Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) Health Assessments at the Nachusa Grasslands. Laura Adamovicz, DVM, PhD candidate, and Matthew C. Allender, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl ACZM, Wildlife Epidemiology Lab, Department of Comparative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Sarah J. Baker, PhD, Ethan J. Kessler, Michael J. Dreslik, PhD, Illinois Natural History Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Ornate box turtles (Terrapene ornata) are considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are listed under CITES Appendix II. They are also a species of conservation concern in Illinois. Relatively little is known about the health status and disease threats to the remaining ornate box turtle populations in Illinois. From May 6-8th 2016, 72 live and two deceased ornate box turtles were located in the Nachusa Grasslands using human and canine search teams. Health status was assessed using physical examination, hematology, plasma biochemistry, blood gas panels, protein electrophoresis, and quantitative PCR for multiple infectious diseases including ranavirus, Terrapene herpesvirus 1, Mycoplasma sp., adenovirus, and others. Most turtles evaluated were apparently healthy except for significant predator-related shell trauma. Shell injuries from burns were also documented. A relatively low prevalence of infectious disease was detected within this population. Reference intervals were determined for hematology, plasma biochemistry panels, blood gas panels, and protein electrophoresis values. This presentation will summarize the results of a comprehensive ornate box turtle health assessment program, and make evidence-based management recommendations for the box turtles living at the Nachusa Grasslands.
Linking Microbial Community and Function Across Time in Restored and Remnant Tallgrass Prairie. Elizabeth Bach, PhD* and Andrew N. Miller, PhD, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (*Current affiliation-Executive Director, Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, Colorado State University).
Just as plants grow, flower, and set seed at different times of the year, soil microbial communities shift in response to changes in soil temperature, moisture, and plant inputs such as roots and root exudates. In this study, I sampled soil microbial communities, including bacteria and fungi, at points in time corresponding with key plant growth phases: emergence, bolting (rapid growth before flowering), and senescence (dying of aboveground vegetation before winter). I took samples under cool-season (C3-photosynthesis, Elymus canadensis, Canada wild rye) and warm-season (C4-photosynthesis, Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem) to capture microbial community and activity under different plant phenologies. Both bacterial and fungal communities shifted across the growing season, with a decrease in diversity at the second sampling date. This decrease in diversity was driven by a loss of types of organisms. For bacterial communities, this resulted in a shift in the overall community structure, but for fungi, overall community structure remained similar across the growing season. Microbial activity generally increased across the growing season. Microbial community and activity changes where similar in sandy soil sampled at Nachusa and clayey soil sampled in central Illinois, as well as remnant and restored prairies in both soil types. This indicates microbes are responding to these temporal differences consistently across prairies in Illinois. Ongoing analysis will identify the microorganisms that change in abundance and presence between the sampling dates.
The ReFuGE Project: Restoring Function in Grassland Ecosystems. Nicholas Barber, PhD., Assistant Professor, and Holly Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
Ecosystems carry out a wide range of processes, including services that benefit people such as providing clean air, water, pollination of crops, and productive soils. These processes depend on diverse communities of plants, animals, and other organisms with a wide variety of traits – characteristics of plants and animals that shape how they interact in ecosystems. This project will examine how management actions in a restored grassland shape the species and trait compositions of plant and animal communities and the ecosystem processes that these species drive. We will focus on three landscape-scale management actions: reintroduction of megaherbivore grazers (bison), large predator removal, and application of prescribed fires. The research will advance knowledge of community-trait-function relationships by including consumers in interactions spanning entire food webs and expanding to a relevant landscape scale. We will measure both traits and ecosystem function changes resulting from management actions in two food web modules. The first module includes plants and herbivores (insect and small mammal) and their impacts on primary productivity and litter decomposition through changes in plant traits and herbivore foraging specialization and the degree to which herbivores use a wide variety of food resources (niche breadth) as measured by stable isotopes. The second module is dung decomposers and their effects on soil processes (carbon and nitrogen cycling and decomposition rates) through changes in morphology, foraging strategies, and phenology. Ultimately this research will lay a ground work for studies manipulating the species- and trait-composition of consumer communities. Further, by performing this work in a restored system and in concert with managers, it helps close the loop between researchers and practitioners.
