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SIMPSON — A new information-sharing system will allow Southern Illinois conservation partners to map the spread of invasive species using their smartphones.

Christopher Evans, a researcher with the University of Illinois at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Pope County, said several Southern Illinois forestry groups have come together to coordinate projects and share information.

The Shawnee National Forest, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the Shawnee Resource Conservation and Development Area are currently testing a shared database and cloud-based mapping system to track invasive species, prescribed fire and forest management data. Previously, the agencies were logging data independently of one another.

“This type of information-sharing in real time is what makes this project really innovative,” Evans said in an email.

Along with his colleague, Kevin Rohling, Evans has been working with partners to design and build the database.

The conservation partners recently completed a project mapping bush honeysuckle across multiple priority areas in Southern Illinois, Evans said. Distinct from native honeysuckle, bush honeysuckle is a low-growing shrub that out-competes native vegetation and restricts the survival of seedlings in forested areas. This leads to a reduction in plant population that has negative effects on the overall health of the ecosystem.

With the new system, which uses the cloud-based mapping program ArcGIS Online, researchers can view and enter data using their smartphones and tablets while they’re in the field.

“By using this information-sharing system, we are all able to track both where we've found this invasive (bush honeysuckle) and where we've looked but not found it. The result was a detailed map of the region that combined all of our information in a single location,” Evans said.

The program also allows the forestry partners to share management plans. Using the app, workers can see where other agencies plan to have a prescribed burn.

“By being able to see this type of information across agencies, we are able to identify areas where it makes sense to team up to do these burns jointly, allowing us to save time and money by reducing the amount of fire breaks we need to install and the time needed to prepare and implement the burns,” Evans said.

Such collaborations across agency boundaries will help conservation partners see the big picture and shed light on how they can better manage the forests.

“Our forests are something we all identify with here in southern Illinois. … People come from all across the nation to hike the trails, camp, hunt, ride horses, stay in cabins, do driving tours, or just experience our forests. Having healthy, diverse forests with all of the native plants and wildlife that comes with it is a big part of the draw,” Evans said.

janis.esch@thesouthern.com

618-351-5082

On Twitter: @janis_eschSI

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Reporter

Janis Esch is a reporter covering higher education.

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