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Aquatic Ecology Program

About the Program

The Aquatic Ecology Program strives to conserve aquatic life and the waters they inhabit through management and research. The program conducts species status assessments, prioritizes research, designs ecological studies, sets monitoring standards, manages data, leads aquatic species recovery, and conducts outreach. Staff often coordinate with the Endangered Species Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local conservation districts, and Illinois universities to conserve aquatic life.  

Aquatic Life Survey Standards

IDNR provides guidance, minimum data, and reporting standards for fish, mussel, crayfish, and Mudpuppy surveys. These guidelines are coarse survey frameworks and should be adjusted to suit survey goals and account for species, environmental, and project characteristics. Coordination with IDNR prior to conducting surveys is recommended. Coordination with the Illinois Endangered Species Program or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may also be necessary. Species and taxa-specific guidance is provided below:

Mussel Surveys and Relocation

Fish Surveys

Crayfish Surveys

Mudpuppy Surveys

Past and Ongoing Research and Conservation Projects

Staff conduct novel research, design studies, and utilize existing data to answer conservation questions. Some of those projects are summarized below.

Distribution of Shawnee Hills Cavefish (formerly Spring Cavefish) in Illinois. Shawnee Hills Cavefish is a state-threatened species that inhabit subterranean waters, springs, and groundwater-fed streams. This study recorded the species' distribution in Illinois and identified environmental characteristics that correlated with its occurrence. Ongoing work seeks to elucidate regional genetic patterns of cavefishes. 

Status Assessment of Mottled Sculpin. Mottled Sculpin is a state-threatened species found in small, clear streams with continuous flow. A status assessment to identify the species' distribution, delineate populations, and evaluate threats is ongoing. The McHenry County Conservation District has partnered with IDNR to identify potential conservation actions to benefit the species.

Distribution of Illinois Fishes. Species occurrence records from multiple institutions and state and federal agencies were used to produce temporally-delineated species distribution maps. Initially, this effort targeted Species of Greatest Conservation Need but was later expanded to include 217 Illinois fishes.

Conservation and ecology of freshwater mussels. Staff facilitate surveys of mussels in Illinois' large rivers to evaluate species distributions and local population demographics.  Staff conduct novel research in mussel ecology to improve the efficacy of conservation actions.