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
The Illinois Natural History Survey Population and Community Ecology Lab is seeking a Terrestrial Ecologist to conduct basic and applied research assisting with ongoing surveys for terrestrial reptiles, bats, and noctuid moths. This position will be based in Champaign, Illinois. See more or apply
Current PaCE Lab graduate student Zander Perelman had two papers published recently from his M.Sc. research on Eastern Massasaugas in Pennsylvania.
The first paper reported on the prey community at a restored meadow in western Pennsylvania.
Often, restoration projects are focused on removing unwanted vegetation and re-establishing the plant community with the notion that “if you build it, they will come.”
In 2012, habitat restoration began at a well studied Eastern Massasauga site that had deteriorated through forest encroachment and natural succession. Restoration and follow up active management removed the canopy cover and returned it to a grassy meadow.
In 2021, to assess whether restoration efforts had created suitable habitat to supports prey species suitable for EMRs, Perelman and his colleagues conducted surveys of terrestrial vertebrates at the site using drift fences, cover objects, funnel traps, Sherman live traps, and active searches. Over 4 months they caught 9 species of amphibian, 10 species of reptile, and 11 species of mammal, for a total of 656 vertebrates. Their samples included 12 species documented as Eastern Massasauga prey items, many in high numbers.
Based upon their sampling they determined that the vertebrate community in the restored meadow habitat may provide the resident EMR population with a prey base that can support reproduction and sustainable population growth.
The second paper analyzed and formally described combat rituals between two male Eastern Massasaugas in the presence of a radio-implanted female. While tracking a gravid female, a male was observed nearby. Two days later, a second male was observed near the pair and Perelman was able to record 17 minutes of male-male combat.
This video provided the first formal analysis of these behaviors of male Eastern Massasaugas in the wild. The snakes spent much of their time in a raised and engaged position (RE), but also were intertwined for over a minute, attempted to top each other, and tongue flicked. The snake who ultimately copulated with the female appeared to be more persistent and engaged in the combat and perhaps most importantly, was more successful in topping his opponent..
Read the full papers:
Perelman, Zander E. , William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. Community Structure of Terrestrial Vertebrates in a Restored Meadow Habitat in Pennsylvania: Assessing the Potential Prey Base for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes. Northeastern Naturalist,Volume 29, Issue 3 (2022): 370–381
Perelman, Zander E. , William I. Lutterschmidt, and Howard K. Reinert. 2022. A behavioral analysis of male-male combat in the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus). Herpetological Review: 53(3): 381-384
Contact Zander Perelman for more information
Follow our lab to keep with additional Eastern Massasauga research
Genetic analysis shows that the Eastern Massasauga hibernacula at Carlyle Lake are genetically distinct units.
Once found across the northern two-thirds of Illinois, populations of the Eastern Massasauga have declined, with only one known population remaining in Illinois. Our long term studies have found the top four sources of mortality to include automobiles, predation, management related mortality (prescribed burns, mowing, etc), and disease. Our current study indicates that efforts to address these ecological threats may not be enough to save this imperiled species.
The area under what is now known as Carlyle Lake was a floodplain valley known as Boulder Bottoms. The creation of Carlyle Lake in the 1960s flooded this area, separating habitats on the the east and west sides of the Kaskaskia River, pushing wildlife, including the Eastern Massasauga, to the edges between the lake and agricultural fields. These bands of habitat are separated by the lake, paved roads, agriculture, and urbanization, potentially limiting migration and gene flow between patches.
Our current study looked at 327 genetic samples collected between 1999 and 2015 from individuals at 9 hibernacula across 3 study areas at Carlyle Lake. Study sites separated by up to 5 km had limited gene flow, as did hibernacula separated by a few hundred meters. This restriction of gene flow increases the vulnerability of these already imperiled populations.
Our study indicates that conservation and recovery efforts need to consider genetic rescue efforts in addition to reduction of ecological threats. Such efforts may include translocations and captive rearing to reduce the impacts of inbreeding depression and genetic drift. Even short distance translocations between the different study areas at Carlyle Lake could help restore gene flow impeded by contemporary human created fragmentation.
Read the paper at PLOS One
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
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.
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.
The INHS Population and Community Ecology Lab had four posters at the 2021 Midwest Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Virtual Conference, October 1-2, 2021.
Colton, Andrea L., E. L. Sunnucks, and M. J. Dreslik. Community Structure of Freshwater Turtles in Northeastern Illinois Marshes.
Edmonds, Devin A., A. Colton, E. Sunnucks, I. Jaquet, and M. J. Dreslik. Timing of prescribed burns to avoid Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata).
Lorenzen, Brock C., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Halting the Decline of a Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) population: A Conservation Success Story.
Stewart, Tyler M., A. R. Kuhns, J. A. Crawford, C. A. Phillips, and M. J. Dreslik. Predicted Distribution of Kirtland’s Snake (Clonophis kirtlandii) in Illinois.
Congratulations to M.S. student Tyler Stewart who won the Brodman Student Award for excellence in presenting a poster!
PACE Lab PhD candidate Devin Edmonds participated in the Nachusa Grasslands Science Symposium on April 24th. He presented “An Update on Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) Research at Nachusa Grasslands,” work he did for his M.S. studying the state threatened Ornate Box Turtle. Learn more about his research and findings.
PACE Lab herpetologists Andrea Colton and Emily Sunnucks wrote about their experiences continuing our research into the endangered Blanding’s Turtle in northeastern Illinois.
Read about a day in their life in “Behind the Scenes”