|In June, The
Field Museum began work in collaboration with the Midewin
National Tallgrass Prairie on a project funded by the Illinois
Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The project - the
Illinois Rapid Assessment Program (IRAP) -is modeled after the
successful, international Rapid Assessment Program (RAP),
developed by Conservation
International and Field Museum
scientists in 1989. RAP's intense yet time-effective biological
surveys use an integrated, multi-taxa approach, with emphasis on
the entire landscape. The information gathered is quickly turned
over to international funding agencies and to local
decision-makers - politicians, leaders and conservationists -
who can set priorities and guide funding and conservation action
in the country.
In Illinois, IRAP will provide
a fast tool to assess the condition of natural communities in Chicago
Wilderness, and in the State. IRAP's goals are to:
- produce a first-cut
assessment of the current condition of several sites in Chicago
- help select critical sites
for long-term monitoring of restoration activities; and
- evaluate priority sites for
additional protection and management.
An immediate objective of IRAP
also is to identify several organisms that lend themselves to
rapid assessments, and that are good indicators of the
type and condition of the natural community sampled.
Thirteen members of Academic
Affairs (Zoology, Botany, and Environmental & Conservation
Programs) at the Field Museum
will be developing and refining methods for rapid inventories in
temperate regions. Draft protocols will be revised by scientists
from the Illinois Natural
History Survey, and other IDNR
and Chicago Wilderness
scientists. A revised protocol will be available by the end of
1998. Several groups of organisms are included in the multitaxa
surveys: bryophytes, vascular plants, macrofungi (mushrooms),
land snails and slugs, rove beetles, carabid beetles, spiders,
amphibians and reptiles, and birds.
What gap does RAP fill?
In the tropics, RAP targets
regions of high potential for conservation to find the best
remaining sites in different ecosystems. RAP trips fill
information gaps within these high-priority regions, gathering
data on the ground that allow conservationists to evaluate and
compare sites based on their biological value. RAP does
not attempt to develop complete inventories. It provides,
instead, a first-cut assessment complete enough to allow
conservation strategies and management plans to be guided by the
most relevant biological information set in a regional and
In Illinois, the Rapid
Assessment Program will fill similar information gaps. For some
organisms, IRAP surveys will provide the first baseline data for
the region. The focus of IRAP, however, will be to assess the
condition of entire landscapes, and to evaluate the effects of
management, lack of management, or fragmentation on natural
areas. IRAP aims to quickly pinpoint areas that are relatively
intact, or are potentially restorable. The focus on restoration
and ecosystem function requires that an appropriate set
of organisms (for example, fungi and other soil-associated
organisms that play a vital role in ecological restoration) be
targeted for IRAP. IRAP also will provide a tool for quick
assessment of the current state of biological communities in Chicago
Wilderness (and in the State). Coupled with long-term
monitoring efforts at key sites, IRAP will allow for snapshot
evaluation of the condition of the region's natural communities
over time. This information will be critical for improving and
fine-tuning restoration activities, and for updating and
revising the regional Biodiversity Recovery Plan being developed
for Chicago Wilderness.
Four locations throughout Chicago
Wilderness were selected that represent the major natural
communities in the region: prairies, oak woodlands, and
wetlands. The sites include Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,
Swallow Cliff Woods, Lake Calumet, and Green Lake Woods. Because
Midewin is so large scientists will be able to test a landscape
approach in a mosaic of different habitats.
Because of current
accessibility issues, at Midewin, Field Museum scientists are
focusing their initial efforts on the section west of Route 53.
The following sites are included in their sampling protocol:
- Drummond Prairie
- an ungrazed prairie at the NW corner of Midewin. It ranges
from wet dolomitic prairie with sedges and cattails at the
north end, to dry exposed flatrocks to the south;
- Grant Creek Prairie
- a grazed, somewhat drier prairie, dominated by
- Hoff Woods
- a mesic oak-woodland, and
- Jackson Creek Seeps.
To date, we have experimented
with different sampling regimes for the different taxonomic
groups. For bryophytes, the rapid sampling is nearly complete.
Preliminary results are available for rove beetles. For birds,
amphibians, reptiles, and mollusks work is underway. For
vascular plants and fungi, data collection began in July. For
spiders, a sampling regime is in place; many have been
collected, soon they will be sorted and identified. Below is a
brief, general summary of the preliminary data.
The Grant Creek Prairie
site is dominated by coolseason grasses and currently is being
grazed by cattle. Preliminary indications are that a number of
characteristic bryophyte species present at Drummond (e.g., Riccia
spp.) are absent, and vice versa, although at least one weedy
moss species, Ceratodon, is present at both sites. The
aquatic moss Fissidens fontanus was found in the creek
just E of the bridge.
Hoff Woods lies directly
NE of Gate 10, and is a rich woods on a gentle WSW facing slope.
There is a deep humus layer on the ground, and a dense
herbaceous layer of nettles, Hydrophyllum, Impatiens,
wild ginger, jackinthepulpit, greendragon, etc. Trees
are primarily basswood, ash, and elm, and wild cherry, with a
few large, opengrown white oaks near the top of the slope.
Bryophytes are primarily confined to rotten logs.
Notable bryophytes at Drummond
Prairie include several species of the xerophytic thallose
hepatic, Riccia, and another xerophytic hepatic, Reboulia.
The site has (reputedly) not been grazed since the mid 1930's,
which is consistent with the welldeveloped, intact cryptogamic
crusts (mats of cyanobacteria, lichens, and xeromorphic
hepatics) which cover the exposed bedrock surface. These take a
long time to develop and are fragile and tend to be destroyed by
Of all sites sampled, the
molluscan fauna at ungrazed Drummond Prairie is most
diverse with 20 of the 41 species previously recorded from Will
County, a county with one of the best sampled malacofaunas in
the state. In addition there are five species recorded from Will
County for the first time and two new state records. Nearby Grant
Creek Prairie, a grazed field, with somewhat similar
substrate and appearance, has far fewer species. Only four land
snails were recorded, most of them wide ranging generalists,
tolerant of extreme conditions.
The two litter subsamples from Hoff
Woods contained 21 and 27 species of Staphylinidae, of which
12 were in both. The sample of moss and litter around tussocks
at Drummond Prairie contained 10 species of Staphylinidae,
all distinct from those in the woods litter.
Further sampling should either
reinforce or refute the distinctness of the staphylinid faunas
of these two communities, and may reveal characteristic species
for one or both.
For herps, two species have
been recorded thus far: Coluber constrictor flaviventris
(Eastern Yellowbelly Racer), and Thamnophis r. radix
(Eastern Plains Garter Snake).
For birds, Midewin has been
visited once and the areas to be surveyed in detail have been
selected. Bird surveys will be conducted throughout the west
side of Midewin (west of State Rte. 53), with Drummond
Prairie the focus of quantitative surveys. The east side is
currently poorly accessible due to salvage activities. If it
becomes more accessible over the next year, these areas will be
surveyed in the coming spring and summer.