This is the third intergovernmental agreement between the INHS and the Illinois Tollway and will allow the continuation of this mutually beneficial partnership that began in 2005.
The partnership has grown from monitoring Blanding’s Turtles in the Des Plaines River Valley to a multi-disciplinary program. While the key function is to provide the ecological knowledge necessary to comply with state and federal regulations, both organizations share a goal of studying the natural resources of the region to protect them into the future.
The first cooperative project is with the Iowa and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, allocated at $499,797 for the joint project titled “Blanding’s Turtle Conservation in Iowa and Illinois, 2022 through 2024”. The project team from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) and National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGREEC) comprises Ethan J. Kessler, Michael J. Dreslik, Andrew R. Kuhns, and John A. Crawford. The team was awarded $249,449 for their portion of the project, “Population Assessment and Space Use in a Kankakee Sands Region Blanding’s Turtle Population.” While much work has been done on Blanding’s Turtle populations in the Chicagoland region, this project focuses on lesser-known populations in the Kankakee Sands Conservation Opportunity Area.
The grant will facilitate an intensive capture-mark-recapture study to determine population size and begin to collect demographic data. A subset of turtles will be tracked using radio telemetry and GPS trackers to monitor survival and determine space and habitat use. The data is necessary to determine the amount and extent of suitable habitat available on the landscape and address causes of mortality for this population. The work will build on previous research on Blanding’s Turtles in Illinois and further inform conservation planning.
The second cooperative project is with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources allocated at $247,892 for the joint project titled, “Regional Assessment of Widespread Mussel Declines: a Multistep Approach to Examine Potential Causes.” The project team from the INHS comprises Sarah A. Douglass and Alison P. Stodola while INHS alum Bernard Sietman will lead Minnesota’s portion. The INHS team was awarded $113,364 for their portion of the project. Freshwater mussels, an ecologically important component of river ecosystems, are experiencing widespread declines. With the award, Douglass and Stodola will investigate potential causes for these declines with the goal of informing conservation guidelines and recovery planning. Additionally, this study is an expansion of a largescale, cooperative project spearheaded by Dr. Wendell Haag, US Forest Service Research Fisheries Biologist, and American Rivers to examine causes of freshwater mussel declines across North America.
Researchers will assess pairs of rivers with similar historic mussel assemblages, comparing a river with relatively intact mussel assemblages and a river with a degraded assemblage. They will develop health metrics and assess habitat characteristics to identify potential causal factors of decline. Juvenile mussels will be propagated and used to assess health in response to potential causes of decline. Another part of the project will use eDNA and targeted sampling to update knowledge of Salamander Mussel populations in Illinois and Minnesota. The research will build on a pilot project previously undertaken by Douglass to use eDNA to detect the critically imperiled species and its host, the Mudpuppy salamander.
In granting these awards, USFWS recognizes the necessity of these two projects to further the goals of the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan to conserve imperiled species and their habitats.
Sarah Douglass, was announced as the 2021 Philip Smith Memorial Award Winner. Her submission was titled “Using environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect a rare freshwater mussel species, Salamander Mussel Simpsonaias ambigua, in the Embarras River, Illinois”. Sarah is an Malacologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey.
UBAP Ornithologist Anastasia Rahlin received the Kushlan Research Award from the Waterbird Society to assist her research project entitled “Using environmental DNA sampling to determine heron and bittern occupancy in western and northern Michigan: a metagenomics approach.”
This work will improve knowledge of the ranges and population sizes of Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, American Bitterns, and Least Bitterns and will inform conservation and management decisions for these rare and declining wetland birds.
Congratulations to PACE Lab graduate student Devin Edmonds who received a grant from the Friends of Nachusa Grassland to study the hibernation patterns of the state threatened Ornate Box Turtle. This research will help inform land managers’ timing of prescribed burns to decrease risk of harm to this declining species.
