Nav: Home

Study examines impact of Chicago River reversal on region's aquatic environments, fauna

May 18, 2020

Prior to European settlement, wetlands, lakes and streams were the major landscape features of the Chicago region.

Much of this has been altered or lost in the past 150 years, most notably by the reversal of the Chicago River in 1900 with the construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal. Many animal species that lived in these habitats also disappeared.

Now, a group of graduate students at the University of Illinois at Chicago have quantified over a century of these changes in detail.

In a paper published in the journal Urban Ecosystems, students from the departments of earth and environmental sciences and biological sciences have measured both the extent of wetland loss in Cook County since the time of the river reversal and the alterations in the animal populations. The paper, which is the result of a class project for the course "Extinctions: Modern and Ancient," compares the changes in aquatic environments and fauna in Cook County during two intervals: 1890-1910 and 1997-2017.

"The areas of aquatic features from historical topographic maps were imported into a GIS database and compared with the modern United States Geological Survey's National Hydrography Dataset," said Joey Pasterski, UIC Ph.D. student in earth and environmental sciences and first author of the paper. "It demonstrates the utility of digitized museum collections for long term studies, and it provides further evidence of the uneven impact of urban development on native faunal communities, here specifically in Cook County."

Digitized maps of the region circa 1900 were used to estimate the area and distribution of wetlands and lakes for comparison with current patterns.

According to the researchers, the area of wetlands has decreased by more than 80%, with many of these being drained or converted into small and relatively isolated lakes and ponds. The remaining wetlands are also small and fragmented.

Museum records and natural history surveys from sources such as the Field Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences allowed them to reconstruct the historic existence of species in the wetlands and lakes for comparison with modern data.

The researchers found that 23 species of fish, 54 species of clams and snails, and three species of reptiles have disappeared locally. There also are many new invasive species.

All 25 aquatic birds reported from the 1890-1910 period still exist and an additional 13 have been reported in recent times. Increased observations by birders are cited as the potential factor for the number of new bird species recorded.

The students hope the study can help inform the direction of future research aimed at restoring the health of aquatic ecosystems within Cook County and elsewhere.

"This could spawn a series of similar studies to help improve the accuracy of our understanding of the long-term effects of urbanization on native communities across the world in varying climates, environments, and urban systems, with the expressed goal of improving the health of urban ecosystems," Pasterski said.

The Chicago region provides a case study of the impact of human landscape change on regional animal and plant life, notes Roy Plotnick, UIC professor of earth and environmental sciences.

"We err in thinking global change is just global warming. On all scales, humans have profoundly changed their environment," said Plotnick, who supervised the study and is senior author of the paper.
-end-
Other UIC student authors of the paper are Anthony Bellagamba, Stephanie Chancellor, Alister Cunje, Emily Dodd, Kerri Gefeke, Shannon Hsieh, Alec Schassburger, Alexis Smith and Wesley Tucker.

University of Illinois at Chicago

Related Wetlands Articles:

Tiger snakes tell more about local wetlands' pollution levels
Tiger snakes living in Perth's urban wetlands are accumulating toxic heavy metals in their livers, suggesting that their habitats -- critical, local ecosystems -- are contaminated and the species may be suffering as a result.
Whooping cranes form larger flocks as wetlands are lost -- and it may put them at risk
Over the past few decades, the endangered whooping crane (Grus Americana) has experienced considerable recovery.
Satellite image data reveals rapid decline of China's intertidal wetlands
Researchers from the school of Geographical Sciences at Guangzhou University have revealed the stark decline of China's intertidal wetlands by studying archives of satellite imaging data.
Biodiversity has substantially changed in one of the largest Mediterranean wetlands
The Camargue area in France has considerably fewer grasshopper, cricket, locust, dragonfly, and amphibian species than 40 years ago.
Wetlands will keep up with sea level rise to offset climate change
Sediment accrual rates in coastal wetlands will outpace sea level rise, enabling wetlands to increase their capacity to sequester carbon, a study from the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, shows.
Microbe from New Jersey wetlands chomps PFAS
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are building up in the environment, and scientists are becoming concerned.
Unexpected culprit -- wetlands as source of methane
Knowing how emissions are created can help reduce them.
Using the past to unravel the future for Arctic wetlands
A new study has used partially fossilised plants and single-celled organisms to investigate the effects of climate change on the Canadian High Arctic wetlands and help predict their future.
UC researchers find ancient Maya farms in Mexican wetlands
Archaeologists with the University of Cincinnati used the latest technology to find evidence suggesting ancient Maya people grew surplus crops to support an active trade with neighbors up and down the Yucatan Peninsula.
As sea level rises, wetlands crank up their carbon storage
Some wetlands perform better under pressure. A new Nature study revealed that when faced with sea-level rise, coastal wetlands respond by burying even more carbon in their soils.
More Wetlands News and Wetlands Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.