We’re Hiring an Aquatic Ecologist

The Illinois Natural History Survey Population and Community Ecology Lab is seeking an Aquatic Ecologist to conduct basic and applied research assisting with ongoing surveys for aquatic amphibians and reptiles, freshwater mollusks, and fishes. This position will be based in Champaign, Illinois. See more or apply

 

 

Five year, $6 million contract awarded to UBAP team

The Urban Biotic Assessment Program was awarded $6,226,400 to continue providing technical assistance to the Illinois Tollway Environmental team.

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.

Research projects in this new agreement include biotic surveys of each of the Tollway corridors, continuation of longterm monitoring of the Kishwaukee River mussel population, using eDNA to detect cryptic species, Rusty Patched Bumble Bee surveys, and identifying bat roost trees.

Download our report of activities from 2015-2020

PACE Lab researchers awarded two Competitive State Wildlife Grants

Two projects from the INHS PACE Lab were among the 21 projects funded nationally by the 2021 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Competitive State Wildlife Grant (C-SWG) program.

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.

musselsThe 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.

 

PaCE Lab at the Illinois State Fair

Smokey Bear using snake tongs

Members of the PaCE Lab exhibited in Conservation World at the 2019 Illinois State Fair, providing information and education to over 500 visitors. In addition to displays about the research being done by the group, visitors were able to try their hand at using actual field equipment used by scientists in their daily work.

The Illinois Bat Conservation Program had a mist net deployed where visitors could untangle, identify, and measure bats, all while wearing leather gloves.

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group had snake tongs, hooks, calipers, and radio telemetry equipment available for visitors to try to wrangle snakes into a snake bag, measure turtles, or track a hidden turtle.

Other activities included Build-a-Bug, where people can assemble the arthropod of their dreams (or nightmares) from a variety of general and specialized appendages, Wheel of Migration, about the risks migratory birds face, and locating PIT-tagged animals.

Smokey Bear using snake tongs
Gray Treefrog picked the right tent to visit
Wheel of Migration
Build a Bug
Vin Vasive wrangling a snake with a hook
Build-a-Bug

9 days, 3 conferences, 8 talks, 2 posters

It’s been a busy week of sharing science for members of the PACE lab.

The Chicago Wilderness Wildlife Committee Meeting was held at Lincoln Park Zoo on February 19th:

 

Tara Hohoff presented “The status of Illinois bats five years after confirmation of white-nose syndrome,” using data from her work with the Illinois Bat Conservation Program and the Urban Biotic Assessment Program monitoring for the Illinois Tollway.

 

Joshua Sherwood presented “Assessing the distribution and habitat of Iowa Darters (Etheostoma exile) in Illinois,” with co-authors Andrew Stites, Jeremy Tiemann, and Michael Dreslik. This work changed the way people look for the Iowa Darter.

 

Jason Robinson presented “Patterns of abundance and co-occurrence of bumblebees associated with the Rusty Patched bumblebee.” RPBB is a federally protected species found in northeastern Illinois that has experienced a decline in its range.

 

Jason Ross presented “Demographic influence of head-starting on a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) population in DuPage County, Illinois,” with co-author Michael Dreslik, discussing what amount of head-starting is needed to keep this population viable

 

The  2019 Wild Things Conference was held in Rosemont on February 23rd:

Tara Hohoff, representing the Illinois Bat Conservation Program, presented a poster “Year Three of the Illinois Bat Conservation Program.”

Anastasia Rahlin co-presented “Secretive Marsh Birds in the Big City.” with Audubon collaborator Stephanie Beilke on their ongoing work using playback to detect 17 focal wetland bird species in northeast Illinois and southeast Indiana. Soras were the most commonly detected species which was surprising/unexpected since Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrows are expected to be more common, and Little Blue Herons and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were the least detected which was pretty expected due to their declines. Future directions include creating species-specific occupancy models to better understand how our focal species respond to urbanization and presence of different wetland types at three different spatial scales.

Josh Sherwood presented “Current status of Bigeye Chub (Hybopsis amblops) in Illinois”.

