Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Current Research at the Illinois River Biological Station


Long Term Resource Monitoring element (LTRM): USACE, USGS, UMRS, UMRR

empty_fyke_net.JPGThe Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) is one of this nation's unique natural resources. It encompasses the commercially navigable reaches of the Upper Mississippi River, as well as the Illinois River and navigable portions of the Kaskaskia, Black, St. Croix and Minnesota Rivers.  This complex river system is made up of a mosaic of main channel, side channel, backwater, and floodplain, and wetland habitat that contains a diverse assemblage of flora and fauna. While there are abundant studies focusing on individual species present in the UMRS, ecosystem level processes are not well known. In order to better understand these processes, the Long Term Resource Monitoring element (LTRM) was implemented on the UMRS. LTRM field stations are located from Pool 4 (Minnesota) through the Open River (Missouri).

Resized_Mini.jpgFunded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) through the Upper Mississippi River Restoration (UMRR) and implemented by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center (UMESC), the LTRM element provides monitoring on a number of resources including fish and water quality. Data obtained by the LTRM element is used by various agencies including the USACE, who uses data to aid in the development and maintenance of commercial navigation (barging industry). Individual state agencies also use LTRM data to survey species populations and trends, primary production, sediment loads, etc.  While the LTRM element is designed as an ecosystem-wide monitoring program, many other studies have been completed by personnel working under the LTRM system. The Illinois River Biological Station (IRBS or La Grange Field Station) has worked with 4 components of the LTRM including macroinvertibrates (1993-2004), vegetation (1991-2004), fish (1990-present) and water quality (1990-present).


Long Term Survey and Assessment of Large River Fishes in Illinois (LTEF): IDNR, INHS, WIU, SIU, EIU

The Long Term Survey and Assessment of Large River Fishes in Illinois (formerly known as the Long-Term Illinois River Fish Population Monitoring program) was initiated in 1957 by William Starrett, former Director of the Forbes Biological Station at Havana. Fishes have been collected annually at fixed sites throughout the Illinois River waterway utilizing boat-mounted AC electrofishing gear. The configuration of this gear and the protocols of this sampling have2006_0707emap_nbc_news0071RESIZED.jpg not changed throughout the years of the survey. We sample fishes at sites primarily in side channel borders and along the main channel border during late August and September each year, when water levels are at season allows. Twenty-seven sites are sampled annually along the Illinois River waterway and one site is sampled on Pool 26 of the Mississippi River. The project was expanded in 2010 to increase spatial coverage of fish monitoring in Illinois.  The project was expanded to include standardized fish monitoring of pools 16, 19, 20, 25, Pool 26-Kaskaskia River confluence of the Mississippi River, the Dresden, Marseilles, Starved Rock, Peoria, La Grange and Alton reaches of the Illinois River, and Illinois portions of the Ohio and Wabash rivers. We sample fishes at random sites along the main channel border from June-October within three time periods using pulsed-DC, boat-mounted electrofishing gear following the LTRM fish component protocols.  Since 1989, the project has been funded by Sport Fish Restoration funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (project F-101-R).

The Emiquon Preserve: TNC

117.JPGThe Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Emiquon Preserve is one of the larger floodplain restoration projects in the United States. The Emiquon Preserve is >2800 ha in size and partly consists of the recently restored Thompson and Flag lakes located along the Illinois River between Lewistown and Havana Illinois. Historically, Thompson and Flag lakes were known as two of the most productive backwater lakes in the Illinois River Valley. They were disconnected from the Illinois River in 1924 when they were reduced to agricultural drainage ditches. The area was then put into agricultural production from 1924-2006 becoming the largest agricultural farm in Illinois. TNC purchase this property in 2000 and began aquatic restoration of the site in 2007 when rotenone was applied to the remaining agricultural drainage ditches to start over by removing all fish species including  invasive and nuisance fish species.  Native fish species were then stocked based on historical records of what used to inhabit the two lakes. The Illinois Natural History Survey’s Illinois River Biological Station (IRBS) has been contracted by TNC to monitor the aquatic vegetation and fish communities at Thompson and Flag lakes of TNC’s Emiquon Preserve from 2007-present. Both aquatic vegetation and fish community monitoring use LTRM protocols to evaluate Key Ecological Attributes (KEA) that serve as the driving management force to determine restoration success.

