Prairie Research Institute


The Prairie Research Institute provides scientific expertise and data that help policymakers and communities address critical issues the impact our state. While many of these activities are concentrated in one of the state surveys that make up PRI, some require interdisciplinary teams of scientists to collaborate to develop a timely, objective response. Recent interdisciplinary efforts have examined risks from coal ash and a natural gas leak and assessed the past 20 years of management activities for the Illinois River watershed.

Other issues addressed by PRI scientists include:

coastal management: PRI scientists use drones, a research skiff equipped with sonar, remote sensing, and other techniques to investigate the ever-changing and heavily developed Lake Michigan coastline. Where is the shore eroding? Where are sand and sediment being transported? What causes these changes, and what mitigation strategies could be employed? Erosion has significant economic impacts for municipalities trying to maintain their beaches and coastal infrastructure, and it impacts the recreation value of beaches. At the same time, accretion along harbors results in significant dredging costs, as well as impact on recreational and commercial boating. Knowing where sand moves, its distribution and its thickness will help us develop strategies and actions to address shoreline erosion effectively, reduce cost of harbor maintenance, and target habitat restoration.

fish & wildlife management: Natural History Survey scientists provide the information needed for sustainable, science-based stewardship of fish and wildlife for the benefit of anglers, hunters, trappers, bird watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

flooding: Water Survey hydrologists and engineers work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Risk Mapping Assessment and Planning program to help communities reduce flood losses and prioritize projects in high-risk areas.

infrastructure: Scientists across PRI contribute critical expertise to projects by the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois Tollway. Our archaeologists assesses how improvements and expansion of transportation infrastructure may impact our cultural heritage. Ecologists identify wetlands and survey the plants and animals present in areas of road and bridge work. This work helps track the spread of wildlife diseases. Geologists evaluate potential environmental hazards and determine how these hazards may affect IDOT’s plans for future use of the land.

invasive and pest species: The Illinois Natural History Survey conducts research and forms partnerships to combat the threat of invasive species, from the infamous Asian Carp to the lesser known Spotted Wing Drosophila. INHS also participates in the Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS) program, which works to safeguard our nation’s food and environmental security from exotic pests that threaten our production and ecological systems.

mine subsidence: About 201,000 acres of residential and other built-up land lie close to Illinois’ approximately 5,500 underground coal mines. PRI’s online Coal Mines in Illinois Viewer helps home and business owners determine the proximity of coal mines and underground industrial mines to their properties.

public health: The Medical Entomology Laboratory informs efforts to control mosquitoes and ticks, as well as the disease-causing pathogens they carry.

responsible development: The Illinois Archaeological Predictive Model considers the known locations of prehistoric Native American sites and other environmental and geophysical variables to predict the probability of encountering an archaeological site in every two acre square across the state. This GIS-based tool gives developers a way to identify sites with a low probability of disturbing cultural resources.

waste utilization: Scientists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center develop new uses for waste materials, whether that means using sediment dredged from the Illinois River to bring the topsoil back to life in abandoned industrial areas and turn them into parks or converting organic material into biogas. Through its Zero Waste Illinois program, ISTC staff help companies and organizations take a new approach to how they handle waste, using and reusing as much as possible so that less material ends up in the landfill or incinerator.

water supply planning: Due to projected growth, Illinois could require 20 to 50 percent more water in coming decades. To ensure adequate and reliable supplies of clean water for all users, Illinois needs to know how much water will be available, how much water we will need, what the options are for providing additional supplies, reducing demand, and what the impacts and costs will be.