What’s in your water garden? Learn more about AIS!

February 3rd, 2016 by

Members of IISG’s aquatic invasive species team are introducing their newest risk assessment suite of products today at the Illinois and Wisconsin Landscape Show in Schaumburg, Illinois.

The brochure, wallet card, and poster distill all the complexities of the species assessments done by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Loyola University Chicago, and the Nature Conservancy. IISG facilitated the meetings between the researchers and retailers to ensure that the tools developed for them to use to assess the risk for invasion met the states’ needs.

These assessments provide retailers and hobbyists with information about whether a plant or animal imported for the aquarium and water garden trades poses a threat to the states’ waterways.

Greg Hitzroth, IISG aquatic invasive species outreach specialist will be urging retailers at the conference to not sell or grow plant species that are known to be invasive.

“The retailers and wholesalers—the types of folks who are at this trade show—want to do the right thing,” Hitzroth said. “And we’re here to help them.”

You can download the materials for free from these links! If you need a specific quantity, contact Danielle Hilbrich, aquatic invasive species outreach specialist, at

What’s in Your Water Garden – Wallet Card
What’s in Your Water Garden – Brochure
What’s in Your Water Garden – Poster

The Friends of Lincoln Park get the Weed Out!

June 15th, 2015 by


By Carly Norris 
I am excited to be joining the IISG team as a social science research intern with Caitie Nigrelli. This May I graduated with a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from the University of Illinois. I enjoy working with people and helping others to understand the importance of sustained environmental quality. During my time as an undergrad, I worked in two social science labs where I realized my passion for environmental social science research. I became interested in the IISG internship because it would combine this with my love of aquatic ecosystems. Through my internship with IISG I hope to improve my research and communication skills, as well gain experience working with communities.   


Saturday, May 30 was my first opportunity to get out in the field and get my hands dirty, literally! Caitie and I traveled north to Milwaukee, joining forces with volunteers from Friends of Lincoln Park and The Park People on a morning Weed Out. Dedicated community members and a plant expert from Milwaukee County Parks worked through the rain to remove garlic mustard and other invasive species from wooded areas within Lincoln Park. A native to Europe, garlic mustard was brought to the states as a salad green and for its proclaimed medicinal properties. It now dominates the understory of Midwestern forests as an invasive, excluding almost all other herbaceous plants and destroying vital mycorrhizal fungi from the soil. 


After just three hours of work, volunteers filled 30 garbage bags to the brim. Everyone was enthusiastic to be contributing to Lincoln Park’s restoration efforts. Sally Callan a Friends of Lincoln Park member agreed, “After drying out [from the rain], it was great to feel sore for a good cause.”

The Weed Out was followed by a cook out provided by Environmental Quality Management, the primary construction contractor on this Great Lakes Legacy Act site, where volunteers had an opportunity to gather and meet members of the cleanup crew. Everyone, besides the lone vegetarian (me), enjoyed Milwaukee style brats, (I savored the coleslaw) while kicking back with neighbors and new friends alike after a morning well spent. 

Lincoln Park is part of the larger Milwaukee Estuary, a federally designated Area of Concern. Saturday’s restoration event contributes to the work being done in Lincoln Park under the Great Lakes Legacy Act to remove contaminated river sediment, which remains after decades of industrial pollution. The current cleanup targets the river in the eastern half of the park and is the last phase of the Lincoln Park sediment remediation. Creation of The Friends of Lincoln group is a promising sign of the neighborhood’s reinvestment in this beautiful piece of nature. 


It was truly energizing for me to see such a diverse group of community partners coming together to improve this local public space as a direct result of the river cleanup. I really enjoyed my time working with this welcoming group of people and getting to know some of what the Milwaukee River has to offer. My roommates and I will also be eating a little healthier this summer with the tomato plants and the garlic mustard pesto recipe I got to take home! 

Top photo: A Friends of Lincoln Park member points me to some additional areas for cleanup.

Middle photos: The before and after–Caitie worked to pull this garlic mustard. Native plants now have room to breathe!
Bottom photo: Some workday participants enjoy good food and conversation courtesy of Environmental Quality Management, the primary construction contractor.

