Illinois Natural History Survey News

Illinois Natural History Survey News

  • 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

  • 8/26/2016Lisa Sheppard writer Lisa Sheppard by Lisa Sheppard published by Lisa Sheppard

     

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – When clearing out the foliage from an aquarium or backyard water garden this fall, keep water hyacinth and other invasive plants out of streams, rivers, and other waterways.

    Water hyacinth has been described as “the world’s worst aquatic weed,” lovely in the garden, but a nuisance in the river, according to Andy Casper, director of the Illinois River Biological Station of the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.  At this time of year, the plant can be spread easily.

    “Water hyacinth is the aquatic version of kudzu,” Casper said.  “It grows faster than any other plant competing with it, quickly taking over a pond or river-bed.”

    As the plant spreads out over a water surface, it blocks the sun, so native plants can’t survive.  Fish that once hid amongst the underwater plants to hunt for their prey and young fish that hide from predators experience a changed habitat. 

    Additionally, in the fall as the water hyacinth dies, it sinks to the river bottom, decomposes, taking the oxygen out of the water in the process.  Too little oxygen can lead to large fish kills in the winter when oxygen is naturally in short supply.

    Deliberately dumping water hyacinth plants in the waterways will cause the plant to spread, as well as composting plants too close to a river, stream, or drainage ditch. Backyard flooding can also cause the invasive plant to spread into nearby surface water areas.

    In one case in which plants spread, an individual composted water hyacinth plants on a pile at the edge of a yard located close to the river.  The result was a big pile of water hyacinth down river, Casper said. 

    “All it takes is one good growing season, and the plants take over,” he said.

    In a survey of the entire Illinois River from Hennepin, IL to Joliet, IL by airplane and boat, INHS staff discovered 15 individual water hyacinth beds in the river. In addition, fish surveys also showed that whole water hyacinth seeds were present in the digestive tracts of carp, indicating a threat of dispersal of the seeds to other areas. Seeds were present in 27 percent of the digestive tracts of the common carp examined, regardless of their proximity to water hyacinth beds.

    For proper disposal of water hyacinth, place plants in a plastic garbage bag and throw them away. Keep all plant parts away from waterbodies because the seeds are tiny and can be missed by the naked eye.

    Water hyacinth is an economically important plant for the water gardening industry.  For this reason, the sale of water hyacinth has not yet been prohibited by the State of Illinois, as the debate continues on whether it survives a cold winter, according to Pat Charlebois, INHS aquatic ecologist.  Many states, and the City of Chicago have prohibited the sale of this plant.

    Water hyacinth is just one of many invasive aquatic plants that should not be discarded in waterways.  Hydrilla, a formerly common aquarium plant, is another plant that carries a financial toll when it spreads uncontrolled.  Plants such as these clog waterways, impeding boat navigation.  With government cleanup, millions of dollars may be spent, and recreational areas may be closed, reducing recreation-based incomes.

    “Hydrilla is such an aggressive plant and spreads so quickly that it can take years to completely remove it in lakes and rivers,” Charlebois said.  “Because of this, the State of Illinois has an early detection and rapid response plan in place in case hydrilla shows up in an area.”

    Charlebois and colleague Greg Hitzroth, INHS outreach specialist, are seeking to change the behavior of people who purchase and use plants for outdoor water gardens and indoor aquariums, encouraging them to dispose of all aquatic plants in sealed plastic bags in the trash.  Consumers can find a list of Illinois’ invasive plants at http://www.takeaim.org/files/8914/4225/6456/IL_consumer_2-28-146.pdf. The State of Illinois regulates some plants, but others, which are not regulated, can be just as much of a nuisance. 

    Consumers often look to retailers for advice on which plants to purchase and how to care for and dispose of them.

    “We partner with retailers, educating them not only on which species should not be sold, but also giving them alternatives,” Hitzroth said.  “We have had success with this effort because most retailers want to do the right thing.”

    There’s a loophole in these efforts, though. “A huge market for aquatic plants is offered for sale online, which can be difficult to regulate,” Charlebois said.  “This is a sticky wicket because retailers in another state may not know which plants cannot be sold or shipped to customers in Illinois.”

    Charlebois and Hitzroth have been working with wholesalers, retailers, scientists, hobbyists, consumers, and others and attending hobbyists’ tradeshows to create outreach material that aims to prevent the spread of aquatic invaders in trade. They also worked on a statewide campaign about invasive species.  Part of that effort is the Release Zero campaign, which aims to provide suggested alternatives to release plants based on published guidelines for teachers and water garden hobbyists from the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF).  

