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Good news - the quality of water in the Illinois River has improved in one important aspect. A new study from the University of Illinois reports that nitrate load in the Illinois River from 2010 to 2014 was 10 percent less than the average load in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Reducing the nitrate and phosphorus loads in the Mississippi River by 45 percent is the US EPA’s ultimate recommendation. This will serve to reduce the size of the seasonal hypoxic area, or “dead zone,” created in the Gulf of Mexico when nitrate in tributaries like the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf. Illinois has developed strategies to achieve these reductions described in the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Other Midwestern states have developed similar strategies.

View the article in its entirety on our website:

hand holding piece of coal with a power plant in the background 
Power plants burned coal that released sulfur into the atmosphere, but coal use has declined. In this sample from an Illinois mine, pyrite is visible as gold flecks in the center of the coal. 

With the move from burning coal to natural gas and low-sulfur coal and an increase in the use of scrubbers, only about 25 percent as much atmospheric sulfur is available today, compared to 40 years ago. “We don’t think there are actual sulfur deficiencies yet, but clearly more sulfur is coming out of the soil and water than what is going in,” says U of I biogeochemist Mark David.

View the article on our website:


A new study explores how a young cowbird, left as an egg in the nest of a different species, grows up to know it’s a cowbird and not a warbler, thrush or sparrow.

The study, published in Animal Behavior, reveals that cowbird juveniles leave the host parents at dusk and spend their nights in nearby fields, returning just after daybreak. This behavior likely plays a role in the cowbirds’ ability to avoid imprinting on their host parents.

Read more on our website:


University of Illinois researcher Cory Suski has already shown that bubbling high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO₂) into water is a deterrent to invasive Asian carp adults. The gas makes them feel “woozy” and they choose to swim away. His recent research shows that fish the size of an eyelash also experience negative consequences following CO₂ exposure.

“We conducted carbon dioxide challenge experiments on juveniles of four species—largemouth bass, bluegill, silver carp, and bighead carp, and on eight-day-old hatched fry of both carp species,” Suski said. “Results from the study demonstrate that juvenile fishes of all four species actively avoid areas of water with elevated CO₂ once concentrations reached approximately 200 milligrams per liter, which is lower than a can of carbonated soda.”

More info can be found on our website:


Thousands of reports are produced every year assessing the effects of different conservation policies and programs, but much of this valuable information is never read. Researchers from the University of Illinois and five other institutions collaborated to highlight the merits of a new technique—creation of evidence maps— to ensure research findings are more visible and accessible. The article appears in Nature.

“Evidence maps are emerging as a powerful new tool to visually distill a huge amount of information on what works and what doesn’t in a particular field,  says Daniel Miller, assistant professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at U of I.  “We believe the evidence map we’ve created on the effects of nature conservation on human well-being is the first application of this tool to conservation and sustainable development issues.”

This article and additional photos are available on our website:


Cassandra Wilcoxen, a graduate student working in NRES, studied the effects of conservation practices on local farms to the overall quality of habitat for local wildlife, most notably the mourning cloak butterfly. The results of Cassandra’s study could help address some of the challenges that large-scale farming across the Midwest poses to wildlife. Cassandra herself states, “What I really learned from this summer’s surveys is that the little things farmers—and all of us—do make a huge difference.”

The full article from The Nature Conservancy can be found here:


An intricate system of basins, channels, and levees called the Headwaters Diversion protects 1.2 million acres of agricultural lands in southeast Missouri from both overflow from the Mississippi River during flooding events and from Ozark Plateau runoff. More recent extensive rainfall and subsequent flooding prompted University of Illinois researcher Ken Olson to look more closely at where the excess or diverted water goes.

Olson and his colleagues are studying the levees, diversions, and floodways, which for the past 200 years have allowed land conversion from wetlands to agriculture. “It has substantively altered the hydrologic cycle of the region,” he says. “The Little River levee and Little River Drainage District Headwaters Diversion channel built in the 1910s successfully permitted the drainage of the 1.2 million acres Big Swamp in southeast Missouri. However, it also had the unintended consequence of increasing the peak flow of Mississippi River water south of Cape Girardeau through the Thebes gap and south to Helena, Arkansas, a distance of approximately 360 river miles.” Olson says the increase in Mississippi River peak flow placed additional river pressure on levees and led to increased flooding, especially during the floods of 1927, 1937, 2011, and 2015-2016.

