Illinois Natural History Survey News

Illinois Natural History Survey News

  • 3/14/2014

    IRBS with CPOsResearchers Rich Pendleton, Levi Solomon, and Blake Bushman of the INHS Illinois River Biological Station are helping to educate the next group of Conservation Police Officers.  The trio provided hands on training to Illinois Conservation Police Officer Cadets concerning fish sampling and identification with demonstrations on the Illinois River.

  • 3/11/2014

    graphicINHS Behavioral Entomologist Joseph Spencer and his colleagues in Crop Sciences and Entomology recently released a study in the journal Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology with findings that there is variation in the effectiveness of RNAi treatments on western corn rootworm (WCR), a major agricultural pest.

    Current methods for controlling WCR include crop rotation and genetically modified corn.  Research published last year found that some WCR have microbes in their guts allowing them to survive on soybeans long enough to lay their eggs in soil that will be rotated to corn the following year.

    While the RNAi treatment tested decreased survival in non-rotation-resistant WCR, the treatment did not decrease the survival of rotation-resistant rootworms.  The results suggest that the success of an RNAi treatment may depend on the characteristics of the target population.

    U of I News Bureau Release

    "Differential Effects of RNAi Treatments on Field Populations of the Western Corn Rootworm" - Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology

  • 2/25/2014

    spencerINHS Behavioral Entomologist Joe Spencer presented a talk on "Rootworm Biology and Behavior"  in the webinar "Corn rootworm Management in the Transgenic Era."  Over 300 people attended this webinar, archived at the link below.

    View Webinar

  • 2/21/2014

    new speciesLast year, INHS researchers described over 100 species new to science.  The Prairie Research Institute Library wrote a nice summary of the papers published by INHS scientists in 2013.

    Prairie Research Institute Library Blog

  • 2/7/2014

    otters by USFWSINHS Researcher Samantha Carpenter was featured in an article in Michigan State University's Great Lakes Echo, about the high levels of dieldrin and other contaminants in the bodies of river otters.  Carpenter was lead author on a study published in October in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

    In this article, Carpenter said, “One of our take-home messages for fish-eating animals is that exposure to the banned pesticide dieldrin may be greater in streams and rivers of the Midwest than elsewhere, given that it was used very intensively in the Corn Belt.

    “While the concentration of dieldrin in Illinois watersheds was higher than previously thought, and higher than reported elsewhere in North America, there is no single all-encompassing benchmark we compare it with to say it is generally ‘high’” because of the lack of more research,” she said.  “We need to understand more about which watersheds are more heavily contaminated than others.”

    See more about the research here 

    Read the full article in the Great Lake Echo

    INHS Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory Homepage


  • 2/3/2014

    mammals of illinoisWith all the hype surrounding Punxsutawney Phil, Environmental Almanac's Rob Kanter decided to interview INHS Mammalogist Joe Merritt, who reported that groundhogs don't generally come out of hibernation until early March.  According to Merritt, while groundhogs do hibernate, most mammals in Illinois do not truly hibernate, rather they go into a state of  "winter lethargy."  Of the 60 mammal species in Illinois, only 16 truly hibernate, 12 of which are bats.  

    For more interesting information on how mammals survive the winter, read Environmental Almanac.

    Watch a short video on groundhogs from INHS Outreach Group

  • 2/1/2014

    carpA recent study by INHS researchers Jeffrey M. Levengood, David J. Soucek,, Gregory G. Sass, Amy Dickinson, and John M. Epifanio showed that overall, concentrations of arsenic, selenium, and mercury in bighead and silver carp from the lower Illinois River do not appear to be a health concern for a majority of human consumers. The full results of the study have been published in the journal Chemosphere.

    Average mercury concentration in fillets was below the US Food and Drug Administration Action Level and EPA Screening Value for Recreational Fishers, though some individual fish had mercury concentrations high enough to recommend limiting consumption by sensitive groups (children < 15 years and women of childbearing age) to 1 meal/week. Mercury concentrations were greater in bighead carp and were elevated in both species taken from the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. "These fish are low in mercury in comparison to many other commercially available fish. However, as always consumers need to make informed decisions about their food choices," said Dr. Jeff Levengood, lead investigator of the study.