    More information about aquatic invaders in the market place (AIM) can be found at TakeAIM.org. Alternatives to the release of aquatics in trade can be found at ReleaseZero.org. 
         

     

    Media contacts: Andy Casper, 309-543-6000, afcasper@illinois.edu
    Pat Charlebois, 847-242-6441, charlebo@illinois.edu
    Greg Hitzroth, 217-300-0182,hitzroth@illinois.edu

  • 8/9/2016Craig Miller writer Craig Miller by Craig Miller published by Craig Miller

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

    Before the start of the 2012-2013 hunting season, Miller and his team surveyed 5,000 waterfowl stamp buyers in Illinois to track typical expenditures of hunters for a big-picture view of the economic impact of a single hunting trip. The survey divided the direct expenses into three categories: transportation, food and beverages, and other shopping, services and entertainment.

    Expenditures provided by hunters were analyzed using IMPLAN, an economics assessment modeling program used by the U.S. Forest Service and others to determine economic outputs.

    Results from 1,882 hunters (42 percent) revealed that trip expenditures totaled $37.5 million, and durable goods expenditures, including clothing, decoys, guns, dogs, boats, and other costs, totaled $105 million. The total direct costs were $143 million.

    “Adding the total direct and indirect costs equaled $261 million,” Miller said. “This impact is huge, and it’s the rural, local economies that benefit from this recreation market. Every dollar that waterfowl hunters spend generates $1.86 for the local economy. ”

    A further breakdown of the survey showed that for each bird harvested in Illinois, $453 is generated for the economy. The sport also generates 2,556 jobs and contributed $20.5 million in state and local taxes.

    Consequently, any policy or regulation changes such as a change in the length of the hunting season could have a significant impact on these rural economies.

    “It is important to keep in mind that this is one recreation activity for one season. When we consider economic contributions across other hunting activities for multiple years, we begin to see the positive economic force that hunting has to our local, rural economies,” Miller said.

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

  • 7/6/2016

    The Illinois Natural History Survey has presented awards to eight graduate students for their research accomplishments. Among the awardees include the following:

    Rachel Moran won a Philip W. Smith Memorial Award for Research in Natural History for her project “Speciation Via Male-Driven Character Displacement in Darters.” The fund provides research support for graduate students in the fields of systematics or ecology of living organisms.

    Lisa Mitchum, Department of Animal Biology, received the R. Weldon Larimore Scholarship in Research for Stream Ecology for her project “Color Vision in Largemouth Bass.”

    Linnea Meier, Entomology Department, won a William H. Luckmann Award for Student Research in Applied Entomology. The fund provides support for student attendance and presentation of research at a professional society meeting.  Her research project is titled “Species-Specific Blends of Shared Pheromone Components Minimize Interspecific Attraction Between Two Species of Cerambycid Beetles in the Subfamily Lamiinae.”

    The following students have received the Herbert Holdsworth Ross Memorial Fund, which provides research support for graduate students in the field of systematics, including taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography, and related subjects.

    Daniel Raudabaugh, "Taxonomy of Freshwater Fungi from Alkaline Stream and Bog Habitats"

    Christian Millan-Hernandez, "Determining the Evolutionary Forces Driving Dryinidae (Hymenoptera: Chrysidoidea) Diversity"

    Hannah Wahl, "Systematics and Biodiversity of Fungi Found in Deep-Water Sediments of the Great Lakes"

    Aron Katz, "Comparative Phylogeography of Codistributed Cave-Adapted Springtails (Collembola)"

    Kyle Parks, "A Phylogenetic Survey of Gene Evolution in an Endosymbiotic Virus, Polydnavirus, in Response to Parasitoid Host Switching in Parapanteles (Braconidae: Microgastrinae), a Parasitoid of Macrolepidopteran Caterpillars."

     

  • 2/16/2016

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoINHS Medical Entomologist Ephantus Muturi was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune about the threat of Zika virus in Illinois.

    Muturi says that Aedes aegypti, which transmits Zika, has been found in Illinois but does not thrive in our climate. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopinctus, is found in Illinois, but has not been found to transmit Zika, though more research is needed. Muturi says the key to controlling Aedes mosquitoes is to remove any standing water.

    "Aedes mosquitoes can breed in very small containers that normal people wouldn't think are dangerous," Muturi said. "Anything that can hold water, no matter how small it is, that's what they like."

