Survey of Northern Illinois and Indiana Fungi

The Survey of Northern Illinois and Indiana Fungi is a continuing project by Field Museum mycologists (scientists who study fungi) to document the diversity and distribution of fungi in our area, and to investigate the usefulness of fungi as indicators of environmental health.

The Chicago area is home to an incredible diversity of plants, animals, and fungi. Within the region's boundaries are forest preserves and other natural areas that contain globally significant remnants of prairies and oak savannas. However, the Chicago region is experiencing explosive urban and suburban expansion with a consequent negative impact on natural areas. Monitoring the health of the nature preserves, and managing them to conserve local biodiversity is of high priority for the region.

Contrary to popular belief, our understanding of biodiversity in North America is far from complete, especially regarding the diversity and distribution of groups such as fungi, protozoans,and bacteria. Although these groups don't attract the same attention as Grizzly bears and Redwood trees, their importance in ecosystems is crucial. Land managers are particularly concerned about mycorrhizal fungi, which are required by almost all plant species for obtaining nutrition from the soil. Because these fungi have been shown to be adversely affected by air pollution, monitoring them is an important step in maintaining forest health.

In response to the paucity of knowledge of the diversity and distribution of Chicago-area fungi, Field Museum curator Greg Mueller initiated the Survey of Northern Illinois and Indiana Fungi (SNIIF) in 1994. Coordinated from 1995 to 1997 by John (Jack) Murphy and now by Patrick Leacock, the purpose of SNIIF is to supplement the Field Museum's existing database with new information obtained through intensive collecting of fungi within the Chicago region.

Our collecting has mostly focused on fungi associated with oak savanna and oak woodlands. We have visited many sites throughout Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, and McHenry counties, but have concentrated our efforts on permanent plots located within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Cook County Forest Preserve District at Palos Hills (see links). Other areas which we have visited repeatedly include Green Lake Savanna, the Wampum Lake area in SE Cook Co., and Harms Woods and Busse Woods in Northern Cook Co.

Our collecting at Palos Hills is part of a Field Museum multi-taxon project designed to evaluate the effect of restoration activities on a broad range of organisms (fungi, beetles, mosses, amphibians, reptiles and birds) other than plants. This project is supported by a grant obtained through Chicago Wilderness.

We have also teamed up with the Chicago Botanic Garden ecologist Jim Steffan and volunteers, who have been sampling fungi in Mary McDonald woods in conjunction with restoration activities there.

With permanent plots on three sites being monitored for fungi, we are beginning to acquire enough data to analyze the patterns of diversity and distribution of fungi in oak woodlands in the Chicago Region.

The Illinois Rapid Assessment Program (IRAP) is a new initiative funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. IRAP is being developed quickly to assess the condition and natural diversity of Illinois' natural areas. As part of this program, we have initiated sampling in two prairie areas, Powderhorn Nature Preserve and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie as well as expanding our work in Greenlake Savanna and Palos Hills.


Sources of data include specimens preserved in the Field Museum Fungus Collections. Many of these are almost 100 years old and represent vouchers of Moffatt's 1909 publication, Fungi of the Chicago Region.

Modern collections are mostly from our study sites at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Palos Hills (a district of the Cook County Forest Preserves), and the Chicago Botanic Garden. We have made additional significant collections from Cook County Forest Preserve District preserves at Harms Woods, Linne Woods, Busse Woods, Greenlake Savanna, Powderhorn Nature Preserve, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and near Wampum Lake. In addition to the sites listed here, we have accepted collections from throughout the Chicago region, donated by too many individuals to list. Many of these have been significant new records.