Sarah Douglass presented “A preliminary analysis of mussel population dynamics in the Kishwaukee River.”

Jeremy Tiemann presented “Pulling the plug – Results of the fish and mussel salvage following the removal of the Danville Dam on the Vermilion River.”

Andy Stites presented a poster “Fecundity estimates of the Gravel Chub Erimystax x-punctatus

Snakes, fish, turtles, birds, and clams – PACE Lab at Midwest Fish and Wildlife conference

The PACE Lab was well represented at this week’s Midwest  Fish and Wildlife conference in Cleveland Ohio.  Lab members and affiliates from the INHS Herp Lab and the INHS Mollusc Lab presented 7 talks, 1 lightning talk, and 1 poster on a variety of fauna including: Massasaugas, Banded Killifish, Asian Clams, Alligator Snapping Turtles, Bigeye Chub, and Rails.

Presentations

  • Tracking recovery goals for the conservation reliant Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. M. Redmer, M.J. Dreslik, and E.T. Hileman

  • Monitoring Eastern Massasauga populations within the Carlyle Lake region. M.J. Dreslik, J.A. Crawford, S.J. Baker, and C.A. Phillips

 

 

  • Combating threats to the Eastern Massasauga with directed conservation actions in Illinois. C.A. Phillips, S.J. Baker, and M.J. Dreslik
  • The epidemiology of Snake Fungal Disease in Eastern Massasaugas over the last 10 years. M.C. Allender, E. Haynes, M. Kelley, and S.J. Baker

 

  • Rapid expansion of Banded Killifish (Fundulus diaphanous) across northern Illinois: dramatic recovery or invasive species? J.S. Tiemann, P.W. Willink, T.A. Widloe, V.J. Santucci Jr., D. Makauskas, S D. Hertel, J. T. Lamer, and J.L. Sherwood

 

  • Testing the role of stream flow eDNA abundance using the invasive Asian clam Corbicula spp. M.A. Davis, J.S. Tiemann, S.A. Douglass, and E.R. Larson

Ethan Kessler presenting

  • Can we use environmental DNA to detect Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) at the edge of their range? E J. Kessler, K.T. Ash, S.N. Barratt, E.R. Larson, and M.A. Davis

 

 

Lightning Talks

  • Using environmental DNA to determine Rail occupancy and track migration. A.A. Rahlin, M.A. Davis, and M.L. Niemiller

Posters

  • Recovery of Bigeye Chub (Hybopsis amblops) populations in Illinois. J.L. Sherwood, A J. Stites, J.S. Tiemann, and M.J. Dreslik

The Enigmatic Asian Clam

Photo by L. Brian Stauffer Illinois News Bureau

UBAP Malacologists Sarah Douglass and Jeremy Tiemann wrote an article for the Fall 2018 issue of Illinois Audubon: “The Enigmatic Asian Clam.” Asian Clams are an invasive species that became established in the Midwest in the 1960s. Douglass and Tiemann identified an unknown species of Asian Clam found in the Illinois River in 2015 and have been studying its distribution. They plan to examine the effect of Asian Clams on the growth of native mussels in Illinois streams.

UBAP Malacologists Sarah Douglass and Jeremy Tiemann wrote an article for the Fall 2018 issue of Illinois Audubon: “The Enigmatic Asian Clam.” Asian Clams are an invasive species that became established in the Midwest in the 1960s. Douglass and Tiemann identified an unknown species of Asian Clam found in the Illinois River in 2015 and have been studying its distribution. They plan to examine the effect of Asian Clams on the growth of native mussels in Illinois streams.

The article is available from Illinois Audubon or by contacting the authors.

Illinois Audubon Magazine

It’s Mussel Time!

August 2018 marks the 4th year of the long term mark recapture movement study of mussels in the Kishwaukee River, led by malacologist Sarah Douglass. In addition to the staff from INHS, local forest preserve districts and IDNR, this year we were joined by several dedicated high school students and their teacher.