Aquatic nuisance species: supporting management of Asian carp

Fishing in Yorkville (2).jpgAquatic nuisance species have significant impact on the aquatic resources, management strategies and public perception of the Illinois River and its connected waterways.  Since the development and expansion of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), numerous nuisance and injurious species have used it as a corridor of invasion between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin.  The most recent high-profile invaders, the Asian carps (e.g., Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, Black Carp, Grass Carp) have had a profound effect on the economic and ecological resources of the State of Illinois and the Mississippi River Basin.  The threat of the spread of these effects to new ecosystems necessitates a strong State and Federal response, such as the CAWS electric barrier and IDNR’s targeted commercial fishing, to track and limit their further spread.

Fishing in Yorkville (3).jpg

Based on the State and Federal experience in the Illinois River with zebra mussels (Dreissena spp.) in the 1990’s, we know that new species can often invade and degrade a river system and spread unchecked faster than agencies and institutions can respond.  Research into the underlying factors of a rapid invasion and how these can be exploited to limit the speed and spread of an invasion are key to enhancing and expanding the Illinois DNR-led response and control efforts, as well as continuing to expand our understanding of Asian carp effects and constraints.  This project places three INHS staff members, co-located in the Yorkville area, with IDNR’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Program staff as well as District Biologists.  This will have the added benefit of having an experienced team of biologists in place in the event of the detection of the invasion by previously unrecorded aquatic nuisance species (e.g., Chinese mitten crab, bloody red shrimp, water hyacinth) as well as support the research goals of IRBS and needs of IDNR.  Tasks include monthly field sampling and analysis of fisheries of the Upper Illinois Waterway and CAWS using standardized methods (electrofishing, netting) compatible with the IDNR Asian carp monitoring program.

Asian Carp Reduction: Zooplankton Component: IDNR, SIU, INHS 

calanoid3RESIZED.jpgDaphnia1resized.jpgZooplankton are an essential part of any aquatic system as all fish species are dependent on them in at least one stage in their development, some species throughout their entire life cycle (shad, paddlefish, bighead and silver carp, etc.). Of these species, silver and bighead carps have invaded and become established throughout much of the Mississippi River basin, including the Illinois River, and are now threatening the Great Lakes.  Consequently, an effort to remove Asian carp through harvest has been undertaken by a number of collaborators including the Illinois Natural History Survey. The IRBS component of this effort is to better understand ecosystem effects by monitoring zooplankton and water quality data in all six reaches of the Illinois River from Channahon to Grafton. This will be done pre- and post-removal of Asian carp; this data will also be compared to historic samples from pre-establishment (1993-2000) and post-establishment (2000-present) of Asian carp in the Illinois River.

 Non-native Fish Species Research

Thad Cook Chain Lake 2010.JPGP8170859.JPGIRBS staff have implemented several studies on non-native species that have become established in the Illinois River (e.g. Asian carps, white perch, round gobies, zebra mussels). The major goal this research is to assess population demographics and potential impacts of invasive species. IRBS staff have also assisted with the collection of invasive species and data on invasive species for various other government and private agencies as well and many universities and graduate students.


