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

PACE Lab Herpetology Post-Doc heads to Arizona

Dr. Sarah Baker accepted a position as a herpetologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department in October 2018.

Dr. Baker began at INHS as a graduate student conducting research on the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. She was at the forefront of the discovery and subsequent research of Snake Fungal Disease in Illinois Massasaugas. During her 12 years here, she authored and co-authored several papers and collaborated with researchers across the country.

Sarah will remain an affiliate of INHS and we look forward to future collaborations.

Strong showing from INHS PACE Lab at TSA

The #INHSPACELAB was well represented at the 2018 Turtle Survival Alliance Meetings in Fort Worth Texas, with 6 oral presentations and 3 posters.

Oral Presentations

Baker, S. J., E. J. Kessler, and M. E. Merchant. Antibacterial activities of plasma from the Common (Chelydra serpentina) and Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).

Dreslik, M. J., E. J. Kessler, J. L. Carr, D. B. Ligon, and S. Ballard. Mortality is too damn high: challenges of Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) translocations.

Edmonds, D., R. Nyboer, and M. J. Dreslik. Population dynamics of the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) at two sites in Illinois.

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

Merchant, M. E., E. J. Kessler, and S. J. Baker. Differences in innate immune mechanisms in Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles.

Ross, J. P., D. Thompson, and M. J. Dreslik. Demographic influence of head-starting on a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) population in DuPage County, Illinois.

Poster Presentation

Dreslik, M. J., E. J. Kessler, J. L. Carr, D. B. Ligon, and S. Ballard. Post-release growth rates of translocated Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii).

Edmonds, D., A. R. Kuhns, and M. J. Dreslik. Growth in a central Illinois Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) population.

Feng, C. Y., D. Mauger, J. P. Ross, and M. J. Dreslik. A demographic matrix-model analysis of Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata) in Illinois.

 

Herpetologist Christina Feng accepts position with IDNR

PACE Lab alumna Christina Feng has joined the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Program as the District 7 Heritage Biologist. In this role she will continue to help protect and manage the natural resources of west-central Illinois. Feng received her M.S. from the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in winter 2017 for her work on Demography of the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) in Illinois.

INHS PACE Lab graduate student receives scholarship to study snakes

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.

Searching for Turtles in a Sea of Grass

By Devin Edmonds

Historically the Ornate Box Turtle was known from 45 counties in Illinois. Today you can count the number of counties with confirmed populations on two hands. This decline landed the species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Species of Illinois in 2009, with habitat loss and road mortality being the greatest threats to its continued survival.

We had the opportunity to survey two of the largest known Ornate Box Turtle sites this past week, with the goal of finding, measuring, and marking as many turtles as possible. With enough recaptures, we can calculate how likely it is for an individual to survive from one year to the next and determine population size. This helps us answer questions including: has population size changed over time? Is the population stable, increasing, or decreasing? Is the population at risk of extinction?

Searching for reptiles and amphibians is often quite tedious. You have to carefully scan ahead of each step for movement before a snake gets away, or spend hours flipping over logs to find the particular salamander you are looking for.

Fortunately, we were assisted on our survey by John Rucker and his Boykin Spaniels, who are not pets but rather working dogs. Years ago one dog proudly brought John Rucker a box turtle it turned up in the woods of Tennessee. He praised the dog and soon it brought back another one in its mouth. Eventually he turned his group of turtle finding dogs into a profession, helping biologists find these once common but increasingly rare chelonians for study.

With John’s dogs, our work was made easy. They carried on ahead of us, their noses to the ground, brown bodies nearly concealed by knee-high grass. When a turtle was found, a dog picked it up in its mouth and carried the reptile like a precious toy, walking to John with pride and eyeing anyone else who offered to take the turtle from it with suspicion. John praised the dog and then gave the turtle to one of us to to be worked up.

To keep track of individual turtles we are catching and whether they survive from one year to the next we mark each turtle with a code. The process is called shell notching, and involves cutting little pieces out of the marginal scutes (the sections of shell that border the outer edge) to assign a unique identification code to each individual turtle. The scutes are numbered from one to twelve on left and right sides, and by notching different combinations of scutes on each side more than 30,000 individuals can be individually identified. For example, by cutting a little section of shell on the first scute on the left side and the third scute on the right, you have just identified an individual as 01L-03R. When done properly, the shell notches stay with the turtle for the rest of its life.

Mortality events due to disease outbreaks have been documented in the closely related Eastern Box Turtle, and there is concern that the Ornate Box Turtle is also at risk. While we were marking and measuring turtles, Dr. Matt Allender and members of the Wildlife Epidemiology Lab were giving each turtle a physical exam, drawing blood, and swabbing their mouth and cloaca to screen for diseases and monitor health. Their work is providing a baseline for future studies on the health of box turtle populations.

With the help of the turtle dogs, we found more than one hundred turtles at the first site and nearly seventy at the second. The data is now awaiting entry and analysis, but several turtles we found were originally marked by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 1988. At more than 30 years of age, these individuals are approaching the maximum known lifespan for the species.

Together with the population health assessment, we expect our ongoing project will guide conservation efforts for the Ornate Box Turtle in Illinois and help ensure its continued survival.

Snakes in Central Illinois

snake on log

PACE Lab leader Mike Dreslik was interviewed by the News Gazette to answer a reader’s question: “After reading the article about Snake Road in southern Illinois, I started wondering what species of snakes are found here in central Illinois? Have any new species been found over the last few years, with the milder winters?”

In addition to listing off species found in the area, Dreslik said, “Although it seems the winters are getting warmer, especially as spring approaches, we have not seen any new species of snakes moving into Illinois, we just see snakes emerging from their winter slumber sooner.”

Read the complete response at the News Gazette