For more information on Olson’s research, the full text of this paper is available:


Conservation efforts are designed to restrict activities in protected areas, but the restrictions can have unintended consequences. Daniel Miller, a University of Illinois researcher, was intrigued by a conservation intervention that took place from 2001 to 2008 in the W National Park region in Africa. The purpose of the project was to help reverse natural resource degradation and conserve biodiversity so as to benefit local people. Miller conducted interviews from 2010 to 2011 with 300 households in villages adjacent to the W National Park in Benin and Niger. He used the data from the interviews to explain how and why the same conservation project led to different outcomes in the two national political contexts.

The results of the study showed that there were indeed negative consequences for people’s livelihoods, but in Niger the impacts were much greater, particularly for the poorest people and those who saw the most severe reduction in their access to park resources. “Governance matters,” Miller says. “In this case, Benin’s better government and more decentralization led to better social and ecological outcomes. These results highlight the importance of national political context to the outcomes of aid-funded conservation efforts.”

The full article can be found on our website:


Numerous shorebirds, such as the American golden plover, stopover in East Central Illinois during their spring migration. These birds need time to refuel and recover from their long flights and use wet agricultural fields to find food resources.To help accommodate the birds’ needs, the USDA and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are offering incentives to landowners willing to delay planting in order to provide valuable habitat to migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

“Farmers who have a hard-to-farm wet spot on their land may be able to create temporary wet habitat for migrating birds, while receiving compensation for potential reductions in yield,” said Michael Ward, a University of Illinois ornithologist. “We know there are fields that don’t drain very well. If you visit them during migration, you’ll see 5,000 shorebirds there eating at a single time. Farmers have a lot of economic incentive to eliminate water and farm the land as quickly as possible. This program aims to take some of the pressure off of farmers to drain these fields and plant them so quickly by providing an alternative incentive to leave them wet for a while longer,” Ward said.

For more information on how to apply for this conservation program, visit our website:


Explore the University of Illinois Arboretum's new website to learn more about this living laboratory, which includes plant collections and facilities that support the teaching, research, and public service programs of several units throughout campus. Located on the campus of the University of Illinois, it was developed in the late 1980s to early 1990s, and is currently 57 acres.

Learn more about the Aboretum:

Awards & Recognitions

Manuel Colón, Undergraduate Recruiter for NRES, was recognized during the 30th annual Celebration of Diversity at the University of Illinois. He was awarded the Larine Y. Cowan "Make a Difference" award for Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs. Manuel received an engraved crystal plaque during the awards ceremony.

To schedule a visit with NRES:


In November 2015, The Honor Society of Agriculture, Gamma Sigma Delta, held a luncheon in recognition of graduate fellows and award recipients. The following NRES students were recognized:

  • Festus Amadu
  • Chad Backsen
  • Elizabeth Breyer
  • Jamie Coon
  • Erika Lower
  • Anthony Miller
  • Timothy Swartz

For more details on awards given, visit our website:


Each spring the College of ACES recognizes faculty, staff, and graduate students who have demonstrated outstanding achievements or exceptional service to the college. The recipients are honored at the annual Paul A. Funk Recognition Awards Banquet. This year, the banquet was held Monday, April 11, at Pear Tree Estate. The following NRES faculty and staff members were awarded:

  • Mark David – Water Quality Advocates Award presented by Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Lulu Rodriguez – NACTA Educator Award presented by North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture
  • Michael Ward – NACTA Educator Award presented by North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture
  • Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction and Science Assessment Team – Team Award for Excellence. Members of the team in the NRES department are Mark David, Greg McIsaac, and Corey Mitchell.

For a complete list of ACES award recipients, visit our website at:

Alexander Di Giovanni 
Alexander Di Giovanni 

At the ACES Student Awards Reception in April 2016, four NRES students were honored:

2016 Outstanding Senior in the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Concentration - Alexander Di Giovanni


Jordan Williams 
Jordan Williams 

2016 Outstanding Senior in the Human Dimensions of the Environment Concentration - Jordan Williams


Rachel Lauter 
Rachel Lauter 

2016 Outstanding NRES Student Ambassador - Rachel Lauter

Not pictured: 2016 Outstanding Senior in the Conservation and Restoration Concentration - Abigail Petersen


We are proud of our students in Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD programs graduating this May.