Determining Bison Diet and Bison Effects on Vegetation in a Chronosequence of Restored Prairie at Nachusa. Ryan Blackburn, M.S. Candidate and Holly Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University. To redress prairie loss, managers seed former agricultural lands and reinstate key ecosystem processes with prescribed fires and reintroduction of native grazers to create restored prairies. Bison (Bison bison) were almost hunted to extinction in the late 1800's, but are recovering and have recently been reintroduced to restored prairies for their ecosystem-engineering roles. The effects bison have on remnant (never-plowed) prairie vegetation are well documented. However, there is little known about how bison will affect and shape vegetation assembly in restored prairies. These effects may be largely driven by the bison’s dietary preference to forage primarily on grasses. This study aims to quantify both bison diet and their effects on vegetation in a chronosequence of restored prairie. To determine bison diet, we are using stable isotope analysis to quantify δ13C and δ15N in plants and bison hair to estimate the probability distributions for the proportional spread of bison diet constituents. Plant composition will be determined using both an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and on the ground data. The UAV images will be used to create unique spectral signatures for individual species, and therefore can be used as a proxy for plant richness and abundance. These images will be compared to the ground data to determine their accuracy for quantifying plant composition. ($1,500)
Habitat Selection of Reintroduced Bison in Northern Illinois. Julia Brockman, M.S. Candidate, and Clayton Nielsen, PhD, Professor, Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and Department of Forestry, Southern Illinois University and Jeff Walk, Director of Science, The Nature Conservancy of Illinois. American bison (Bison bison) were integral in maintaining historic prairie ecosystems. As part of prairie restoration efforts at Nachusa Grasslands in northern Illinois, The Nature Conservancy reintroduced one of the first semi-wild populations of bison east of the Mississippi in November 2014. Given the novelty of such efforts, questions remain regarding how human disturbance and prairie management affect bison habitat selection. Our objective was to quantify bison habitat while investigating seasonal and annual changes. We collared seven female bison with Lotek Iridium TrackM 3D and 4D collars programmed to take hourly locations and divided the resulting locations by season. We used a resource selection function to compare the effects of management, environmental, and human disturbance variables on habitat selection. Initial results suggest land cover (i.e. unrestored grassland, remnant prairie, restored prairie, residential, woodland) influenced habitat selection across seasons with few exceptions: in spring and summer, remnant prairie had no effect and in fall, woodland had no effect. Bison generally preferred unrestored grassland to restored prairie, however, these conclusions could be confounded by human disturbance (e.g., buildings and roads) and management activities (e.g., burn regime). An understanding of factors influencing bison habitat selection will better inform restoration and public use management decisions.
Effects of Tallgrass Prairie Restoration on Bee Communities: Future Directions. Bethanne Bruninga-Socolar, PhD candidate, Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program, Rutgers University, and Sean Griffin, PhD candidate, North Carolina State University. We present a summary of current papers we are working on and new project ideas to begin in 2017. After a successful 2016 field season, we are writing two papers that explore different angles of wild bee response to prairie restoration: 1) How are bee community composition and diversity mediated by plant community responses to restoration and management? 2) How do bee morphological and life history traits (e.g. body size, flight season, tongue length) mediate species’ responses to restoration and management? In 2017, we start a new project investigating how bison alter the species-specific interactions between plants and pollinators by mapping the plant-pollinator interaction network in prairie plots with and without bison.
Small Mammal Responses to Bison Reintroduction and Prescribed Fire in One of the World’s Most Threatened Ecosystems. Angela Burke, M.S. Candidate, and Holly Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
The restoration of tallgrass prairies is often centered on reestablishing the native vegetation structure with only minor efforts directed to the fauna that inhabit these areas. The reinstatement of traditional disturbance regimes of fire and grazing bison is a critical component to the active management of tallgrass prairies, and its subsequent effects on both flora and fauna in remnant prairies is well documented. Understanding the role of small mammal populations and how they are affected by varying grazing and fire management strategies can assist in the holistic evaluation of restoration efforts in sites currently undergoing active restoration. Peromyscus (Deer mice) and Microtus (Voles) species play an important role in the upper tropic level dynamics of tallgrass prairie ecosystems through influencing the vegetation structure via herbivory, predating upon seeds and various invertebrate species and as prey for larger fauna. Mark and recapture data has provided a landscape-scale test for how restored tallgrass prairies with different management strategies recover from stressors and disturbances. Abundance and diversity are correlated with more floristically diverse remnant quality sites. Results indicate that there is a specific response for Peromyscus and Microtus species to varying measures of vegetation composition and precipitation in actively restored and managed tallgrass prairies in Illinois. Seasonal fluctuations in the community composition of small mammals is documented at all sites with a varied assemblage occurring within sites that are grazed by bison. Grazing had no impact on species richness, abundance or diversity on the landscape scale. Peromyscus species apparent survival in this restored network of tallgrass prairie is dependent on time with a varied recapture probability by sex. Logistic regression models provide managers with an equation by which they can estimate the suitability of a given restoration for small mammal diversity and abundance targets though direct environmental measures.
