Prairie Research Institute

Prairie Research Institute logo
Established 2008
Focus Natural and cultural resources, data and collections, environmental monitoring, sustainable economic development, public health and safety
Executive Director Mark R. Ryan, PhD
Staff >1000
Slogan Home of the Illinois State Scientific Surveys
Formerly called Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability (2008-2011)
Location Champaign, Illinois, United States of America
Address 615 E. Peabody Dr.

The Prairie Research Institute is a multidisciplinary research institute charged with providing objective research, expertise, and data on the natural and cultural resources of Illinois. Established as a unit of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by a Public Act of the Illinois State Legislature in 2008,[1] the Institute comprises the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS), and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). The Institute has a combined total staff of more than 1,000 as of May 2012[2][3] with facilities on Urbana-Champaign campus and field offices and research stations throughout the state. The total FY11 expenditures were $78 million, with $15.8 million appropriated by the state, and $62.1 million expended in external funding including federal, state, local, and private grants and contracts.[4]

Legislative mandate, mission, and vision

The Prairie Research Institute was created by the University of Illinois Scientific Surveys Act, effective July 1, 2008.[1] The general powers and responsibilities of the Institute stated in this act are to investigate the state's natural resources and "furnish information fundamental to the conservation and development of natural resources," and to advise those with administrative responsibilities for the natural resources of Illinois.[1] In August 2013, the passage of HB1209 amended Public Act 098-0346 to include both natural and cultural resources in the mandate.[5]

The mission of the Prairie Research Institute is to provide objective, integrated scientific research and service, in cooperation with other academic and research units of the University of Illinois and elsewhere, that allow citizens and decision-makers to make choices that ensure sustainable economic development, enduring environmental quality, and cultural resource preservation for the people, businesses, and governments of Illinois.[6]

Vision Statement: The Prairie Research Institute will serve as a model of proactive, multidisciplinary research and service as a key to economic development, environmental quality, and cultural resource preservation. The incorporation of the Institute into a major research university is a unique opportunity to integrate the University's intellectual capital with the Institute's ability to apply science to societal challenges as an example for the nation and the world.[6]


Researchers at the Institute are engaged in basic and applied research across a spectrum including agriculture and forestry, biodiversity and ecosystem health, atmospheric resources, climate and associated natural hazards, cultural resources and history of human settlements, disease and public health, emerging pests, fisheries and wildlife, energy and industrial technology, mineral resources, pollution prevention and mitigation, and water resources. Examples include impact and control of invasive Asian carp,[7][8] Lyme disease vector ecology,[9] Illinois water supply quality and quantity investigations,[10] geologic carbon sequestration,[11][12] development of geospatial tools,[13] discovery and excavation of massive prehistoric settlements surrounding Cahokia in advance of new bridge construction,[14][15] persistence of estrogens in dairy farm wastewater,[16] electronics re-use to minimize electronic waste,[17] and monitoring atmospheric deposition of radioisotopes in North America following the Fukushima reactor incident.[18][19]

Collections and data

The Institute is a repository of specimens—archaeological, biological, and mineral—which serve as research collections on the Illinois environment. The Illinois Natural History Survey biological collections include insects, crustaceans, molluscs, annelids, reptiles and amphibians, birds, mammals, algae, bryophytes, fishes, fungi, and vascular plants. The insect collection has more than 6,500,000 curated specimens, and is one of the largest[20] and oldest in North America; digitization of the specimens and metadata from this collection is currently underway with support from the National Science Foundation.[21] The Illinois State Geological Survey houses the legislatively mandated Illinois Geological Samples Library, a repository for drill-hole samples in Illinois, including cores drilled for mineral exploration and geologic investigations,[22] as well as paleontological collections. The Illinois State Archaeological Survey curates research collections from more than 3,000 Illinois archaeological sites, including Cahokia. The Prairie Research Institute Library, formed from the merger of the State Scientific Survey libraries, holds more than 45,000 titles and 81,000 items on earth and atmospheric sciences, ecology, environmental science, environmental sustainability, natural resources, and natural history with emphasis on Illinois and the region.[4] The Institute also collects and disseminates data on many aspects of the Illinois environment including weather and climate, water resources including surface and groundwater, oil and mineral resources, maps and geospatial data, and the distributions of plants and animals including native and invasive species.

