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Outdoors | An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change makes a splash

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an atlas of illinois fishes

The cover for An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change.

If you are an amateur naturalist, “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change” will be a welcome addition to your home library.

If you are a profession biologist, the book will be a welcome addition to your office bookshelf.

And, that’s just what the authors of “An Atlas of Illinois Fishes: 150 Years of Change” had in mind when they decided to write the book. It’s the first definitive book written on Illinois fish in 40 years.

“We tailored this book to a wide audience,” said Brian A. Metzke, one of the authors and the state aquatic ecologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “We wanted it to be as useful for scientists as anglers and naturalists, people just generally interested in nature. There is a lot of scientific information, but if you’re just curious about what you caught, this will help you identify it. Or, if you’re just interested in what might be in the creek behind your house, this book will help.”

Metke’s co-authors are Brooks M. Burr, an emeritus professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale; Leon C. Hinz Jr., Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator for the IDNR; Lawrence M. Page, Curator of Fishes at the Florida Museum of Natural History; and Christopher A. Taylor, Curator of Fishes and Crustaceans with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

This is just the third comprehensive book on Illinois fish. The first, “The Fishes of Illinois, Volume 1” was written by Stephen A. Forbes and Robert E. Richardson and published in 1920. The second, “The Fishes of Illinois” by Philip W. Smith was published in 1979.

Metzke said the Smith volume has been the fisheries’ Bible for the past 40 years. But, the book needed updating.

“In the past decade, a handful of new invasive species like the black carp have been introduced and species that have expanded their range into Illinois like the Tippecanoe darter that was found across the Wabash River in Indiana,” Metzke said. “We have dozens of fishes that are on our endangered species list and all of them are at real risk of disappearing from our state. It’s a wide variety, pretty much every family with multiple species has some species on our endangered species list.”

And, some species, like the alligator gar have been re-introduced into Illinois waters.

In addition, there are more agencies conducting surveys than in the past, giving scientists a more accurate picture of populations and their locations. Each species of fish, from the massive alligator gar, to the tiniest darters, have been pinpointed on the maps accompanying the description of each species.

Due to the wide variety of habitat, massive rivers like the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois, the deep, cold waters of Lake Michigan, the three Corps of Engineers lakes in central Illinois and the backwaters of the Cache River in deep Southern Illinois, there are nearly 200 species of fish found in the state.

“We made this book so the average person in Illinois could really appreciate the diversity of fishes in Illinois,” Metzke said. “Some people may just use it as a coffee table book and use it for our photos. Some people will dive deep into the details. I think that is great every way.”

It took the authors about a decade to complete the book.

“We put together millions of data points into the maps,” Metzke said. “We were all doing this as a side project and contributing as we could. None of us were paid to do this, we just did it because we have a passion for Illinois fishes.”

Perhaps what sets the book apart from other guidebooks are the meticulous drawings in the identification keys.

“The key was entirely constructed from scratch by Brooks Burr,” Metzke said. “He had been working on that for a number of years. I know that took quite a bit of effort.”

Although the world is constantly evolving, generally speaking Metzke said Illinois fish populations are stable.

“I think most people would agree it has improved over the past few decades,” he said. “I think most people would point to the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. After that passage, overall, fisheries have improved over the state.”

The book retails for $50. It is available through the University of Illinois Press: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/. Anyone ordering the book online before Dec. 31 can receive a 30% discount by including the promo code: F21UIP.

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