Illinois Natural History Survey News

Illinois Natural History Survey News

  • 5/9/2014

    graph of sandpipersFor the last 40 years, one day each spring, birders across Illinois go out and identify as many species of birds as they can.  This data is compiled into a database managed by the Illinois Natural History Survey.

    Visit our website for more information on the Spring Bird Count.

    Northern Public Radio featured the Spring Bird Count

  • 5/1/2014

    millerINHS Mycologist Andy Miller was interviewed for an article about hunting mushrooms in Illinois.  

    "This time of year folks are hunting morels, which seem to grow best if the temperatures are around 75F during the day and 50F at night and there is ample rainfall. Also, these conditions frequently coincide with the flowering of May apples and oak leaves being 1/2 to 3/4" long. We've had anything but steady temperatures this Spring, but with the recent rainfall, if the temperatures would increase slightly, hopefully the morels would start appearing. This season has definitely been delayed by at least a month compared to previous years."

    Read the whole interview.

    For more information on mycological research, visit the Miller Laboratory Page.

  • 4/16/2014

    fish predationA recent study by INHS Sport Fisheries Ecologist Jeff Stein suggests that anglers involved in catch and release fishing should release male largemouth bass as quickly as possible to return to nest guarding.  "One of the main conclusions of the study was that in a lake where there are very few brood predators, when you angle a male away from his nest and then immediately release him, the chance of a negative impact is less, but if the nest is located in a part of a lake where there is a high density of brood predators, once the male is removed, predators get into the nest very quickly," said Stein. "On average, the time it took brood predators to begin eating bass young was less than five minutes in cases where the nest was located near schools of brood predators."

    Read an article about the study in Nature World News.

    Read the paper in Environmental Biology of Fishes.

    Visit our website for more information on the Sportfish Ecology Lab.

  • 3/25/2014

    Kevin and passenger pigeonOn Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, the last living passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.  This seemingly abundant bird had been decimated by hunting, leaving them vulnerable to other predators.

    Following the opening of an exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, INHS Ornithologist Kevin Johnson, who reconstructed the family tree of the passenger pigeon, was interviewed.

    "For the first time, people became aware that you could have this super abundant bird that everyone knew about, and that people could actually cause their extinction," Johnson said. "I guess that raised public awareness that humans can cause the extinction of animals on a scale that hadn't really been done before."

    The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was established to protect certain migratory birds.

    Remembering the passenger pigeon 100 years later

    Press release from Long-extinct passenger pigeon finds a place in the family tree

  • 3/24/2014

    Stick bugFollowing the discovery of fossil stick insects by a team of Chinese and French scientists, INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads and Illinois State Entomologist Chris Dietrich were contacted by National Geographic to comment.

    Heads told National Geographic that the discovery of fossilized plant mimicking insects, "is yet more tantalizing evidence of early insect-plant coevolution."

    Dietrich added that there may be more discoveries to be made in collections of fossil insects waiting to be examined.

    National Geographic Article

  • 3/24/2014

    perchINHS Lake Michigan Biological Station researcher Charles Roswell and co-authors Sergiusz Czesny, Josh Dub, and Will Stacy were invited to present on the “Status and Trends of Yellow Perch Fishing and Harvest in Lake Michigan,” at the Lake Michigan Yellow Perch Summit hosted by the Lake Michigan Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The summit took place at the UIC forum in Chicago and consisted of talks about the status of the Lake Michigan ecosystem and perch fishery by researchers and managers for members of the public (in-person and streamed live online), followed by discussion among all participants (stakeholders, researchers, and managers).


    Learn more about LMBS research.

  • 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.