|Message from the Chief||
Every day the media report some new breakthrough made possible through biotechnology. Using rapidly changing genetic, chemical, and engineering techniques, scientists are changing our world. In the area of human health, the causes of diseases are being identified and new cures developed. Agriculture is being revolutionized as plants are induced to produce novel products, including insecticides generated by the plants themselves rather than applied by the grower. Even the environment is benefiting from biotechnology that creates microorganisms that feed on and neutralize hazardous wastes.
Although the connection between these breakthroughs and natural history may not be obvious, in fact scientists at INHS daily use the tools of biotechnology. For example, our staff have pioneered the use of biotechnology to identify disease-carrying mosquitoes, allowing rapid and cost-effective monitoring that may prevent outbreaks. Recently an INHS scientist discovered that the fungus that causes soybean brown stem rot has mutated, so it can infect resistant strains of soybeans. The researcher was able to identify a genetic change that distinguishes the mutant from the regular fungus. Biotechnology also finds applications to conservation. By extracting DNA from prairie chicken skins collected earlier this century, INHS scientists demonstrated that prior populations had high genetic diversity, whereas current populations did not. The precipitous decline and probable extinction of the prairie chicken in Illinois was averted by introducing birds from elsewhere to increase the genetic diversity. We are also gaining a deeper understanding of the state's biodiversity using biotechnological tools. Studies on species like the endangered Illinois mud turtle are clarifying its relationships to other mud turtles, information needed to assess its status and develop a management plan. Future research directions may include studying the impact that agricultural biotechnology has on agroecosystems and adjacent natural ecosystems.
The Survey is positioning itself to take advantage of the rapidly changing opportunities made possible by biotechnology. We are fortunate to have a close relationship with the University of Illinois, a leader in biotechnology, and to be intimately involved with its Biotechnology Initiative. This will enhance the university's faculty and facilities, in turn increasing our opportunities for cooperation. Many of our future hires will be made with an eye toward strengthening our biotechnology applications. We are also trying to address our facility needs with our anticipated new research building. This will include state-of-the-art labs, a biological containment facility, and greenhouse and climate-controlled facilities. It will also provide a physical connection with university buildings that house biotechnology-focused programs, further enhancing opportunities for collaboration.
Incorporating these new approaches into our work helps us expand on 140 years of commitment to providing wildlife managers, policymakers, and the people of Illinois with accurate and unbiased information on the state's flora and fauna. Through our employees, a new building, and strong university ties, we will retain our role as the nation's premier state-funded natural history organization.
*Development of a community-based water quality monitoring program,
Watershed, Jalisco, Mexico
*Ecological indicators for sustainable agriculture
Smart Growth and Sustainability--Robert Herendeen
A report from the Openlands Project ("Under
Recent data such as these support increasing public concern over "sprawl," and lead to concerns about current economic development patterns. Concerns extend from land use to energy use and supply, climate impacts, biodiversity loss, human health, community cohesion, and other quality of life issues.
"Smart growth" encompasses the hope that by being intentional and careful, we can enjoy the positives of growth while avoiding the negatives. A discussion paper for the President's Council on Sustainable Development defined sustainable development in wealthy nations as ". . . maintaining economic growth while producing the absolute minimum of new pollution, repairing the environmental damage of the past, using far fewer nonrenewable resources, producing much less waste, and extending the opportunity to live in a pleasant and healthy environment to the whole population." "Sustainable" means that specified indicators of environmental, economic, and social structure and function can be maintained within specified limits for at least a specified amount of time. Some, but not all, smart growth constitutes sustainable development. Smart growth exploits the considerable potential for more efficiently accommodating more people demanding more satisfaction. Ecological imperatives remind us, however, that merely being more efficient in the old ways is not adequate; we also need and demand a new pattern of growth and a new paradigm of thought.
In particular, the first Illinois Critical Trends Assessment Project, completed in 1994, identified land-use challenges facing the state. These include (1) local, site-specific issues such as wetland protection and the transportation and housing requirements of suburban development, (2) broad regional issues such as fragmentation impacts on bird populations and invasion by exotic plant species, and (3) runoff from intensive agriculture. The Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) continues to pursue a wide range of specific projects (see listing below) to address some of these issues, ranging from restoring damaged ecosystems to the search for sustainable agriculture.
Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is an indispensable tool for addressing issues of smart growth and sustainability. GIS, a spatial bookkeeping and data management system, provides a framework for collaboration and supports investigating questions of efficiency: If forest fragments are connected by green corridors, are fewer total acres needed to maintain fox populations? It also addresses the question of additive effects: What is the cumulative effect of statewide and nationwide smart growth?, or, for example, on the local level, What are the cumulative effects of a third Chicago airport with all its associated transportation routes and infrastructure?
INHS has extensive experience and capability in GIS. Over the past 16 years INHS has developed geospatial databases covering roads, streams, wetlands, public lands, county lands, land cover, and others. These important data layers form a solid but increasingly out-of-date foundation for the study and analysis of issues related to smart growth and sustainability. For example, the Land Cover Database, completed in 1996 as part of the Critical Trends Assessment Project (CTAP), has been widely used in practical applications and research on habitat use by wildlife. The federally funded Gap Analysis Program has made major contributions to the mapping and databasing of important collection information on vertebrate species, habitat, and land management practices. A goal of the GAP project is to create geospatial databases specifically for the land-use purposes identified above. GIS technology and appropriate geospatial databases, such as those being developed by CTAP, GAP, and other INHS projects, are critical to smart growth and promoting the sustainability of urban and natural ecosystems. With these tools and appropriate data, areas likely to have the most significant benefits for wildlife and the preservation of biodiversity can be identified. Important efforts such as these form a basis for informed and defensible decision making and planning.
INHS SMART GROWTH AND SUSTAINABILITY RESEARCH PROJECTS
*Efficiency and sustainability of agriculture in Illinois
*Ecological accounting of community agriculture systems
*Assessment of effects of restoration on avian biodiversity in an urban
*Assessment of effects of prairie restoration on remnant-dependent
*Assessment of impacts of urbanization and agriculture on cave
*Assessment of ecological impacts of exotic invasive species
*Study of urban deer management