    Arsenic and selenium concentrations in bighead and silver carp fillets examined did not pose a risk to human consumers. Inorganic arsenic concentrations were undetectable and concentrations of selenium in carp fillets were well below the 1.5 mg/kg threshold for restricting the number of meals according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. "Carp species, size and collection location should be considered in judging risks associated with uses of these fish taken from the Illinois River ", Levengood said.

    Press Release

    Read the paper

  • 1/29/2014

    photo by Rob KanterMembers of the Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists came to the Illinois Natural History Survey to help identify some of the 2,300 insect specimens that were collected by an "amateur" entomologist and donated to INHS.  The volunteers were assisted by INHS Entomologists Joe Spencer, Sam Heads, Michael Jeffords and Susan Post.  Portions of the collection will stay at INHS and others will be used for educational purposes through the Master Naturalist Program and Sugar Grove Nature Center.  

    Read more in the Environmental Almanac

  • 1/28/2014

    Cave photo by Brian SchaffnerOn 25 January 2014, INHS Biologist Steve Taylor gave a presentation at a ceremony announcing the purchase of 535 acres of land over Illinois' largest and most biologically diverse cave.  Fogelpole Cave is home to several protected species including the endangered Illinois Cave Amphipod and Indiana Bat.  Taylor serves as science advisor for the project, which is being managed by Clifftop, a non-profit organization.

    Read more about the purchase

    For information on the overall project or restoration, education and outreach activities, contact Clifftop.

  • 1/17/2014

    fossil waspINHS Paleontologist Sam Heads was featured in Inside Illinois in a story about his research that found an ancient fig wasp that pre-dates any known fig trees.  According to Heads, “This is a tiny parasitic wasp, it’s the smallest fossil wasp found in this particular deposit and it’s the oldest representative of its family. More importantly, it’s possible that this wasp was fig-associated, which is interesting because it’s Early Cretaceous, about 115 to 120 million years old. That’s a good 65 million years or so prior to the first occurrence of figs in the fossil record.”

    Inside Illinois

    Paper in Cretaceous Research

  • 1/16/2014

    wormsINHS Oligochaetologist Mark J. Wetzel and John W. Reynolds (Oligochaetology Lab, Ontario, Canada) recently launched a new website presenting the second edition of Nomenclatura Oligochaetologica, as Nomenclatura Oligochaetologica Editio Secunda – a catalogue of names, descriptions, and type specimens of the Oligochaeta.

    Visit the webpage

  • 1/10/2014

    Wavy rayed lampmusselINHS Post-doctoral researcher Andrea Fritts is a co-author on a recently published study examining the effects of the antidepressant fluoxetine on the behavior of freshwater mussels, which could impact their survival and role in their ecosystem.  

    The study found that chronic exposure led to "increases in movement, decreased time to movement, and increased likelihood of diurnal movement, and increased rates of lure display in mussels. Changes in mussel movement [in the wild] are likely to increase susceptibility to predation, and may also alter sediment nutrient cycling and oxygenation through changes in bioturbation provided by mussels."

    Read the full article in Aquatic Toxicology


  • 1/8/2014

    photo by Julie AllenINHS Psocodea expert Kevin Johnson and post doctoral researcher Julie Allen led a recently published study comparing the rate of evolution in primates with that in their louse parasites.  

    This study is the first to look at the pace of molecular change across the genomes of different groups. It compared a total of 1,534 genes shared by the primates and their parasites and found that lice evolve faster than their primate hosts.

    The study found that although the louse genes are changing at a faster rate, most of those changes are "silent," having no effect on the proteins for which they code and making no difference in the life of the organism, whereas the changes in primate genes more often led to changes in protein structure.


    Read the complete press release from the Illinois News Bureau

    The new analysis is the first to look at the pace of molecular change across the genomes of different groups. It compared a total of 1,534 genes shared by the primates and their parasites.

    Read more at:

    Read the complete article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

    Read LA Times article


    The new analysis is the first to look at the pace of molecular change across the genomes of different groups. It compared a total of 1,534 genes shared by the primates and their parasites.

    Read more at:
  • 1/6/2014

    aerial inventoryINHS researchers at the Forbes Biological Station recorded the historic numbers of waterfowl this year in the Illinois River Valley.  At migration’s peak, 329,590 mallards were counted, the highest number since 1999.  Northern pintails (141,840), green-winged teal (179,620), gadwall (146,300) and northern shovelers (49,060) were present in the highest numbers since the survey began.

