Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois


David L. Thomas


I am pleased to present our Annual Report for FY 2001 (July 2000 through June 2001). We continue to look for ways of communicating what we are doing in a concise and interesting way. While our discussions of various topics are brief, we have provided more extensive lists of projects and publications, and would urge you to follow up with our Centers if we can provide more details about any particular topic of interest. We have provided in this year's report a more detailed description of some of our activities related to the Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP). This statewide monitoring program is allowing us to begin determining the status of our forests, grasslands, wetlands, and streams through the efforts of professional biologists and citizen volunteers. We are also collecting data on invasive species in each of these habitats.

One of the topics addressed in this report focuses on our work with the massassauga rattlesnake near Lake Carlyle. We are learning a great deal about this state threatened and endangered species by the use of radio tags to document its movements and other aspects of its life history. This species is also interesting in that protecting it reflects some of the conflicts we are facing as a society: our desire to develop land for commerce and recreation versus our desire to protect some of our natural resources. Only through a detailed understanding of the ecology of various species and habitats can we make sound recommendations that will protect rare species and unique habitats while still allowing development to take place in an environmentally friendly fashion.

Our work on invasive species continues and has expanded as we address additional species that have created problems for our state. The soybean aphid was identified last summer by one of our entomologists, Dr. David Voegtlin. This aphid, a native of China and Japan, attacks soybean plants and caused some farmers to spray their soybeans this past summer. It overwinters on buckthorn, an invasive plant in Illinois that has also become problematic. Monitoring its spread and population size will provide critical information to our agricultural community.

We kicked off a monitoring effort this year to look for West Nile virus by checking dead birds and mammals that occur in areas where we suspected the virus could first show up in Illinois. In the late summer and fall of 2001, a number of crows in-fected with the virus were found in Illinois.

An aquatic species of concern is the round goby, and staff at the Survey participated in a round goby roundup, sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Service, to look at the distribution of gobies in the Chicago waterways and upper Illinois River system. An electric barrier is being established near Romeoville to keep the goby out of the Illinois River, but some gobies have already been found below the barrier. Monitoring of this species will need to continue. In addition, coming up the river are the invasive bighead and silver carp. Large numbers of young fish were found in the LaGrange reach of the Illinois River and at Lake Chatauqua during summer 2000 and again this year. Determining the impact on the river's ecology of these invasive carp will be an important activity of INHS aquatic scientists, as will the determination of its continued spread upriver.

The INHS received a contract this last year from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to coordinate and carry out the state's Aquatic Nuisance Species plan. Federal funding is supporting this effort with money coming yearly from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Evaluating the effectiveness of the fish barrier near Romeoville and identifying additional measures to prevent the transfer of invasive species between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River will be an important priority of the Invasive Species Coordinator.

Studies of the Illinois River watershed remain a priority of the Survey. With the Illinois River 2020 initiative receiving federal authorization under the Water Resources Development Act, there will be even greater activities within the watershed to undertake restoration projects. Pulling together in an accessible fashion the diverse databases on the Illinois River is one of the objectives of the Illinois River Decision Support System, a Web-based decision support system being managed by the Illinois State Water Survey. The INHS is involved in this project and has hired a database manager to begin putting relevant biological databases on the system. CTAP data are the first priority as described later in this annual report.

nrb.gif Our work on the biological control of purple loosestrife in northern Illinois is ongoing and we continue to have successes at a number of wetlands where beetles that feed on loosestrife were released in the past. Success is mixed and has been most dramatic where there has been a large monoculture of purple loosestrife. We are documenting not only the recovery of native vegetation in wetlands undergoing loosestrife control but also the use of loosestrife and native vegetation by wetland birds.

Administratively we made a number of changes during the last year. Under the direction of our new Assistant Chief, Dr. Ron McGinley, we undertook an evaluation of the Office of the Chief and made some organizational changes to help us increase efficiency and provide better services to the public. Our network office and educational and outreach activities were brought under the supervision of Dr. McGinley. All facilities-related issues, including our shops and greenhouses, were put under the direction of Dr. William Ruesink, Assistant Chief for Planning.

Facility planning activities remain a priority for the Survey. Space for scientists and support staff are cramped and getting more so each year. While the availability of the Nurses Annex at Burnham Hospital in Champaign has alleviated some of the more severe crowding, this facility is up for sale, and likely will be sold in late 2001. To accommodate staff and storage at Burnham, plus other immediate space needs, INHS and the Illinois State Geological Survey submitted a request to the State for rental space in the new research park on the south campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Money for the rental was forthcoming in the FY02 budget and we anticipate moving staff into the new space by February 2002. The adjacency of this space to our Natural Resources Annex will facilitate better use of both facilities. In addition, at the end of the 2001 fiscal year we initiated a planning exercise with the UIUC to look at a "Survey" campus on the lands west of the south research park (lands that include our present Natural Resources Study Annex plus the Waste Management and Research Center). This planning will incorporate the already-developed plans for a Natural History Research Center facility, which was initially planned to be located on the UIUC campus on land managed by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Regarding facilities, we were fortunate this last year to receive funds that can help us upgrade some of our field stations. In particular, projects are scheduled at the Kaskaskia Biological Station and the Forbes Biological Station. The latter will involve an addition that will provide new laboratory space. Also over the last year we upgraded the network access of a number of field stations, a particularly important step to bring better communications with our more remote locations.

Our budgets remain strong and we are still benefitting from initiatives a few years ago to provide more funds for vehicles and scientific equipment. This is allowing us to replace some very old and unsafe vehicles and provide much-needed equipment to our staff. Our facilities and administration (F&A) fund (based on the return of indirect funds from contracts through the UIUC) continues to grow stronger and will allow us to provide greater support to our researchers. This increase in our F&A funds is a sign of how successful our scientists have been in securing outside funding to expand their research programs.

Lastly, we continue to look for ways of providing outreach and education on important topics related to the biological sciences. The Biodiversity Blitz that we performed at Allerton Park at the end of June 2001 is an example of a cross-Survey activity that highlighted not only some of what we do at the Survey but the nature and value of biodiversity in our own back yard. Approximately 200 scientists from the Survey, University of Illinois, IDNR, and elsewhere participated in this effort to identify as many taxa as possible of all living organisms within a 24-hour period. While a final tally is not yet in hand, we estimate that over 2,000 separate plants and animals were identified in this period of time. In addition, the public was treated to lectures by various scientists as well as having the opportunity to join scientists in the field. A similar event is now being planned by the City of Chicago, in conjunction with Survey personnel, for the Calumet area. These types of educational events raise the public's awareness of the diversity of life around us. The success of the coalition of over 130 groups in the Chicago region that are part of Chicago Wilderness, whose mission is to promote biodiversity of the region, attests to the fact that the public does have a growing appreciation of our natural resources.

I hope that you enjoy this year's annual report and that you will provide us with your comments on our work. I would also urge you to visit our Web site to learn more about our research and other activities. In a state and world with expanding populations, the information we generate on natural resources becomes ever more critical to decision makers. We will continue to look for ways of better addressing the pressing biological issues of our time.

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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