ACES I Sunday, May 15, 12:30 p.m. in Huff Hall

Includes:  Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Agricultural Communications, and Agricultural Education, Agricultural and Consumer Economics, Animal Sciences, Crop Sciences, Horticulture, Human Development and Family Studies, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Technical Systems Management

ACES II Sunday, May 15, 5:00 p.m. at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, Colwell Playhouse (Includes: Food Science and Human Nutrition and Nutritional Sciences)

View the complete list of NRES graduates here:


Congratulations to NRES students Catherine Kemp, Abigail Petersen, and Erik Stanek, recipients of 2016 Bronze Tablet honors! The University of Illinois began the tradition of inscribing the Bronze Tablets with the names of students receiving University Honors in 1925. A new tablet is hung in the Main Library each year. Inscription on the Bronze Tablets recognizes sustained academic achievement by undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the Student Code, students must have at least a 3.5 cumulative grade point-average through the academic term prior to graduation, and rank in the top three percent of the students in their graduating class.

NRES Bronze Tablet Honorees:

Upcoming Events

On July 7-8, 2016, the College of ACES Alumni Association will host the annual ACES Family Academies, a program offering alumni and their children educational classes to take while enjoying the campus. These classes introduce participants to the variety of subject areas studied in ACES, and provided hands-on experiences with research techniques used by scientists on campus as well as in labs around the world.

NRES will participate by offering a course titled, “Bird’s the Word: Exploring Avian Ecology and Conservation.” Graduate student Janice Kelly and NRES department head Dr. Jeff Brawn will instruct the course and discuss how marking/banding wild birds is an important technique for monitoring avian populations. Participants will be able to see wild birds up close while learning about the ecology and conservation concerns of many familiar birds. The participants will also learn about ongoing research projects conducted by students and faculty in NRES that use mark-recapture data for monitoring purposes.

View details of this year's Family Academies here:


Fischer, J.D., S.C. Schneider, A.A. Ahlers, and J.R. Miller. 2015. Defining wildlife responses to urbanization and the implications for terminology for urban conservation. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12451

Fischer, J.D., and J.R. Miller. 2015. Direct and indirect effects of anthropogenic bird food on population dynamics of a songbird. Acta Oecologica 69:46-51.

Lyons, T.P., J.R. Miller, D.M. Engle, and D.M. Debinski. 2015. Identifying factors related to predator-specific patterns of nest loss in managed grasslands. Ecological Applications 25:1956-1605.

Schneider, S., C. Roy, P. Fredericks, J. Miller, and B. Allan. 2015. Assessing the contribution of songbirds to the movement of ticks and tick-borne pathogens in the Midwestern USA during fall migration. Ecohealth 12:164-173.

Schneider, S.C., J.D. Fischer, and J.R. Miller. 2015. Two-sided edge response of avian assemblages in an urban landscape. Urban Ecosystems 18:539-551.

McGranahan, D.A., D.M. Engle, J.T. Mulloy, J.R. Miller, and D.M. Debinski. 2015. Land use history and an invasive grass affect tallgrass prairie sedge community composition in upland grassland. Applied Vegetation Science 18:209-219.

McKinnon, M.C., S.H. Cheng, R. Garside, Y.J. Masuda, and D.C. Miller. 2015. Sustainability: Map the evidence. Nature 528: 185-187. 

Miller, D. C., M. Minn, and B. Sinsin. 2015. The Importance of National Political Context to the Impacts of International Conservation Aid: Evidence from the W National Parks of Benin and Niger. Environmental Research Letters 10(11): 115001.

Bare, M., C. Kauffman, and D.C. Miller. 2015. Assessing the Impact of International Conservation Aid on Deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental Research Letters 10(12): 125010.

Dougherty, M.M., E.R. Larson, M.A. Renshaw, C.A. Gantz, S.P. Egan, D.M. Erickson and D.M. Lodge. In press. Environmental DNA (eDNA) detects the invasive rusty crayfish Orconectes rusticus at low abundances. Journal of Applied Ecology

Larson, E.R. and J.D. Olden. In press. Field sampling techniques for crayfish. In Biology and Ecology of Crayfish, eds. M. Longshaw and P. Stebbing. CRC Press. 

Glon, M.G., E.R. Larson and K.L. Pangle. 2016. Comparison of 13C and 15N discrimination factors and turnover rates between the congeneric crayfish Orconectes rusticus and O. virilis (Decapoda, Cambaridae). Hydrobiologia 768:51-61. 

