One hundred fifty years of data on Illinois’ landscape and biological communities – from waterfowl population to prairie restoration to vegetation succession – reveal changes over time that allow scientists to predict future changes.
“Canaries in the Catbird Seat: The Past, Present and Future of Biological Resources in a Changing Environment,” edited by John B. Taft, Christopher A. Taylor and Charles E. Warwick (Illinois Natural History Survey/August 2009), explores the data collected by scientists at the Illinois Natural History Survey, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2008.
“Illinois is a great example to talk about changes in natural communities because 99 percent of our land mass has been altered in some way,” said Taylor, senior research scientist at INHS. “We are a textbook example of the impacts large-scale land-mass changes can have.”
Taft is a plant ecologist and Warwick is a publications coordinator, both at INHS. Taft and Taylor also are adjunct professors in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences.
Taylor said he and the editors hoped that by explaining the impact of the changes caused by humankind of the past, people would begin to wonder about the impact of their current activities and think more wisely about how they use their resources.
Restoration also is an important topic of the book, focusing on the way scientists are trying to recover changes made in the past.
“It’s important to show that scientists aren’t just recording the decline,” Taylor said. “We’re really making efforts to go out and reverse these trends.”
Taylor said they wanted the book to be usable to scientists and others. Although there is some technical data in the book, it is presented in a way to appeal to anyone with an interest in natural history.
The book celebrates INHS, which Taylor called “probably the oldest institution in the nation whose primary charge is studying the natural history of the state.”
“Having 150 years worth of data collection put us in a unique position,” Taylor said. “It gives us a unique perspective on how things have changed in Illinois and around the country and around the world.”
The book is available through the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Web site.