeders of algae and bacteria, which are modified by human-induced environmental changes such as river impoundments and nutrient-rich pollution, so changes in food quality and availability are reflected in their growth.

    The team was surprised to discover that mussel shell size and growth rate remained approximately the same from the year 850 to 1897, and then increased by more than 50 percent over the course of the 20th century, according to Andrea Fritts, former postdoctoral research associate at INHS.

    “There was a clear separation in size between the time before the late 1800s and in the 20th century,” Fritts said. “The changes that we observed were likely driven by the input of excess nutrients.”

    The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, built in 1900, directed untreated sewage into the Illinois River and, in the early 1900s, toxic river conditions killed a significant number of fish and mussels, eliminating most aquatic life from the upper Illinois River. At a downriver site near Havana, IL, 45 mussel species were reported historically, but only 18 species remained by the 1960s.

    Water quality improved in the 1970s and 1980s with the introduction of more effective sewage treatment, a reduced amount of water diverted from Chicago, and legislation protecting the river and its inhabitants. However, the growth rate and size of mussels found in 2013 are still elevated compared with prehistoric times.

    “My co-authors and I want to caution those who think that increased growth in mussels is a good thing,” Fritts said. “Mussels that grow faster often have a shorter life span.”

    Larger sizes have also coincided with reduced numbers and species of mussels in the Illinois River. That mussel size remains larger today may indicate that the Illinois River is still impaired, Fritts said.

    This PRI-funded study was recently published in the Journal of Science of the Total Environment.

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    Media contact: Andrea Fritts, andreakayfritts@gmail.com; 608-781-6284.

    Photo: Andrea Fritts collecting and sorting mussels from the Illinois River.

  • 10/10/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – 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.

    Feral hog populations were once confined to the southern U.S., but have spread and have now been reported from 42 states. Populations are found in 12 Illinois counties, mostly in southern Illinois.

    Feral hogs are known to damage the soil by wallowing and rooting, degrade water quality, damage or destroy agricultural and orchard crops, and carry diseases that are harmful to humans, pets, wildlife, and livestock, according to Craig Miller, INHS human dimensions scientist.

    Miller and colleagues analyzed surveys from more than 3,000 Illinois farmers in counties where wild hog populations have been reported and in adjacent counties in southern Illinois and in Fulton County. They also analyzed surveys from 471 farmers in Georgia, where these animals are much more prevalent.

    Respondents from both Illinois and Georgia agreed with negative statements in the survey, for example, “Feral hogs are a source of disease.” Over 80 percent of farmers in Georgia and 78 percent in Illinois indicated that they are concerned about property damage by feral hogs. In Illinois, 84 percent agreed that feral hogs should be eliminated whenever possible.

    “The distribution and size of hog populations does not appear to affect negative attitudes,” Miller said.

    Miller indicated that farmers are not likely to become more tolerant of feral hogs over time as they have with similar wildlife species, such as white-tailed deer, black bears, Canada geese, and coyotes.

    The results of this study are particularly important for decisions by wildlife managers about how to control or eliminate feral hog populations. Illinois farmers are opposed to moving feral hogs into states that do not have existing populations for purposes of hunting.

    “A hunter may shoot one or two hogs, and the rest of the population scatters,” Miller said.

    Instead, trapping and elimination of feral hogs, a common practice in Illinois, is one that meets with farmers’ approval.

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    Photo Credit: USDA Wildlife Services

    Media contact: Craig Miller, 217-244-0691; craigm@illinois.edu

  • 9/30/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – An invasive stink bug species has been found in five newly invaded Illinois counties this year, according to Kelly Estes, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) coordinator in the Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

    With the arrival of cooler weather, brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) congregate on house siding, windowsills, and garages, or find their way into homes, becoming a nuisance for homeowners.

    “This is the time of year when stink bugs are most active as they look for cracks and crevices in buildings and other dry places to overwinter,” Estes said. Reports of brown marmorated stink bug activity have been steadily increasing across the state this past week.

    First found in northeast Illinois (Cook County) and in the East St. Louis area in 2010, this year BMSB have been confirmed for the first time in Macon, Winnebago, Clinton, Effingham, and Stephenson Counties. Since BMSB is an invasive species, it has few known natural enemies and populations can grow quickly.

    Adult BMSB have the shield-shaped body of all stink bugs. This species has a marmorated or mottled brown color and the antennae have white bands. Alternating black and white bands border the abdomen.

    In the spring, the stink bugs emerge from their hiding places to lay eggs on the underside of leaves. They feed on 150 to 200 host plants in gardens, orchards, and fields. Estes reported no known economic losses thus far in agricultural crops in Illinois, unlike the damage seen in the Mid-Atlantic states.