A technician is sought to collect demographic data on amphibians collected from drift fence arrays surrounding vernal wetlands in central Illinois and reptiles from cover board arrays in old field and prairie habitats in central and northern Illinois. The technician will work independently and with others to collect data on amphibian and reptile demographics (identify, count, weigh, mark, and measure species). Records data manually and electronically into a database using a tablet. Prepares, under supervision, data summaries and quarterly reports. The technician will be responsible for decontamination of sampling equipment and boots, maintenance of equipment and fences, data entry, data management, tissue collection, amphibian and reptile marking and operate a variety of hand tools, electronics, and mechanical equipment such as 4WD vehicles and Utility Terrain Vehicles.
Work is performed in prairie and wooded environments where there is exposure to extremes of weather and temperature. The work requires moderate to strenuous physical exertion such as long periods of standing, walking over rough, uneven, rocky, steep, and muddy surfaces; bending, crouching, stretching, lifting, and carrying up to 40 lbs. Long hours in the field should be expected and some work on weekends may be required. Duration of the season will be from mid-January through August 2019.
M.S. Research Position in Amphibian Ecology and Conservation
Drs. Michael Dreslik (Illinois Natural History Survey) and John Crawford (National Great Rivers Research and Education Center) are seeking a graduate student to pursue a Master of Science with the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). This is a funded project that will investigate the population ecology and demography of Jefferson-complex (Ambystoma jeffersonianum and A. platineum) and blue-spotted salamanders (A. laterale) in Illinois. Census techniques will include the use of drift fence arrays, minnow trapping, and dip-netting. There will be opportunities for the student to ask additional ecological questions within the study system. Additional research responsibilities will include: entering and analyzing data; presenting results at scientific meetings and writing scientific reports and manuscripts.
Competitive applicants will have: 1) a B.S. in Biology, Ecology, Wildlife or other related fields; 2) field research experience; 3) a strong work ethic; 4) ability to work well with others; and 5) a valid driver’s license. The successful applicant will be expected to enroll at the University of Illinois for the Spring 2019 semester (November 1 application deadline). Preference will be given to students with prior experience working with amphibians and/or drift fence arrays. To apply, combine cover letter, resume/CV, transcripts, GRE scores, and contact information (e-mail and phone) for three references into a single PDF document and submit by e-mail to Michael Dreslik (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the subject heading, “AmbystomaEcology”.
For more information, email Dr. Michael Dreslik (email@example.com) and/or Dr. John Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Grace Wu, is a master’s student with the Natural Resources and Environmental Science Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has recently received a scholarship from The Garden Club of Downers Grove for her research in the field of wildlife conservation. Her thesis research topic is exploring the diversity, occupancy, and abundance of snake species within chronological stages of tallgrass prairie restoration. The study takes place within Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie located in Will County, Illinois. Along with a high-quality prairie remnant, Grant Creek Prairie Nature Preserve. The award will help purchase the 500 cover objects needed to survey snakes within Midewin and the IDNR site. Grace will be gathering data for three years, which will contribute to the understanding of little-known correlations between tallgrass prairie restoration and snake assemblages.
ARC Lab members Ethan J. Kessler and Michael J. Dreslik received funding from The Nature Conservancy, Indiana to conduct surveying for the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys teminckii). The surveys will be a combined effort of trapping and eDNA sampling in the Patoka and White River watersheds. The project also includes some proof-of-concept work for eDNA work at the southern Illinois release site. Survey work will commence this summer through fall.
UBAP staff Dr. Michael J. Dreslik and James R. Wiker received funding from the Forest Preserve District of Will County to survey for the State Threatened Eryngium Stem Borer (Papaipema eryngii). The survey focuses on the sand prairie forest preserves in western Will County. To date, surveys have documented the presence of the moth at two of the three sites surveyed.
On July 18th, an in the field training session on identification and survey methods for the larvae of the species. During the training session Will County staff were provided hands on training and instruction and readily found two individuals.