What would the Great Lakes look like without invasive species?

May 26th, 2015 by

We’re continuing our celebration of Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month with a few words from Cathy McGlynn, coordinator of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership, on how invasive species have changed our aquatic ecosystems.  

I am your local co-coordinator of the Clean Boats Crew, an aquatic invasive species education and outreach campaign that is a collaboration of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership. My colleagues and I care very much about protecting aquatic ecosystems, and we know the value of prevention when it comes to invasion.


I haven’t always lived in the Chicago region. Once upon a time, I was a field biologist who lived in the Hudson River Valley and spent countless summer days canoeing to my research sites in the morning mist on the majestic Hudson River while being very careful to avoid tugboats and their wakes. I surveyed marsh birds and small mammals to see how invasive plants were impacting them. It turned out that native birds with special requirements, such as the marsh wren, were losing their nesting habitat to the invasive common reed. In between sites, I battled my way through beds of water chestnut, an aquatic invasive plant that has not yet been found in the Chicago area. I helped to survey and monitor native aquatic plants on the river with a team of volunteer kayakers because these plants provide important habitat for young fish, crabs, and insects and needed to be tracked. I was always careful not to walk around barefoot on the river’s beaches to avoid cutting my feet on zebra mussel shells or stepping on the barbed fruits of the water chestnut. During the time before I moved to this region, rock snot and Chinese mitten crab were starting to threaten the Hudson River and its wetlands. 

After writing all of this, I realize that I don’t know a time, in my life anyway, that invasive plants and animals weren’t arriving and changing the Hudson River ecosystem.  

Based on what I have learned in the five years I have been living near Lake Michigan, it seems that a similar history has unfolded for this amazing water body. I often wonder what it would be like if all invasions were prevented or ended upon arrival. I imagine a completely successful aquatic invasive species education and outreach program. The perfectly-executed Clean Boats Crew with 100 percent support from everyone with whom we’ve ever interacted and all the people with whom those anglers, boaters, and recreational water users communicated.
I imagine what Lake Michigan would look like and what creatures would be found there. I imagine a lake that does not have waters which have been filtered clean by zebra and quagga mussels and are clear and blue like the Caribbean. Rather I picture darker, murkier waters that contain all the tiny plants and animals that make up the phytoplankton and zooplankton that feed native fish and mussels.
In this imaginary world, no one in the entire Great Lakes region is worried about the arrival of Asian carp and the lamprey eel has stayed in the Atlantic Ocean. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia is not found in any fish throughout the lake. And round goby has never out-competed sculpin and logperch. Anglers happily fish native and non-invasive stocked fish and boaters readily remove plants and animals from their boats, drain their bilges and bait buckets, and dry their vehicles for five days because that is what needs to be done to protect our precious aquatic resources.


I imagine people stopping by our Clean Boats Crew booths at marinas and fishing tournaments in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. Fortunately, that at least can become reality later this month. 

