Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Ecosystem Management

Patrick W. Brown

Ecosystem management attempts to preserve ecological functions and processes while meeting human needs. Many people mistakenly think that if we "let nature take its course" we will be following an ecosystem management approach. Unfortunately, all of the natural communities in Illinois are influenced so significantly by human alteration that human intervention must be conducted to achieve management goals, whether it is to protect a hardwood forest tract, nurture a sample of Illinois' native prairie, retain healthy invertebrate populations in a stream, or protect a productive wetland. Therefore, the maintenance of natural dynamics of ecosystems requires management even when the goal is to keep a natural community in its current state.


In Illinois, where there are intense pressures on the land from agricultural and urban uses, providing scientifically accurate information is a requisite for implementing ecosystem management approaches. The Illinois Natural History Survey has many studies under way that will provide needed information. These studies involve plants and animals and applied and basic research in short- to long-term time frames. For example, INHS researchers are studying the long-term changes in the aquatic biota of the La Grange Reach of the Illinois River as part of the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program. Data from this study will be used to understand how the Illinois River and its associated aquatic habitats and organisms respond to management and other human actions, including invasion by exotic organisms. This will allow researchers to analyze the annual variation in fish, invertebrate, and vegetation communities in relation to environmental chnages and management strategies that operate over long time periods.

Other INHS researchers are recording (a) how waterfowl use of wetlands has changed in the Illinois River and other river systems over long periods of time, (b) how plants change in riparian communities in relation to floods and changes in the normal flood cycle, (c) how plant communities respond to moist-soil management actions, (d) how foxes and coyotes use agricultural landscapes in Illinois, (e) how deer herbivory affects bottomland forests, and (f) how flood patterns affect breeding bird nesting success and other wildlife of the Cache River.




Satellite imagery, geographic information systems, and biologists come together in the Illinois Gap Project, which is part of a national effort to provide information for protecting biodiversity. Gap analysis is a scientific approach to describing the degree to which native animal species and natural communities are represented in our current mix of conservation lands. The fundamental process is to map existing natural vegetation, map predicted distribution of native vertebrate species, map public land ownership and private conservation lands, show the current network of conservation lands, and finally to compare the distributions of species, groups of species, or plant communities in relation to the network of conservation lands. Species and communities not represented adequately are referred to as "gaps." Gap analysis is intended to be a proactive approach that provides information about areas of high biodiversity to government agencies, biologists, land planners, and the public.

greg.gif Under this project the entire state is being classified into 19 land cover types based on satellite imagery. Using these land cover types, researchers are trying to distinguish additional vegetation communities. Mapping vegetation communities provides a foundation for species/habitat modeling and is central to Gap analysis. Further, spatial databases were created for amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles found in Illinois that collectively identify a habitat association. These data will be used to identify areas in the state with high species richness.

Another component of the study involves completion of a public lands database. The boundaries of these areas have been mapped and classified by management status relative to preserving biodiversity. These include state natural areas, state nature preserves, state parks, state forests, national forests, and county forest preserves. By overlaying the public lands map onto the map showing areas of high species richness, "gaps" are readily identified.

Mapping species richness will help to identify species and assemblages that are not protected in the current network of public lands. The intent is to provide information to support proactive rather than reactive management at the local and regional levels.


INHS Ecosystem Management Projects

Trophic interactions in ecosystems
R. Herendeen


Maintaining diversity in aquatic ecosystems: the causes and consequences of pigment variation
G. Gerrish, C. Caceres


Relationship between biodiversity of ecosystem structure and function
K. Ostrand, D. Wahl


Earthworm communities in Illinois agroecosystems
E. Zaborski, L. Soeken


SoilWatch: monitoring the health of Illinois soils
E. Zaborski, L. Johns


Agricultural management and farm nutrient budgets
E. Zaborski, L. Soeken


Prescribed burning and soil and litter invertebrates in oak-hickory forests
E. Zaborski, L. Soeken


Converting row-crop agriculture to bottomland forest: the influence of restoration on bird populations 
J. Hoover


Monitoring the long-term nesting success, site fidelity, and population dynamics of a Neotropical migratory bird: implications for floodplain restoration
J. Hoover


The importance of floodplain forests for wintering birds: implications for floodplain restoration 
J. Hoover


The influence of agricultural inholdings on the nesting success of forest songbirds 
J. Hoover


The increase of Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal (pawpaw) in the Prairie Peninsula of Illinois 
R. Larimore, D. Busemeyer, J. Ebinger


How prescribed fire and management affect plants and animals in central Illinois' oak-hickory forests 
C. Dietrich, E. Zaborski, D. Ketzner, J. Brawn, R. Szafoni, R. Larimore, J. Ebinger


 Applying spatial information technology to ecological risk assessment in Illinois
J. Aycrigg, J. Levengood, L. Suloway, L. Schwab


Ecosystem analysis, monitoring, and assessment
L. Suloway


Deer population control and its effects on understory vegetation in Chicago area forest preserves
T. Van Deelen


Classification and identification of critical wildlife habitat
P. Brown, J. Aycrigg, B. Zercher, L. Suloway


Map Illinois: interactive, Web-based access to natural resource geospatial data
J. Aycrigg

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