Larson, E.R., S. Howell, P. Kareiva and P.R. Armsworth. 2016. Constraints of philanthropy on determining the distribution of biodiversity conservation funding. Conservation Biology 30:206-215. 

Jessop, J., G. Spyreas, G.E. Pociask, T.J. Benson, M.P. Ward, A.D. Kent and J.W. Matthews. Tradeoffs among ecosystem services in restored wetlands. Biological Conservation 191: 341-348.

DeBerry, D.A., S.J. Chamberlain and J.W. Matthews. 2015. Trends in Floristic Quality Assessment for wetland evaluation. Wetland Science and Practice 32(2): 12-22.

Matthews, J.W. 2015. Group-based modeling of ecological trajectories in restored wetlands. Ecological Applications 25: 481-491.

Matthews, J.W., G. Spyreas and C.L. Long. 2015. A null model test of Floristic Quality Assessment: Are plant species’ Coefficients of Conservatism valid? Ecological Indicators 52: 1-7.

Rodriguez, L., & Evans, J. (2016). Reflections of the national agricultural communications research agenda in the Journal of Applied Communications: A synthesis of research and professional development articles. Journal of Applied Communications Special topical issue on 100 years of agricultural communications teaching and research.

Lenell, B. and Y. Arai. 2016. Evaluation of perrhenate spectrophotometric methods in bicarbonate and nitrate media. Talanta 150:690-698.

Graham, E.B., J.E. Knelman, A. Schindlbacher, S. Siciliano, M. Breulmann, A. Yannarell, J. M. Beman, G. Abell, L. Philippot, J. Prosser, A. Foulquier, J.C. Yuste, H.C. Glanville, D. Jones, R. Angel, J. Salminen, R.J. Newton, H. Bürgmann, L.J. Ingram, U. Hamer, H.M.P. Siljanen, K. Peltoniemi, K. Potthast, L. Bañeras, M. Hartmann, S. Banerjee, R.-Q. Yu, G. Nogaro, A. Richter, M. Koranda, S. Castle, M. Goberna, B. Song, A. Chatterjee, O.C. Nunes, A.R. Lopes, Y. Cao, A. Kaisermann, S. Hallin, M.S. Strickland, J. Garcia-Pausas, J. Barba, H. Kang, K. Isobe, S. Papaspyrou, R. Pastorelli, A. Lagomarsino, E. Lindström, N. Basiliko, D.R. Nemergut. In press. Microbes as engines of ecosystem function: when does community structure enhance predictions of ecosystem process? Frontiers in Microbiology 7: 214. Doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00214.

Busby, R.R., G. Rodriguez, D.L. Gebhart, and A.C. Yannarell. In press. Native Lespedeza species harbor greater non-rhizobial bacterial diversity in root nodules compared to the coexisting invader, L. cuneataPlant and Soil doi:10.1007/s11104-015-2763-3.

Williams, A., D.A. Kane, P.M. Ewing, L.W. Atwood, A. Jilling, M. Li, Y. Lou, A.S. Davis, A.S. Grandy, S.C. Huerd, M.C. Hunter, R.T. Koide, D.A. Mortensen, R.G. Smith, S.S. Snapp, K.A. Spokas, A.C. Yannarell, and N.R. Jordan. 2016. Soil functional zone management: a vehicle for enhancing production and soil ecosystem services in row-crop agroecosystems. Frontiers in Plant Science 7:65. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00065.

Lou, Y., A.S. Davis, and A.C. Yannarell. 2016. Interactions between allelochemicals and the microbial community affect weed suppression following cover crop residue incorporation into soil. Plant and Soil 399 (1): 357-371.

Shannon-Firestone, S., H.L. Reynolds, R.P. Phillips, S.L. Flory, and A.C. Yannarell. 2015. The role of ammonium oxidizing communities in mediating effects of an invasive plant on soil nitrification. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 90: 266-274.

Kuo, M. 2015. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology 6:1093. 

Wu, Jin, Loren P. Albert, Aline P. Lopes, Natalia Restrepo-Coupe, Matthew Hayek, Kenia T. Wiedemann, Kaiyu Guan, Scott C. Stark, Bradley Christoffersen, Neill Prohaska, Julia V. Tavares, Suelen Marostica, Hideki Kobayashi, Mauricio L. Ferreira, Kleber Silva Campos, Rodrigo Da Silva, Paulo M. Brando, Dennis G. Dye, Travis E. Huxman, Alfredo R. Huete, Bruce W. Nelson, and Scott R. Saleska. Leaf Development and Demography Explain Photosynthetic Seasonality in Amazon Evergreen Forests. Science Magazine, 26 February 2016. Web. 17 March 2016.