Species spotlight: Hydrilla

May 7th, 2015 by
INVASIVE SPECIES EDITION—Where we take a moment to explore the species that threaten the Great Lakes region. 
What was originally seen as a decorative and easy-to-maintain aquarium plant is now one of the most noxious weeds in the U.S. Sold under the name “Indian star-vine” in the late 1950s, Hydrilla verticillata was first introduced after live samples were shipped from Sri Lanka to a Florida aquarium dealer. More than half a century after careless disposal into Florida’s waterways, hydrilla can now be found throughout the south and along the east coast, with populations extending inland to the Great Lakes region. Isolated communities have also been found in Idaho and Washington.
This spread is not surprising since hydrilla is unusually hardy and versatile. It can grow in as little as a few inches of water or as much as 20 feet. It requires very little light to thrive and is just as happy in a nutrient-rich environment as one deprived of nutrients almost all together. It can even grow in slightly salty conditions or in water as hot as 81°F. And while it can spread through seeds, hydrilla is also able to grow from stem fragments as well as tubers that can lie dormant for up to four years. Taken together, it’s little wonder that this perennial is found on every continent except Antarctica.
Hydrilla’s unique biological characteristics give it a leg up over many native plants in the Great Lakes region. For example, its early sprouting season and ability to grow rapidly leaves less light for natives later in the spring, making it harder for them to grow once they begin to sprout.
These same characteristics also make it a nuisance to other aquatic wildlife and humans. Growing as long as 30 feet, hydrilla vines form dense mats that alter the water’s pH and oxygen levels, which in turn makes it difficult for some fish species to reproduce and grow. These mats can also impede irrigation, hinder recreation, and clog water intakes to power plants.
Efforts to contain hydrilla have been historically cautious out of fear that the robust plant may mutate or develop a resistance to chemical herbicides—a fear that was realized when fluridine-resistant hydrilla was found in Florida. Today the Asian hydrilla leaf mining fly, weevils, and even the invasive grass carp are used to manage hydrilla invasions. These and other methods cost states millions of dollars a year.
In recent years, Illinois and Indiana have banned the sale, barter, and transport of hydrilla. Water gardeners, aquarium hobbyists, and others can learn how to recognize the plant—and distinguish it from the invasive Brazilian elodea—with our species WATCH card.
We’ll have more species spotlights on aquatic invaders throughout May in honor of Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Week. 

The fight against invasive species moves to Wonder Lake

April 27th, 2015 by
The Wonder Lake Master Property Owners Association is reminding boaters, anglers, and water skiers to remove, drain, and dry after a day on the water to prevent the spread of invasive species. These Be a Hero—Transport Zero™ steps can now be found at 14 boat ramps around the Illinois private lake.
The signs were installed during the annual spring cleanup, one of many events hosted by the Wonder Lake Sportsman’s Club. And it’s just the latest effort designed to raise awareness of aquatic invasive species and how they spread.
The recent surge of outreach at Wonder Lake is largely driven by concern over invasive plants like Phragmites, a species that’s spreading quickly across the Great Lakes region. Plant life along the lakeshore is limited now, but an ongoing dredging project is expected to change that. 

Randy Stowe, the lake manager, wants to make sure that the species that move in don’t pose a threat to habitats and recreation.
“We’ll be reaching out to those who own the land along the lake to educate them about invasive plants—how to recognize them, and what to do if you find one,” said Stowe. “We’re really trying to stay ahead of things.” 
Learn more about how you can fight the spread of invasive species at

***Photo credit: Wonder Lake Sportsman’s Club 

Local citizen nabs invasive plant on sight

January 29th, 2015 by

Water gardeners—keep your eyes open this season for invasive plants that may be lurking at your neighborhood garden store. In recent years, Illinois and Indiana DNR have both added nearly 30 new species to their lists of banned aquatic plants, but some may still be available for sale. 

If you spot one of these invaders, be sure to tell the store manager. Some species can be hard to identify and larger stores may not even know these plants are on their shipment list. That’s exactly what was happening at a Petco in Carbondale, IL, where Karla Gage found Brazilian elodea—aka Egeria densa—while browsing with her family.  

“I notified the department manager that this was listed as an injurious species in Illinois, and I sent a follow up email to the store manager,” said Karla, coordinator of the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area, which brings together federal, state, local, and private partners to tackle invasive plants in southern Illinois. “I received a call from the corporate contact, who stated that Petco stores in Illinois would no longer receive or be able to order Brazilian elodea. Previously, Carbondale stock had been on “auto-replenish,” so the stores never actually ordered Brazilian elodea. Current stock is being disposed of responsibly.”


“Thanks to Admin Code 805 and the quick response of Petco,” she added, “the risk of an introduction of Brazilian elodea into natural systems has been reduced.” 

The Illinois and Indiana rules also make it illegal to gift, barter, exchange, loan, or transport the any listed species. Recent additions to the list—27 plant species in Illinois and 28 in Indiana—were chosen based on the results of a risk assessment tool developed in Indiana by the Aquatic Plant Working Group. The tool evaluates species based on factors like ability to thrive in the Great Lakes and difficulty to control. IISG’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) team organized and facilitated the group, which included representatives from the aquatic plant industry, aquarium and water garden hobbyists, state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations. 

isit our AIS page for more information about invasive plants and animals on the market and what water gardeners and aquarium hobbyists can do to prevent their spread. 