    To keep stink bugs out of homes, make sure windows are sealed. Estes does not recommend spraying insecticide. The best option is to vacuum them up and throw them away; live stink bugs can also be dropped into soapy water.

    Homeowners are the best source of information on the whereabouts of BSMB. If you believe you have seen this species, Estes would be interested in looking at a sample. Stink bugs may be sent in a crush-proof container, such as a pill bottle or check box, to Kelly Estes, 1816 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820. Photos can be sent to kcook8@illinois.edu.

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    Media contact: Kelly Estes, (217) 333-1005; kcook8@illinois.edu

  • 9/21/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    Margaret Wingard, sponsored research coordinator at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, has received the 2016 University of Illinois SPaRC Outstanding Service Award for her support of research administration.

    The 2016 Sponsored Projects and Research Compliance (SPaRC) annual award was presented to four staff members who have advanced the field of research administration or through innovation have improved a specific process at the university, college, center, or department level that led to increased efficiencies in the administration of research.

    Wingard was hired at the INHS in 2001. From fiscal years 2012 to 2015, Wingard submitted an average of 106 proposals annually, requesting an average of $21.3 million per year. She streamlined the proposal process so that researchers could apply for grants more efficiently.

    Award recipients were recognized at the SPaRC retreat on September 16, 2016.

    In 2015, Torie Strole, grants and contracts coordinator, also of the Prairie Research Institute, received the SPaRC Outstanding Service Award.

  • 9/14/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – In a recent survey of approximately 340 corn fields in 68 Illinois counties, bacterial leaf streak was confirmed in only one county, according to Kelly Estes, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) coordinator, Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

    INHS, along with the University of Illinois Extension, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS), surveyed corn fields after the disease was confirmed in Nebraska in July. Bacterial leaf streak was found in DeKalb County in northeastern Illinois and also was confirmed in Iowa and seven other states as part of this survey.

    The symptoms of bacterial leaf streak are similar to the fungal disease gray leaf spot (GLS). The bacterium produces irregular, narrow brown to orange stripes between leaf veins that can be 1 inch to several inches long. GLS lesions tend to be shorter and more rectangular in shape.

    Bacterial leaf streak is spread by wind, rain, and irrigation, and warm temperatures exacerbate the disease. Little is known about the biology of the bacterium, but the USDA indicates that it doesn’t pose a risk, and there is no evidence of negative effects to corn yields or quality in the 2016 season. Fungicides are not expected to control or suppress the disease.

    Bacterial leaf streak will be on the list of diseases to survey as part of next year’s CAPS program, Estes said.

    If you suspect bacterial leaf streak, submit a sample to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic http://web.extension.illinois.edu/plantclinic/

                                                                           

    Media contact: Kelly Estes, (217) 333-1005; kcook8@illinois.edu

    Photo credit: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

  • 9/7/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Skepticism and uncertainty should not excuse inaction in protecting the environment from human-caused climate change, say scientists in a new essay published in the journal Science on August 12.

    Climate change skeptics often question the scientific evidence that risks exist, the magnitude of any risks, and assert that policy changes will be too costly, according to co-author Richard Sparks, a retired professional scientist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.

    Skepticism has now shifted away from outright denial to what the authors term “neoskepticism,” defined as agreement that climate change exists, but opposition to mitigation actions.

    “As evidence mounts, neoskeptics question the severity of the problem and argue that as long as uncertainty exists, the smartest and most financially shrewd move is to do little or nothing,” Sparks said. “They do not examine the risks and costs of inaction, and fail to consider that the risks of extreme and damaging outcomes are continually increasing. Waiting for harmful effects to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt before taking action has increasing costs to the economy, ecosystem integrity, political stability, and human lives.”

    A medical analogy is more appropriate than the courtroom analogy—putting the planet on a diet of reduced fossil fuels and carbon dioxide based on the growing preponderance of evidence compared to proving the harmful effects of climate change beyond all reasonable doubt before any action is taken.

    Sparks’ research at the INHS, which included long-term monitoring of plants and animals, shows that climate change is occurring. For example, blue catfish were once considered a southern species in the U.S. and occurred only sporadically in the St. Louis, MO area of the Mississippi River. Recent surveys have shown an abundant, reproducing population in that area. In another example, decades-old garden planting guides compared with contemporary versions show that planting zones have moved northward as the warming trend continues.

    Although the social and economic sciences can help with decision-making, the authors do not presume that empirical analysis of risks or better analogies will end the skepticism surrounding climate change because skepticism is often motivated by financial interests tied to the use of fossil fuels.

    “From my perspective, animals and plants are responding to climate change,” Sparks said. “Those who want to take action on climate change are labeled alarmists, but animals and plants don’t have an agenda. The consequences are so dire; we must take action.”

     

    Media contact: Richard Sparks, 618-786-2811, rsparks@illinois.edu

    The Science article is available at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6300/653