Past Research


Historic Ecology of Freshwater Mussels in the Illinois River 

andreas mussel pic.jpg

The past century has been a period of major change for our aquatic systems. A few of the more notable events in the Illinois River include the opening of the Chicago Shipping and Sanitation Canal in 1900, the construction of navigational locks and dams in the 1930's, and the introduction of invasive zebra mussels and Asian carp.  Trying to understand the impacts of these changes is a daunting task, but fortunately we have a silent sentinel who has been keeping watch.  Mussel shells deposit annual growth lines, which are very similar to the growth rings produced by trees.  And just as tree rings can be used to study fires and droughts, the annuli of mussel shells can teach us about changes during the animal’s lifetime.  Through the combined use of museum specimens, modern-day animals, and 1000 year old archeological shell material, mussel shells can tell us a story that encompasses the past millennium.  We are processing the shells to create paper-thin cross sections, which we can then use to study the mussel’s age, growth rates, and any disturbances that happened during its lifetime.  These same mussel shells and museum specimens are also being used to study legacy contaminants and how their concentrations have changed over time, as well as stable isotopes signatures, which can shed light on different nutrient sources.  

 Accuracy Assessment (AA) Project: USGS, UMESC

The Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center (UMESC) maintains an extensive database of Land Cover/Land Use data of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS).  Land Cover/Land Use data is obtained through photointerpretation of aerial photos (thematic mapping) and applying a General Wetland Vegetation (GWV) class to the landscape.  The last complete Land Cover/Land Use data was collected in 2000, so a new effort began to update the dataset.  Accuracy Assessment (AA) for the 2010 General Land Cover/Land Use Mapping Project is designed to test how well photointerpreters were able to assign GWV classes to the landscape of the UMRS.  IRBS personnel were enlisted to assist  the AA project on the La Grange Reach of the Illinois River Basin.

Model of Lake Michigan-Illinois River Zebra Mussel Metapopulation: Illinois-Indiana Seagrant

The zebra mussel has had profound impacts on the ecology of aquatic ecosystems in which it has invaded.  Despite  the evident problems caused by the zebra mussel, we still lack ecosystem control strategies.  This project will evaluate a possible ecosystem control strategy for the zebra mussel.  We hypothesize that the population structure of the zebra mussel itself may facilitate its control in certain instances.   A system of local populations of sessile adults that depend on colonization by pelagic larvae can be analyzed using metapopulation approaches.  The zebra mussel in the connected waters of Lake Michigan and the Illinois River system represents such a metapopulation.  We propose inverting metapopulation approaches to conservation biology, and suggest that species may be controlled, rather than conserved, by changing the probability of colonization among populations.

Peoria Habitat Rehabilitation Enhancement Program-Fish Monitoring 1998:USGS, EMTC

Knowledge of how fish community structure responds to major habitat alteration is essential for planning of future projects.  This study is designed to determine effects of island and side channel construction on fish populations of Peoria Lake (at the request of the Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). 

Lake Chautauqua Habitat Rehabiltation Enhancement Program-Larval Fish Production: USGS

This project will provide evaluation of larval fish production in and escapement from an area managed for moist soil plant production (at the request of the Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).  Management of some moist soil units might be modified to enhance production of larval fish without significantly reducing the quantity or quality of vegetation produced. This research will increase our understanding of how factors such as temperature, water level regulation and fish access affect production of selected species of larval fishes.

Effects of Dredge Material Placement on Macroinvertebrate Communities: US Army COE

This project will help determine effects of dredge spoil on invertebrate communities (at the request of the Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).  An understanding of the effects of dredge spoil disposal on invertebrate communities is needed to properly plan, manage, and mitigate dredging operations used to maintain the navigation channel for commercial traffic.

Abundance and Size Distribution of Zebra Mussel Veligers in the Mississippi River: Wisconsin DNR

Through extensive field sampling and laboratory analysis, we can determine zebra mussel veliger production in the Mississippi River (at the request of the Wisconsin DNR).  Assessment of veliger production will facilitate management of this invasive aquatic species.

Sediment Resuspension and Budget for Peoria Lake Land Management System: USGS, US Army COE

Through monitoring of weather parameters (wind speed and direction) and turbidity at upper Peoria Lake (at the request of the Waterways Experiment Station), sediment resuspension and budget can be determined.  These data will be used to understand relationships between wind-generated waves, sediment resuspension, and turbidity.

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