***Photo courtesy of Graves Lovell, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 

Calling all experts to join PhragNet

September 2nd, 2014 by

Researchers at the Chicago Botanic Garden are asking wetland managers across the country to join PhragNet, a collaborative network that brings scientists and managers together to improve Phragmites control strategies. From the latest issue of IISG’s The Helm

The idea behind PhragNet is simple. Managers provide soil and plant samples and share information about their management strategies and goals. In return, researchers use that data to better understand Phragmites invasions and help managers hone in on the most effective control and restoration strategies.   

The IISG-funded network is still in its early stages, but PhragNet co-founders Dan Larkin, Jeremie Fant, Vicky Hunt, and others have already collected data from roughly 50 participants in 15 states and Ontario. 

“There is so much we can learn by ‘crowd-sourcing’ information about how to effectively manage Phragmites-impacted wetlands,” said Larkin. “The value will increase over time as we see how sites respond to management.”

For more information on how to join, visit the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative’s PhragNet page.

IISG aquatic invasive species coordinator among ISAM award winners

June 4th, 2014 by
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Pat Charlebois was one of the professionals selected for this year’s ISAM awards. Recognizing outstanding invasive species work in the state of Illinois, the awards are an annual opportunity to highlight just some of the many important projects dedicated to protecting Illinois’ land and water from invasives. 
“In 2011, the ISAM committee decided to initiate an awards program to formally recognize and honor outstanding contributions to the prevention, control, and management of invasive species in the state of Illinois. For 2014, The Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month Committee would like to recognize recipients in five categories: Professional of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Professional Organization of the Year, Business of the Year, and Educator of the Year. Recipients of the 2014 ISAM awards were officially recognized at an awards ceremony in Springfield at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) office. IDNR Office of Resource Conservation Director Jim Herkert was on hand to present the awards. The ceremony was part of the 2014 Illinois Invasive Species Symposium on May 29th, 2014 at the IDNR Office Building in Springfield, IL… 

Pat is receiving this award for her leadership in aquatic invasive species education, outreach, messaging, and policy throughout the state. Pat’s hard work has contributed significantly to increasing the public’s awareness of aquatic invasive species. Through her efforts, the new ‘Be a Hero, Transport Zero’ campaign is being expanded towards a comprehensive campaign to address all invasive species spread throughout Illinois. In addition, Pat has been instrumental in supporting policy changes, such as the addition of 27 new aquatic plants to the Illinois Injurious Species list.”

Read about the other award recipients and their work protecting Illinois’ environment at the link above.

IISG in the news: Injurious species list results in a ban on invasive plants

November 20th, 2013 by
Working with Illinois and Indiana DNR, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant led the development of a risk assessment tool to evaluate species based on their potential to be or become invasive. That tool and the resulting list of species led to the creation of a rule prohibiting the sale of 28 invasive aquatic plants in the state of Illinois. 
“Plant species were chosen based on the results of a risk assessment tool developed in Indiana by the Aquatic Plant Working Group. The tool evaluates species based on factors like ability to thrive in the Great Lakes and difficulty to control. At the request of Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant organized and facilitated the group, which included representatives from the aquatic plant industry, aquarium and water garden hobbyists, state agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations. Their efforts led to a rule approved last year that bans the sale of 28 invasive aquatic plants in Indiana.
‘It is important to have consistent regulations across the Great Lakes Basin. We want our policies to be consistent with our neighbors since invasive species don’t respect political boundaries,’ said Kevin Irons, aquaculture and aquatic nuisance species program manager for Illinois DNR. ‘Prevention is the first and cheapest way to protect Illinois from aquatic invasive plants, and risk assessment tools like the one built in Indiana allow us to identify and control high risk species without unduly regulating the industry.'”
Read the complete article at the link above, and read about the similar Indiana ban in the Winter 2012 edition of The Helm.  
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