Public engagement

Starting in 2009, the Institute has hosted the Naturally Illinois Expo each March, concurrently with the Open House events of the College of Agriculture Environmental and Consumer Sciences, and College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The target audience of Expo includes Illinois K-12 students and the public. The Illinois Natural History Survey's Traveling Science Center visits schools and communities throughout Illinois to offer education on habitats and species diversity in the state. The Illinois State Geological Survey hosts regular field trips to locations of geological note; field trip guidebooks summarize the features of the destinations. The annual Governor's Sustainability Awards, organized by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, recognize achievements in sustainability in Illinois, in both the private and public sectors.


The Institute Executive Director reports to the Vice Chancellor for Research of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Institute is governed by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. The Prairie Research Institute Advisory Board is the external advisory body charged with providing input and advice related to the scientific and research agenda, management, and funding of the Institute. The Board meets twice per year, and transmits findings to the Vice Chancellor for Research and the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as the President of the University of Illinois.


In July 2008, the Institute for Natural Resource Sustainability was established within the University of Illinois to house four State Scientific Surveys (INHS, ISGS, ISWS, and ISTC).[1] In February 2010, the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP), which had been housed within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Anthropology, became the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) and joined the Institute.[23] In May 2011, the name of the Institute was changed to the Prairie Research Institute.[4]

Each of the five divisions of the Prairie Research Institute has its own unique history, but there is much shared history, particularly among the Geological, Natural History, and Water Surveys, which have been connected administratively to one another and headquartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since the early 20th century.[24]

Natural Resources Building, Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL. Dedicated in 1940, and the current location of Prairie Research Institute headquarters.

In 1917, the State Laboratory of Natural History and research duties of the State Entomologist's Office merged and were renamed the State Natural History Survey, which along with Illinois State Geological Survey and Illinois State Water Survey were placed in the Illinois Department of Registration and Education. The Board of Natural Resources was established to administer the Surveys, its membership comprising the director of the new Department, the President of the University of Illinois or designee, and appointed representatives of core disciplines of biology, geology, engineering, chemistry, and forestry.[24] In the 1930s, the State of Illinois appropriated $300,000 which was supplemented by a $245,454 Public Works Administration grant for a new building to house Illinois State Geological Survey and Illinois Natural History Survey operations.[24] The Natural Resources Building, located on Peabody Drive in Champaign, was dedicated on November 15, 1940. Wings were added on the east and west ends of the original building in 1950.[24] As of 2012, the headquarters of the Prairie Research Institute is in this building, along with many collections and laboratories of the Illinois State Geological Survey and Illinois Natural History Survey. There are numerous additional facilities of the Institute located on the University of Illinois campus and in various locations around the state.

In 1978, the Illinois Institute of Natural Resources was established by the Illinois General Assembly by a public act which transferred the three Surveys and related units out of the Illinois State Department of Registration and Education, effective January 1979.[24][25] The creation of this Institute was driven by

"a growing awareness that the state's economic and social well-being is dependent on the prudent management of our natural resources and a recognition that resource issues are complex and intertwined and cannot be dealt with successfully if the connections between issues are ignored."[25]

The legislative mandate of the Institute of Natural Resources was

"to investigate practical problems, implement studies, conduct research and provide assistance, information and data relating to the technology and administration of environmental protection; energy; the natural history, entomology, zoology and botany of this State; the geology and natural resources of this State; the water resources and weather of this State; and the archeological and cultural history of this State."[25]