    “These were the highest peak abundances and use days that we’ve ever seen here — higher than Frank Bellrose ever saw here, since the beginnings of the survey,” said Heath Hagy, director of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Forbes Biological Station.

    Read the complete article in the State Journal Register

    Learn more about the waterfowl aerial inventories

    Follow the Forbes Biological Station on Facebook

  • 12/20/2013

    downy woodpeckerINHS Ornithologist Chris Whelan is a co-author on a recent publication reporting that woodpeckers may be helpful in controlling Emerald Ash Borer Beetles.  Their study found that bark foraging birds, such as woodpeckers, foraged more heavily on ash trees and preferred ash trees with visible canopy decline over healthy trees.  "Predation by bark-foragers significantly reduced tree-level EAB densities by upwards of 85%."  The authors conclude that enhancing habitat for woodpeckers and other bark foragers may help control infestations and create more resilient forests.

    News Release
    Full article in Forest Ecology

  • 11/26/2013

    Photo by April BarnesJunior High students are once again adding to our knowledge of biodiversity in Illinois.  Prairie Central Junior High Science teacher Scott Saffer and his seventh grade students conduct herpetological field surveys each year in Livingston County.  After catching and identifying reptiles and amphibians, the students have their finds confirmed by INHS Herpetologists Andrew Kuhns and Chris Phillips.  This year the students found three more species not previously documented in Livingston County.

     “It’s great that these kids are out making real contributions to science. Their finds help us update the known ranges for these species,” said Kuhns.

    Pantagraph Article

  • 11/26/2013

    LevinIn a recent paper in Phytokeys, INHS Botanist Dr. Geoffrey Levin described a new species of Drypetes from Costa Rica.  This new species of flowering tree produces asymmetrical drupes (fleshy fruits), leading to its name Drypetes asymmetricarpa.

    Read the paper

  • 11/6/2013

    bullfrogINHS post doctoral researcher Tanya Hawley Matlaga, INHS Herpetologist Chris Phillips, and INHS Ecotoxicologist David Soucek report that bullfrogs are less sensitive to elevated chloride concentrations than some other amphibian species. The study was designed to mimic the level of salt found in roadside ponds following de-icing events.  The study found that bullfrog tadpoles did not experience reduced survival, growth, or ability to evade predation in elevated chloride concentrations, and thus, their populations are not expected to be impacted by road salt.  While this is good news for bullfrogs, it's an additional stress for other species inhabiting ponds with these voracious predators. 

    Read the article in Hydrobiologia

  • 11/4/2013

    This week's Environmental Almanac featured recent research by two groups of INHS researchers - Dr. Nohra Mateus-Pinilla's Wildlife Epidemiology Lab and Dr. Andrew Miller's Mycology Lab.

    Environmental Almanac


     For more information on this research, read the posts below.

  • 10/24/2013

    bat with white noseINHS Mycologist Andrew Miller and graduate student Daniel Raudabaugh recently published a paper on the fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans, which causes white nose syndrome in bats.  In this first, in depth study of the basic biology of the fungus, the researchers found that P. destructans can survive on a wide variety of nutrient sources.  

    According to Raudabaugh, “It can basically live on any complex carbon source, which encompasses insects, undigested insect parts in guano, wood, dead fungi and cave fish.  We looked at all the different nitrogen sources and found that basically it can grow on all of them. It can grow over a very wide range of pH; it doesn’t have trouble in any pH unless it’s extremely acidic.”

    This research indicates that even if the bats are absent from the cave, the fungus can persist. “All in all the news for hibernating bats in the U.S. is pretty grim,” Miller said.

    Illinois News Bureau

    Read the research article in PLOS ONE: Nutritional Capability of and Substrate Suitability for Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the Causal Agent of Bat White-Nose Syndrome


    White Nose Syndrome research at the Illinois Natural History Survey


  • 10/21/2013

    researchersINHS Wildlife Epidemiologist Nohra Mateus-Pinilla and postdoctoral researchers Mary Beth Manjerovic and Michelle Green conducted research on the effectiveness of culling deer to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  CWD is a 100% fatal disease in deer, likened to Mad Cow Disease.  Their paper, "The importance of localized culling in stabilizing chronic wasting disease prevalence in white-tailed deer populations," compared the culling strategy used in Illinois to the two different management strategies used in Wisconsin over a decade.