Impacts of Bison Reintroduction on Soil Geochemistry and Microbial Communities in a Tallgrass Prairie. Karley M. Chantos, M.S. Candidate, and Wesley D. Swingley, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
Tallgrass prairies have been reduced in area by over 90% and are therefore one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Nachusa Grasslands, located in Franklin Grove, IL, USA, is a successful long-term effort of restoring agricultural land to mosaic tallgrass prairies. More than 30 bison (species Bison bison) were reintroduced into 500 acres of enclosed prairie in November 2014 to reinstate integral grazing regimes to the landscape. The goal of this study was to understand how nutrient influx and microbial communities in bison feces affect the microbial community of prairie soil. Newly-reintroduced bison have access to restored prairies that were re-planted at nine different time-points over the last 16 years, including remnant prairies that were never used for agriculture. Manipulative field experiments were used to explore the direct interactions between bison dung and various aged prairie soil, with bulk soil from both bison-exposed and bison-free treatments sampled biweekly from spring to fall 2015/2016. In addition, we sampled soil below and along a transect away from undisturbed fecal patties during a three-week period to examine their direct impact on soil geochemistry and microbial diversity. Soil and fecal samples were analyzed for geochemistry and 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing to quantify microbial communities and nutrient influx; alterations to microbial carbon and nitrogen cycles. Initial community analyses suggest that feces inputs drive an increase in easily cultivable, acidophilic Acidobacteria Groups 1 and 3 in old and remnant prairies, but decrease these groups in newly-planted prairies. Conversely, uncultured, neutrophilic Acidobacteria Groups 6 and 16 show the opposite trend, suggesting that pH and nutrient concentration may have drastically different effects on different-aged prairies. Further analyses of soil geochemistry and the reconstruction of microbial metabolism will determine if bison-mediated increases in nitrogen and carbon are directly responsible for these community shifts. Continuing studies at Nachusa Grasslands will establish whether changes in geological and microbial structure due to fecal deposits are temporary or have long-term impacts on both the prairie soil and higher trophic levels. Ecosystem restoration is a critical component of managing sustainable biogeochemical cycles in the Anthropocene, and characterizing the microbial contributions will be critical to improving success rates for future restoration efforts.
Quantifying Pest Removal Services Provided by Prairie Birds in Corn and Soy Agriculture. Megan Garfinkel, PhD candidate, and Emily Minor, PhD, Research Associate Professor, Institute for Environmental Science and Policy and Associate Professor and Christopher Whelan, PhD, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Agricultural expansion is a major threat to bird biodiversity. This is particularly true in the Midwest region of the United States, where < 1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains and remnant and restored prairies are usually surrounded by agriculture. Ironically, threatened prairie birds may provide an important service to farmers by reducing the number of insect crop pests. Potential bird disservices in agriculture (e.g. birds as crop pests) are fairly well-known, but few studies have focused on potential bird services in conventional, industrialized agriculture. My research focuses on determining if birds provide a significant pest removal service in corn and soy agriculture, using Nachusa and its surrounding farmland as a model system. I present preliminary data from bird exclosure experiments in corn and soy, and describe the other methods I will be using in the future to examine all trophic levels in this system: the prairie birds, crop pests, arthropod predators of the pests, and the crops themselves.
The Effects of Bison Reintroduction on Grassland Bird Nest Success in Tallgrass Prairie. Heather Herakovich, PhD candidate, and Holly Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University.
Tallgrass prairie has been converted to agriculture over the past century, making it one of the most threatened ecosystems globally. Agriculture conversion of prairie has severely fragmented the landscape and many grassland birds are now in decline and threatened with extirpation. Restoration projects have sought to increase the quality and size of prairie fragments, hypothetically increasing breeding habitat for grassland birds. Bison and other native grazers are now being reintroduced to prairie restorations as a final step in a complete restoration to increase habitat heterogeneity. The goal of this study was to understand how the immediate impact of bison influences nest density and survivorship of all grassland nesting birds and artificial nests at the Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, IL. We predicted that nest density and survivorship would increase for both natural and artificial nests with bison presence. We measured nest density and survivorship in four plantings and two remnant sites from May to July 2014, 2015, and 2016. We found 149 nests of twelve different species and placed 240 artificial nests (80 per year) over the course of three breeding seasons. Bison reintroduction did not influence survivorship or total density of grassland bird or artificial nests, although natural nest density was lower in the bison sites. Parasitism declined from 2014 to 2016, but was not different between bison and non-bison sites. Future research is still needed to help understand how this reintroduction influences this declining taxon.
