Thursday, September 05, 2013

UIS scientists awarded grant to study the impact of record Illinois River flooding

The University of Illinois Springfield’s Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon has been awarded a $148,210 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the impact of record Illinois River flooding on The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon and Merwin restoration project sites in Fulton and Brown counties.

Prior to the April 2013, neither of the Conservancy’s sites had been flooded by the river since restoration activities began. The grant funding will allow scientists to study seasonal and long term changes possibly caused by the introduction of river water into the floodplain-river ecosystem.

“At Emiquon, the levee held but river water flowed into the site inoculating the area with nutrients and organisms,” said Michael Lemke, UIS biology professor and director of the Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon. “At the Merwin site, the levee breached resulting in a sudden and sustained influx of river water.”

Scientists will be measuring changes to sediment, algal biomass, bacterial communities and zooplankton production. Longer-term impacts on vegetation, fish, and water birds will be determined by comparing post flood 2013 data to existing long-term data sets.

“Knowing the effect of these types of floods is critical where river ecosystems have been developed and where floodplains are now being restored because there are likely trade-offs between using restored floodplains to maintain native species and natural functions and using them to reduce threats to lives and property,” said Lemke.

The overall research effort will be led by Lemke along with UIS Associate Professor of Chemistry Keenan Dungey, who will coordinate the water quality analysis. Research will be done in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois River Biological Station and Forbes Biological Station; both stations are Illinois Natural History Survey facilities.

“This marks the first time the three field stations have collaborated on a joint effort to study the Illinois River floodplain,” said Lemke. “This is an especially exciting aspect of this work.”

Restoration of the Conservancy’s 1200-acre Merwin Preserve and their 6600-acre Emiquon Preserve began in 1999 and 2007 respectively. Both properties are immediately adjacent to the Illinois River and are undergoing a transformation from farmland to its natural state – a large river floodplain. The projects represent two of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest. The UIS Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon was founded in 2008 in order to study, research, and document these unique, immense projects.

The National Science Foundation grant will support a Ph.D. candidate, two UIS graduate students, and three UIS undergraduate students studying river ecology.

Lessons learned from the research will be shared with public, government and private organizations through publications and field-based lectures/workshops for students and groups visiting Emiquon.

For more information, contact Michael Lemke at 217/206-7339 or mlemk1@uis.edu.

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