Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Sara A Johnson
Title: Graduate Research Assistant: Rare Plant Conservation
Mailing address:
1816 South Oak St
MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820
Office address:
Address mailcode: 652
Office room: 2010
Location: Forbes Natural History Building


I am interested in the conservation and management of rare and threatened habitat and utilizing novel horticultural practices to sustain species. My research focuses on using habitat suitability models as a conservation tool for a rare mint, Macbridea alba, in the coastal plain of Florida. I am also studying the reproductive ecology of the species to identify whether it is a candidate for reintroduction and ex-situ conservation.

Lab projects include studying population differences of Thuja occidentalis in the Chicago area by focusing on differences in germination, morphometry of seeds, and contamination of the soil from road salts.

I love collaborating and assisting with a variety of different projects. If you need an extra hand, reach out to me!


Midwest Migration Network Bird Banding at Phillips Tract Station UIUC – October 2019 to Present

Champaign County Audubon Society – President and Vice President of the Board of Directors, 2017 to Present

- As Program Committee chair, I increased public programming including a Nerds who Bird trivia event,
curated social media content, and introduced academic professionals for presentations to members.
- In collaboration with the board, we approved two conservation projects in Urbana, Illinois and increased
the amount of mini-grants funded for educators in central Illinois.
- Programs, memberships and donations doubled in my time as president of CCAS.

Urbana Parks District, Anita Purves Nature Center - Environmental Education Assistant, Organic Garden
Supervisor, Natural Areas Committee Member, Volunteer, August 2015 to Present
- Lead educational tours for field trips of pre-k to 5th grade about prairie plants, habitat and local flora and
fauna through the seasons
- Cared for the native owls, snakes, and turtles and was responsible for record keeping and logging
behaviors and health.
- Managed and assisted with community gardens at Meadowbrook Park

Champaign County Forest Preserve – Frog Call Monitoring Program, Spring 2017
- Performed regular point counts and call monitoring for various amphibian species native to central Illinois

MAPS Bird Banding at Beaver Meadows Audubon Center - May 2013 - June 2015
- Assisted with banding of migratory birds and educating the public during the migration season

Marsh Monitoring Environment Canada - Summer 2012
- Volunteered for field research at Strawberry Island and Grass Island in Buffalo, NY. Monitoring the
presence and behaviors of marsh habitat species



University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, NRES Department: MS Thesis Research, May 2018 – Present. Advisor: Dr. Brenda Molano-Flores
- Created and field verified habitat suitability model for a rare mint species in the Florida panhandle.
- Worked with multiple governmental agencies to monitor and assess populations in current range and create and implement a protocol for reproductive studies of the species.

Illinois Natural History Survey - Champaign, IL: Assistant Botanist for Biological Monitoring, May 2018 – Present
- Developed germination protocol under varying salt concentrations for Thuja occidentalis seeds with colleagues. Collected seed set and morphometric data from multiple Thuja occidentalis populations in the Chicago region for the Illinois Tollway.
- Assisted with locating and identifying rare plants using existing element of occurrence records.
- Monitored invasive species along toll roads in the Chicago region.

WEST Inc. - Central IL: Avian Field Technician, April 2017 – December 2017
- Conducted surveys for threatened and endangered species including American Golden Plovers on a proposed wind facility site. Conducted passerine and bird of prey surveys during breeding season.
- Installation, maintenance, and data monitoring of Anabat recorders on both ground and pulley systems.
- Worked remotely and independently to relay field data to project supervisor including behavioral and observational data on bird presence, flight pattern, and behavior.

Illinois Natural History Survey - Champaign, IL: Bat Field Technician, May 2017 – August 2017
- Assessed bridges and surrounding habitat for the presence of bats in fulfillment of IDOT contracts.
- Identified any bat species present, conducted tree diversity surveys and located potential roost trees.
- Handled bats during mist-netting for proper identification and conducted emergence counts.
- Completed technical reports for the state of Illinois.

Shoener Environmental, Inc. - Champaign, IL: Wildlife Research Crew Leader, August 2016 – January 2017
- Crew supervisor for researchers conducting bat fatality monitoring at a wind energy facility. In charge of daily crew operations and coordination, plot set-up and maintenance, training, and acted as a liaison between wind crew, Conservation Canine research personnel, and Shoener supervisors.
- Database management and integration of human and CK9 searcher data. Quality control of carcasses.
- Completed threatened and endangered species reports for baseline data.
- Composed end of year study analysis and reporting of findings for the 2016 field season deterrent study.

Coweeta LTER Program at University of Georgia - Otto, NC: Seasonal Avian Ecologist, May 2016 – July 2016
- Conducted point count surveys in addition to capturing, marking (using aluminum and colorbanding), and tracking adult warblers. Surveyed larval insects to assess spatial and temporal food availability, measuring vegetation. GIS data and GPS used to identify and locate over 50 plots along precipitation gradient of multiple sub-watersheds.

Niagara University - Lewiston, NY: Research Assistant, Fall 2009 – Spring 2010
- Performed extraction of plant DNA from Petrocosmea, Chiritopsis, and Raphiocarpus species. Used PCR and gel electrophoresis of samples to analyze DNA and genetic sequence.
- Presented research at ECSC, Eastern Collegiate Science Conference, Posters On the Hill. Phylogenetic Reconstruction of the Genus Petrocosmea.

Niagara University - Lewiston, NY - Rocky Mountain Field Ecology, August 2009
- Participated in a 51-year study in association with Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado tracking the regeneration of alpine plants after trampling by analysis of species richness, biodiversity, and areal cover.
- Observed genetic variation in re-growth of pine populations along a burn site above Ouzel Falls in the
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Message to students:

Poster and Lightning Talk – Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Symposium, Maumee OH, September 19th, 2019. “Effect
of soluble salt on the Germination of Thuja occidentalis” Eric D. Janssen, Patricia A. Dickerson, Dr. Brenda S. Molano-Flores, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Champaign

Poster – Received First Place in Botany Division: Illinois State Academy of Science 2019 Annual Meeting – “Effect of soluble salt on the Germination of Thuja occidentalis” Eric D. Janssen, Patricia A. Dickerson, Dr. Brenda S. Molano-Flores, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Champaign

Professional affiliations:
Selected publications:

Johnson, S, Janssen, E., Dickerson, P.A., and Molano-Flores, B. (2020) Results of 2018-2019 Assessment of Thuja
Occidentalis Populations at the Fox River Fen. Illinois Natural History Survey Technical Report (In Prep)

Candeias, M., Johnson, S. (2018). A Rare Observation of the Feeding Habits of the Gila Monster, Heloderma
suspectum (Lacertilia: Helodermatidae). Southwestern Center for Herpetological Research Bulletin (17-18).

INHS Publink:
Program affiliates:
Professional society involvement and activities:

2019 – Present: Treasurer, Society of Wetland Scientists North Central Chapter Student Chapter at UIUC
2019 – Present: Student Representative, Society of Wetland Scientists North Central Chapter
2019 – Present: Vice President, Champaign County Audubon Society
2017 – 2018: President, Champaign County Audubon Society
2012 – 2014: President, Western New York Carnivorous Plant Club


MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Science. University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign, expected 2020

BA in Biology, Minor in Psychology. Niagara University, 2010



Lab name: Lab research: Lab publications: Lab current projects:

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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