Kranabetter, J. M., K. K. McLauchlan, S. K. Enders, J. M. Fraterrigo, P. E. Higuera, J. L. Morris, E. B. Rastetter, R. Barnes, B. Buma, D. G. Gavin, L. M. Gerhart, L. Gillson, P. Hietz, M. C. Mack, B. McNeil, and S. Perakis. 2016. A framework to assess biogeochemical response to ecosystem disturbance using nutrient partitioning ratios. Ecosystems 19:387-395.

Peralta, Ariane L., Eric R. Johnston, Jeffrey W. Matthews, and Angela D. Kent. Freshwater Science. Abiotic Correlates of Microbial Community Structure and Nitrogen Cycling Functions Vary within Wetlands. Vol 0, No 0. The University of Chicago Press Journals, 11 February 2016. Web. 01 April 2016.

Deng, Y., Z. He, J. Xiong, H. Yu, M. Xy, S.E. Hobbie, P.B. Reich, C.W. Schadt, A. Kent, E. Pendall, M. Wallenstein, J. Zhou. 2016. Elevated carbon dioxide accelerates the spatial turnover of soil microbial communities. Global Change Biology 22:957-964.

Li, D. T.B. Voigt, A.D. Kent. 2016. Plant and soil effects on bacterial communities associated with Miscanthus ×giganteus rhizosphere and rhizomes. GCB Bioenergy 8: 183–193. doi:10.1111/gcbb.12252.

Zilles, J., L.F. Rodriguez, N.A. Bartolerio, and A.D. Kent. 2016. Microbial ecosystem modeling using reliability theory. ISME Journal (in press). doi: 10.1038/ismej.2016.1.


Wendy Yang and Angela Kent. 2016-2017. USDA Exploratory Research Grant. NREC. Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium: An Unexplored Microbial Pathway for Nitrate Retention in Agricultural Soils. $100,000.

Angela Kent and Wendy Yang. 2016-2017. Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council. Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium: An Unexplored Microbial Pathway for Nitrate Retention in Agricultural Soils. $124,645.

Yuji Arai and co-PIs Mark David, Jennifer Fraterrigo and Lowell Gentry. Understanding Mechanisms and Processes of Dissolved Reactive Phosphate (DRP) Loss in Illinois Tile-Drained Fields.  Nutrient Research and Education Council, $160,709 [01/01/16 – 02/28/17:  year one of four-year project].

Jaime Coon (advisor: Jim Miller).  Agricultural Ecological and Social Response to an Invasive Grass and Its Removal in Working Midwestern Grasslands.  NCR-SARE, $9,977 [01/01/16 – 05/01/18].

Angela Kent and co-PIs Wendy Yang and Martin Bohn. Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium: An Unexplored Microbial Pathway for Nitrate Retention in Agricultural Soils.  Nutrient Research and Education Council, $124,645 [01/01/16 – 02/28/17:  year one of 18-month project].

Jeff Matthews and co-PI Greg Spyreas. Developing a Monitoring Framework for Evaluating the Environmental Results of Illinois Wetland Mitigation Banks.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, $88,064 [01/01/16 – 12/31/17].

Jeff Matthews and co-PI’s Greg Spyreas and T.J. Benson.  2016 National Wetland Condition Assessment Site Sampling of Illinois and Indiana Wetlands.  Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, $214,375.00 [01/28/16 – 11/30/17].

Jim Miller.  Climate Change Adaptation in Grassland Agroecosystems.  Iowa State University, $7,896 [02/01/16 – 01/31/17].

Mike Ward. Conspecific Attraction as a Management Tool for Threatened/Endangered Species.  CERL, $225,000 [03/08/16 – 03/07/17].

Mike Ward. Conspecific Attraction as a Management Tool.  CERL, $80,129 [04/08/16 – 04/07/17: year one funding of anticipated $246,175 multi-year funding].

Mike Ward. Supporting SCARC Shorebird Conservation Acreage via Drainage Water Runoff Control.  Illinois Department of Natural Resources, $375,000 [11/01/15 – 06/30/20].

Mike Ward and co-PI Jeff Brawn.  Research and Technical Assistance for Wildlife and Habitat Conservation at Fort Polk, LA.  CERL, $403,000 [09/23/15 – 09/22/16].