The Blanding’s Turtles of Nachusa Grasslands. Richard B. King, PhD, Presidential Research Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Illinois University, and Thomas Anton and David Mauger, The Ecological Consulting Group, LLC.
Blanding’s Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii, is an endangered species distributed across the northern third of Illinois. Conservation and management of this species is made challenging by its life history and habitat requirements. Blanding’s Turtles do not reach reproductive maturity until about 17 years of age and have large home ranges that include both wetlands and uplands. At Nachusa Grasslands, monitoring for Blanding’s Turtles from 2014-2016 has demonstrated the presence of a small population in wetlands associated with Franklin Creek and its tributaries. Radiotelemetry, begun in 2016, has provided information on movements, habitat use and nesting sites. Two nests, detected by following telemetered females and caged to exclude predators, yielded three and eight hatchlings. In contrast to Blanding’s Turtle populations in northeastern Illinois, many of which are hemmed in by development and transportation infrastructure, the rural setting and size of Nachusa Grasslands provides more options for habitat restoration and management actions to benefit this species.
Spatial Association between Brown-headed Cowbirds (Moluthrus ater) and Bison (Bison bison) Over Time at Nachusa Grasslands, Illinois. Jamie L. Lange, M.S. candidate, and Tih-FenTing, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies, University of Illinois at Springfield.
The brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) is the most common obligate brood parasite in North America. It is well known that cowbirds share a feeding relationship with large grazing animals, but few studies have examined the spatial and temporal interactions between these brood parasites and native grazers, bison (Bison bison). We tagged 20 female cowbirds with radio transmitters in May and tracked them until August in 2016. Location and activity data of the radio-tagged cowbirds were obtained both manually and via the set-up of three Automated Recording Units (ARUs) within the bison units. Preliminary results based on the manual hand-tracking data suggest that female cowbirds demonstrated a close spatial affinity to bison in May. However, such a close spatial association between female cowbirds and bison started to fade in June, with cowbirds spending time outside the bison units. By mid-July, all of the tagged cowbirds were relocated entirely in the feedlots, some up to four miles away, outside the Nachusa Grasslands Preserve. Further analyses are required to 1) fine-tune the extent of spatial interaction between bison and female brown-headed cowbirds over time based on the ARU data, and 2) examine how changes in the spatial distribution of bison influence the feeding and breeding strategies of cowbirds in a bison-gazed landscape.
Long-term Stream Monitoring at Nachusa Grasslands to Assess Effects of Prairie Land Management Practices. Jodi M. Vandermyde, Aquatic Ecologist, Prairie Research Institute, Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Less than 5% of original prairie remains and most of the remaining prairie remnants are too small to encompass the entire watershed. Prairie streams are understudied and prairie land management practices may have a significant impact on their biological integrity. Nachusa Grasslands is a 4,000 acre preserve that has some unique aquatic features including a spring-sand boil, seep/fen area and one of very few cold water streams found in Illinois, Wade Creek (mean daily July temperature = 15.2 °C). Part of Nachusa Grasslands' management is to reintroduce natural ecological processes such as fire and grazing that maintain habitat for the widest possible range of native plants and animals. Since Wade Creek has several unique and high quality aquatic features and 54% of the watershed is within the Nachusa Grassland boundary, long-term monitoring has been established to assess effects of bison reintroduction on prairie stream ecosystem structure and function. To establish long-term monitoring, we installed 4 temperature loggers (2 Wade Creek, Johnny Creek, & Clear Creek) & 3 water level loggers to monitor water entering and leaving Nachusa property. Habitat and biological (macroinvertebrates and fish) assessments were collected annually to monitor before and after bison were reintroduced. Also, there is a lack of knowledge of fire effects on prairie streams and there is a need for long-term stream monitoring to understand the role of fire in prairie watersheds to assess mid- to long-term responses to this natural disturbance. To assess prescribe burning, water quality samples will be collected before and after burns in Wade Creek watershed and after large rain events following the prescribed burn. Results will contribute to our understanding of prairie stream ecological responses to restoration and management of prairie ecosystems.