Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Message From the Chief

David L. Thomas


It is a pleasure to present our Annual Report for FY 2000 (July 1999 through June 2000). As we enter the 21st century, the Illinois Natural History Survey finds itself in position to provide the state and nation with the kinds of biological data needed to make the complex decisions about the questions society is asking. Whether it is an issue of urban growth and land planning, restoration of disturbed habitats, status and control strategies for invasive species, or better strategies to manage our fish and wildlife resources, INHS scientists are conducting the research and providing the basic information needed to address these and many other issues.

Not surprisingly, we find the demand for our education and outreach efforts constantly expanding. As we lose more and more of our natural resources to growth and development, the demand increases for a knowledge of what we are losing and how we can retain, protect, better manage, and enhance those resources that we have. As a society, we need a better understanding of our natural resources--their value, the complexities of how natural systems work, and the impact we are having on these systems through our activities. This education must start in our elementary schools but should include all elements of our society. A variety of our educational efforts are described in this year's report.

Exotic invasive species continue to grow as a highly significant issue to our state and the nation. A recent paper by Pimentel et al. (2000) states that the total yearly impact to our nation from invasive species may total $137 billion a year. This fact alone has elevated the discussion of the need to do something more about invasives. President Clinton's Executive Order 13112 of February 1999 created a National Council on Invasive Species. Through creation of an Invasive Species Advisory Committee, an effort is under way to develop a National Invasive Species Plan. I have been the nonfederal cochair of a work group to address research, monitoring, and information dissemination. Five other work groups are also contributing to the plan.

On the state level, an interdisciplinary group has been formed within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to address the invasive species issue and to begin developing a state invasive species management plan. The group has also allocated funds from the state to a variety of research, management, and educational efforts related to invasive species. Research and educational efforts by Survey scientists are playing a critical role in this effort.

One issue that has repeatedly surfaced in the development of the national invasive species plan is the need for better monitoring and for taxonomists who can identify invasive species and understand systematic relationships of these invasives to native species. Collections provide the "library" of species that were here in the past and provide voucher specimens for new species that are arriving. Scientists are increasingly turning to collections to understand the temporal changes taking place in the state's biological communities.

Systematic studies have helped us better understand the status of species and their populations in our state. They have contributed to our knowledge of the biodiversity of organisms in Illinois and to changes that are taking place over time and space. Survey scientists are contributing to Chicago Wilderness, an association of over 100 groups and organizations. This group has recently released its Biodiversity Recovery Plan for the Greater Chicago Area, and it has helped promote the value of diverse biological communities within highly urbanized areas.

Restoration ecology continues to become more significant as we look to restoring some major habitats in our state. From Savanna Army Depot in the northwest to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet, to Site M near Springfield to the Cache River in southern Illinois, Survey scientists are doing the research and monitoring necessary to provide the data needed for effective restoration. Related to these restoration efforts is a move within IDNR to adopt ecosystem management as a strategy for many of its future activities. These efforts must be science-based to be successful and will require broad, interdisciplinary research efforts to provide the needed data for decision making.

Another activity related to restoration ecology is watershed management. In this report we describe some of our contributions to IDNR's Watershed Management Program. INHS scientists are measuring changes in habitat, macroinvertebrates, and fish in streams where best management practices have been put into place.

One other area of noteworthy research is insect pest management. Survey scientists have been a source of sound, ecologically based research and educational information on economically important insects and their management since the founding of the Survey. This work continues today and may be even more significant in our rapidly changing world with the increasing spread of invasive species.

It is clear that the 21st century will be a time of even greater change. Information technologies provide us the opportunity to access and disseminate information at a faster pace. But we are also in a time of information overload and it is important that we find better ways of communicating with a variety of audiences. Providing sound scientific data has become critical in our complicated world with the complex decisions that need to be made. Communicating the results of that research provides a daunting challenge and one of equal importance.

We hope that as you look through this report it will stimulate interest in the science of the Illinois Natural History Survey. Your feedback is important to us and to the future of Illinois' natural resources.

Illinois Natural History Survey

1816 South Oak Street, MC 652
Champaign, IL 61820

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