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The Natural Heritage of Illinois is an engaging collection of ninety-three essays on the lands, waters, plants, and animals found in Illinois. Written in lively, accessible prose, the book discusses how wind, water, glaciers, earthquakes, fire, and people have shaped Illinois' landforms, natural habitats, rivers and streams, and the ways in which native plants and animals, from individual species to entire ecosystems, have thrived, survived, or died out.
Author John E. Schwegman looks at the state's early natural history, including its prehistoric vegetation and wildlife. He describes surviving remnants of formerly widespread species, such as biting horseflies so abundant they could kill a horse and flights of passenger pigeons dense enough to block the sun. The Natural Heritage of Illinois addresses issues of species decline, the ways animals adapt to climate change and dwindling habitats, and the problem of invasive exotic species. Ecosystem preservation is discussed, and readers will witness prescribed burning techniques and volunteers aiding in natural land management.
Animal and plant conservation in Illinois is illustrated by essays that examine the efforts to save our dwindling Prairie Chicken population and to reintroduce river otters, the return of nesting bald eagles and cormorants to the state, the discovery of armadillos in southern Illinois, the pros and cons of feeding birds, and the biological significance of frog calls. Essays on Illinois' native plants cover a wide range of topics, from defensive strategies to poisonous and edible species, prairie's dependence on fire, how to recognize our wild roses, orchids, prairie grasses, and more. Full of fascinating information and expert knowledge, The Natural Heritage of Illinois will prove invaluable to scholars, students, teachers, and casual nature lovers.
John E. Schwegman is the principal author of The Natural Divisions of Illinois, a classification of the state's natural lands that guides the development of the Illinois Nature Preserves System. He established the Natural Areas Program (now Division of Natural Heritage) at the Illinois' Department of Natural Resources and since retirement has served as a commissioner of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. In 2004, he received the Conservationist of the Year Award from the Illinois Native Plant Society. Currently, he serves as a consultant to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.
"The ninety-three essays on the natural features of Illinois reflect the author's lifetime of study of the plants, animals, rocks, landforms, and other natural phenomena in the state. Schwegman's keen observation skills are exhibited in each of the essays. Many readers will feel as if they are with Schwegman in the field as they read these eloquently written vignettes of nature."
– Robert H. Mohlenbrock, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Southern Illinois University
"In The Natural Heritage of Illinois, Schwegman shares his vast understanding of Illinois – its geography, plants, animals, and people – with a new generation of scientists, resource managers, and outdoors people. His ability to describe Illinois and its biodiversity in vivid detail provides useful insights into the state's history and ecology."
– Dr. Brian D. Anderson, senior deputy director, Prairie Research Institute