In addition to the three Scientific Surveys, the Illinois Institute of Natural Resources included Divisions of Environmental Management, Resource Development, Resource Extension Service, the Illinois State Museum, plus The General Office in Springfield. The Director of the Institute was Frank Beal.[25] The Board of Natural Resources and Conservation continued to administer the Institute.[24] In 1981 the Illinois Institute of Natural Resources became the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources, whose six divisions were the Illinois State Geological Survey, the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Illinois State Water Survey, Energy Programs, Policy and Planning, and the Illinois State Museum.[26] The Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center (now the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center) was established within the Department of Energy and Natural Resources in 1984.[27] In 1995, Governor Jim Edgar issued an Executive Order to restructure the state's environmental agencies. The Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources (in part), Illinois Department of Conservation, Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals, and several other related government units were combined to form the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).[28] The Surveys (now four, including the Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center) plus the Illinois State Museum were placed under the Office of Scientific Research and Analysis within IDNR.[29] The Surveys remained in IDNR until the Institute was established within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "(110 ILCS 425/) University of Illinois Scientific Surveys Act". Illinois Compiled Statutes. State of Illinois. Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  2. University of Illinois. "Headcount FTE DataCube". Administrative Information Technology Services, Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  3. Division of Management Information, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (2011–2012). "Campus Profile". Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 2011 Report. Champaign, IL: Prairie Research Institute. 2012. p. 27.
  5. "(HB1209) Amended Statutes". Illinois General Assembly. State of Illinois. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  6. 1 2 "About the Prairie Research Institute". Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  7. Wheelwright, Jeff. "Attack of the flying, invasive carp". Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  8. "Jaw-breaking midwest carp flying home to China's dinner plates". Bloomberg. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  9. "Lyme disease tick adapts to life on the (fragmented) prairie". ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  10. "Illinois Water Supply Planning". Illinois State Water Survey. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  11. Kuipers, Dean. "Illinois sequestration project is first in U.S. for man-made CO2". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  12. "First U.S. Large Demonstration-Scale Injection of CO2 from a Biofuel Production Facility Begins". Science Daily. Science Daily. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  13. "ESRI-GIS Development Center - GIS Projects in Our Institute". Prairie Research Institute. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  14. Lawler, Andrew (December 2011). "America's lost city". Science. 334 (6063): 1618–1623. doi:10.1126/science.334.6063.1618. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  15. LaCapra, Véronique (June 2, 2012). "Ancient Suburb Near St. Louis Could Be Lost Forever". National Public Radio. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  16. Yates, Diana. "Team determines how estrogens persist in dairy farm wastewater". University of Illinois News Bureau. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  17. Helenthal, Mike. "Laptop research benefits landfills, chickens … and UI students". Inside Illinois. University of Illinois News Bureau. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  18. "A minute with David Gay and Chris Lehmann, National Atmospheric Deposition Program". University of Illinois. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  19. "Low Levels of Fallout from Fukushima, U.S. Study Finds". ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  20. Suarez, Andrew V. (2004). "The Value of Museum Collections for Research and Society". BioScience. 54 (1): 66–74. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[0066:TVOMCF]2.0.CO;2. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  21. Dietrich, Chris. "Digitization TCN: InvertNet--An Integrative Platform for Research on Environmental Change, Species Discovery and Identification". National Science Foundation. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
  22. "Well Abandonment Act". Illinois Compiled Statutes. State of Illinois. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  23. 2010 Annual Report. Champaign, IL: Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. 2011. p. 27.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hays, Robert G. (1980). State Science in Illinois: the scientific surveys, 1850-1978 (1980). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Carbondale Press. pp. xii, 257. ISBN 0809309432. Retrieved December 5, 2007.
  25. 1 2 3 4 Illinois Blue Book. Springfield, IL: State of Illinois. 1979–1980.
  26. Illinois Blue Book. Springfield, IL: State of Illinois. 1981–1982.
  27. Illinois Blue Book. Springfield, IL: State of Illinois. 1989–1990.
  28. Annual Report 1994-1995. Illinois Natural History Survey. 1995. p. 2.
  29. Illinois Blue Book. Springfield, IL: State of Illinois. 1995–1996. p. 249.

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