    From 2003-2007, both Illinois and Wisconsin were actively culling and there were no statistical differences between state CWD prevalence estimates. In 2007, Wisconsin ceased culling and average prevalence over the next five years was 3.09 ± 1.13% with an average annual increase of 0.63%. Illinois continued government culling and there was no change in prevalence throughout Illinois.


    "Despite its unpopularity among hunters, localized culling is a disease management strategy that can maintain low disease prevalence while minimizing impacts on recreational deer harvest."


    Read the News Release from U of I News Bureau

    Read the research article in Preventive Veterinary Medicine: "The importance of localized culling in stabilizing chronic wasting disease prevalence in white-tailed deer populations"

    Listen to the interview on Focus 580

    Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory

    University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

  • 10/16/2013

    researchers - photo by Brian StaufferINHS researchers Samantha Carpenter and Nohra Mateus-Pinilla recently published a paper in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.  Carpenter, Mateus-Pinilla, and University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory researchers, analyzed liver tissue samples from 23 river otters looking at 20 organohalogenated compounds used in agriculture and industry.

    “The PCBs, dieldrin and DDE were the contaminants that we detected in highest concentration, in terms of average concentrations,” Carpenter said. “And male river otters had significantly higher concentrations of PCBs compared to females.”

    PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls used in manufacturing which were banned in 1979

    DDE is a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT which was banned in the 1970s

    Dieldrin is an insecticide and byproduct of the pesticide aldrin used across the Midwest and banned in 1987

    Read the paper

    Illinois News Bureau Release

    Wildlife Veterinary Epidemiology Laboratory

    University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory


    Red Orbit
    News Room America


  • 10/16/2013

    stiltgrassJapanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) was recently discovered in DuPage County in Northeast Illinois.  One of the most aggressive invaders in the forests of southern Illinois,  the DuPage County discovery, along with the discovery of populations in Will County in 2011 and in McHenry County in 2012, indicates that stiltgrass has the potential to establish anywhere in Illinois.

    Finding and controlling any new populations before they become well established is crucial to management.  Please keep a look out for this species and if you find a suspect population, please report it.  There are many people and programs available to help you with verification of ID and control strategies.  

    If you are in NE Illinois, you can report populations to the New Invaders Watch Program at

    For areas outside of NE Illinois, you can report infestations to Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan Invasive Species Campaign Coordinator at

    For more information: Illinois CAPS Program

  • 10/7/2013

    kevinINHS Malacologist Kevin Cummings will be honored by Prairie Rivers Network with the Outstanding Public Servant award this year in recognition of his dedication to protecting and promoting the health of rivers and their wildlife.  Kevin has spent his career researching and protecting freshwater mussels, most recently working to reintroduce endangered mussels back to Illinois' rivers.  The award will be presented at the Annual Dinner on October 11, at the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S First Street in Champaign IL.

    Prairie Rivers Network

    Reintroduction project



  • 10/1/2013

    SJT and FSA collecting invertebratesScientists from the Illinois Natural History Survey at the Prairie Research Institute at University of Illinois have discovered four new species of springtails - minute ancient relatives of the insects - in the caves of the Salem Plateau in southern Illinois. The four new species: Onychiurus pipstrellae (the Bat Cave Springtail), Pygmarrhopalites fransjanssens (Jannsens’ Globular Springtail), Pygmarrhopalites salemsis (the Salem Plateau Springtail) and Pygmarrhopalites incantator (the Wizard Springtail) are described in a paper published recently in the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies – URL:

    According to Dr. Felipe Soto-Adames, “these animals may be small, but they represent a unique piece of the wondrous diversity of life on our planet as well as an important part of our state’s natural history.”

    In their surveys of the Salem Plateau caves, Soto-Adames and co-author Dr. Steve Taylor found 49 species of springtails, including the 4 new species and five additional species that had never before been documented in Illinois. 

    Springtails (Order Collembola) are tiny, insect-like animals, typically less than 6 mm (0.24 in) long; the four new species range in size from 0.65 mm (0.03 in) to 2.2 mm (0.09 in). The name springtail comes from the furcula, a forked, tail-like appendage capable of propelling an individual up to 10 cm (3.9 in).  As decomposers and nutrient recyclers, springtails are an important part of many ecosystems.

    Press Release

    INHS Blog post about the new species

    More information on springtails