    Chicago Tribune article

    INHS Medical Entomology Lab

  • 2/9/2016

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

    “We are able to see that these different subspecies, which have different habits, live in different areas and have other different characteristics, have heads that have been shaped differently over evolutionary time,” Davis said.

    Recognizing the differences between species is important to conservation of biodiversity.

    Read article from the U of I News Bureau

    Read paper in PLOS ONE http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0149712

  • 1/15/2016

    The Prairie Research Institute, with researchers from INHS and our sister surveys, has helped the Forest Preserve District of Cook County identify areas for restoration under the Next Century Conservation Plan. Restoration on Deer Grove West in Palatine is underway.

    Chicago Tribune Article

    Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan

  • 1/12/2016

    eaglesINHS Ornithologist Mike Ward was contacted about the increase in eagle sightings in the area. According to Ward, there were fewer than 20 eagle nests in Illinois in the 80s, whereas during the last spring bird count, there were an estimated 200 eagle nests.

    http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2016-01-09/soar-subjects.html

     

  • 12/21/2015

    Villager and conservationist maintaining their relationship through ongoing exchange. Photo via Bridget Henning.INHS Post doctoral researcher Bridget Henning, had a paper published recently looking at market based conservation in Papua New Guinea. Her research found that although villagers were concerned with the condition of the forest, they placed more emphasis on their relationship with conservationists, expecting conservationists to be present in the village, reciprocate their hospitality, participate in customary ceremonies, and respond to requests for material goods. This research explained that the relationship that maintained the conservation project was not market-based, it was a customary Melanesian exchange relationship that involved material goods, social interactions, and moral obligations.

    Read the Mongabay article "Here’s why market-based initiatives alone won’t save the world’s forests and climate" to find out more about how this research relates to climate change discussions at the Conference of Parties (COP-21) in Paris and the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) approaches.


    Read the paper "Market-based Conservation in Melanesia: Contrasting Expectations of Landowners and Conservationists" in Conservation & Society.


  • 12/17/2015

    INHS Cave Biologist Steve Taylor was contacted about cave dwelling bats and White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). Taylor is part of a team from the Illinois Natural History Survey monitoring caves throughout Illinois for signs of WNS.

    “There is no magic cure at this point. There are things that people are looking at.”

    For more information on White-Nose Syndrome research at INHS visit our website

    Watch a video about INHS White-Nose Syndrome research

     


    Read the full article in The Southern

  • 11/6/2015

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

    Read full press release from ZooKeys

    Read the paper "Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera on Isle Royale National Park, USA, compared to mainland species pool and size distribution" doi: 10.3897/zookeys.532.6478

  • 11/4/2015

    juvenile cowbirdINHS Ornithologists Matt Louder, Mike Ward, Wendy Schelsky, and Jeff Hoover have new research published about the behavior of juvenile cowbirds, a nest parasite. They found that juvenile cowbirds leave the host's nest at night and return in the morning. This may be part of their strategy involved in avoiding imprinting on their host species.

    “Among other things, cowbirds have got to learn to eat like cowbirds or they’re not going to survive very long,” Hoover said.

    The paper “Out on their own: A test of adult-assisted dispersal in fledgling brood parasites reveals solitary departures from hosts” is available online

    Read the News Bureau Story

  • 10/21/2015

    INHS Aquatic Entomologist Ed DeWalt was featured in a video put out by the National Park Service: Scientists and Citizens: Investigating Aquatic Insects in Great Lakes National Parks https://youtu.be/n4w5qxd279o




    "Scientists and Citizens: Investigating Aquatic Insects in Great Lakes National Parks"
    Filmmakers spent a day with Ed DeWalt Phd, Illinois Natural History Survey, and Fei Xiong, a visiting scholar from China, as they surveyed the Crystal River in Sleeping Bear Dunes for invertebrates, particularly stonefly larva. Ed is interested in whether the stream is healthier within the boundaries of the National Park than through private lands.

    The Great Lakes Research and Education Center provides Ed with volunteers who help him monitor insect populations in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. In the film below, Victoria Brinson describes her work collecting and analyzing specimens for the research. Joy Marburger, Phd. explains why it’s important for the Great Lakes Research and Education Center to encourage citizen science.


  • 10/21/2015

    INHS Mycologist Andy Miller and graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh were featured in a video produced by the Prairie Research Institute on their research into White-Nose Syndrome in bats.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0v8iZnamnjY

     

     

    Read more about their research below or from the Illinois News Bureau