Prairie Research Institute

Illinois Natural History Survey

Taxonomy and Systematics

INHS scientists discover, name, and classify species (taxonomy) and investigate the evolutionary relationships among groups and species (systematics). 


Phylogenetic relationships of fungi are poorly known. The Miller Mycology Lab incorporates modern molecular techniques with traditional taxonomic methods to test morphological-based classifications from the class level to the species level. In most cases, molecular phylogenies do not reflect current classifications, leading to new insights regarding character evolution in fungi.


The Dietrich Leafhopper Lab, led by Illinois State Entomologist Christopher Dietrich, focuses on documenting global diversity of leafhoppers and related insects, reconstructing their evolutionary relationships, and providing user-friendly tools for species identification. A team led by Dietrich and INHS ornithologist Kevin Johnson used a vast molecular and morphological dataset to tease out the family relationships and evolutionary history of hemipteroid insects. Composed of over 120,000 described species, Hemiptera includes many crop pests and human disease vectors.

Entomologists discovered a new family of stoneflies in 2021 (Kathroperlidae), the first family discovered in over 30 years. Ed DeWalt studies stoneflies because they are the most sensitive indicators of water quality of all animals. This new discovery and subsequent naming of the new family help scientists studying the insects to organize information and distinguish the species that need protecting.

Using fossil specimens and some modern taxa in the PRI Center for Paleontology, INHS paleontologist Sam Heads studies the evolutionary history of grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera) and examines the group’s morphological character acquisition and evolution over time. Heads has described and named many new species.


Chris Taylor, the curator of crustaceans, focuses on the discovery and description of crayfishes in North America and the use of this data for effective conservation. He co-discovered a new, larger species of crayfish in southern Tennessee and in Alabama and named it Barbicambarus simmonsi. Finding new crayfish species is not uncommon, as new species are found about twice a year in the U.S. Yet the discovery of a large, distinctive new species in an area that had previously been studied for decades was surprising. These kinds of findings showcase the broad diversity of crustaceans in the U.S. and the importance of sampling and studying regions of North America that are thought to be well understood.


INHS scientists focus on linking plant taxonomy and plant ecology to refine and develop wetland assessment methods, especially floristic quality and taxonomic distinctness. This program focuses mainly on the applied issues of wetland health, nonnative species, compensatory mitigation, and prioritization schemes. Other interests and projects include floristic studies of wetlands and prairies in Illinois, and species descriptions and taxonomic keys. 

Software and Tools

The INHS Species File Group develops workbenches, including TaxonWorks, and open-source tools for biodiversity scientists and hosts high-quality biodiversity data.

The Mycology Collections Data Portal is a suite of user-friendly, web-based data access technologies to aid taxonomists, field biologists, ecologists, and citizen scientists in the study of fungal diversity.