Earlier this year, Douglass came across a poster at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society Mollusk Health & Disease Workshop that immediately caught her attention. The poster “A Comparison of Substrate Preferences for Native and Invasive Mussel Populations in the Kishwaukee River,” was presented by two students from an environmental science class at Sycamore High School. Led by teacher Scott Horlock, the “Watershed” class studies the South Branch of the Kishwaukee River to learn ecological lessons in a real world setting.

Always eager to inspire the next generation, Douglass invited Horlock and his students to join in the annual survey conducted on the Kishwaukee River. Despite it being summer break, Horlock accompanied a small group of students to the study site each day to learn about the sampling methods being used and become more comfortable with mussel species identification.

tree and rain in riverEven with a bit of rain, the river was what Douglass referred to as “nearly prime” for sampling. Like last year, we set out into the river, each claiming one of the 10m transects marked off by orange flagging tape. We waited for the timer to yell “Start!” stuck our heads in the water and fingers in the substrate to locate as many mussels as we could before hearing “Time!” measuring shellsAfter each timed survey we’d head back to our station under the bridge with bags of mussels to be marked and measured, gently ribbing each other about who found the most or best mussels.

Teams assembled to tag and measure all of the mussels, being careful to keep the mussels from each transect separated to return to their locations. The students joined in, eager to learn more about the mussels they had collected. While cleaning and tagging the shells, the malacologists pointed out the subtle differences measuring shellsbetween similar species. With each batch, the students (and other non-malacologists) became more confident in their skills.

Over the course of the three days, we found over 600 mussels, representing 17 species. Many of the individuals collected already had a color coded tag from a previous year, which is imperative to monitor the survival and movement of mussels in the stream. We added 4 new species to our list of live species this year: Fawnsfoot, Creek Heelsplitter, Threeridge, and Round Pigtoe. We also found one shell of a Pistolgrip, a species we hope to find live individuals of in future surveys.

tree and rain in riverKishwaukee Riverpeople getting gear onpeople getting readypeople in riverpeople in rivermeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmarking shellmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellsmeasuring shellspeople in river

Monitoring the mussels of the Kishwaukee River

Mussels are often referred to as “the livers of the rivers” because they filter materials from their environment. Freshwater mussels are also among the most imperiled groups of organisms in the world.


The Kishwaukee River basin in northern Illinois remains one of the most mussel-rich resources in the state. In 2012, the Urban Biotic Assessment Program (UBAP) began studying the fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and mollusks of the Kishwaukee River along the Illinois Tollway I-90 overpass. In 2015 UBAP began a longterm monitoring program of the mussel population at the site. Each August, a team of researchers from INHS, IDNR, and local land management agencies descends on the same location and intensively samples the mussels in the area over the course of a week.

We arrived at the site around 8:30 and began unloading and setting up all of the gear needed for the day. A group of 20 biologists and land managers eagerly grabbed sampling bags, donned wetsuits, waders, snorkels and masks and each claimed their 10m stretch of the river.

When given the signal, we plunged our heads into the swift moving, 70F water to begin locating every mussel we could in our stretches of river and placing them in mesh bags attached to our waists. Much musseling is done by grubbing – shoving ones hands into the sediment and feeling around for mussels, which feel a bit like smooth rocks that hold on in the gravel with a fleshy foot. For some in the group, this was their first time musseling, and finding their first mussels was exhilarating.

After 30 minutes of sampling, we brought our bags of mussels back to the base station. Here, under the bridge with its constant rumble of vehicles speeding by, numbered tags were glued to each mussel. Some of the mussels also had a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag glued to their shell, which will enable them to be detected in the future without being removed from the river. Malacologists identified, measured, sexed, and aged each mussel before putting it back in its bag to be returned to its place in the river.

We continued these sampling sessions until the entire project area had been sampled. Over the lifetime of this project, thousands of mussels will be marked and measured. Many of the mussels we encountered had been marked in previous years, which will enable the scientists to document growth and survival over time as well as movement within the river.

As we left the site on the last day, we all looked forward to returning next year and hopefully finding those mussels and many new ones.