Christopher A. Phillips

Chris PhillipsI am a Research Program Leader and Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles.  I have been at the Illinois Natural History since 1993.  I am also an affiliate Professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior, UIUC  and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, UIUC.

My main research program has centered on the broad topic of how populations of amphibians and reptiles have arrived at their current spatial distributions and how they maintain (or fail to maintain) these distributions.  This was given as one of the definitions of Ecology in my undergraduate Ecology text.  I have approached this topic in two ways: indirectly through the use of molecular markers, and directly through field observations, field manipulations, and laboratory experiments.

Chris Phillips catches turtles in the fieldOver the past 10 years, my research focus has shifted to include exclusively direct methods (mark-recapture, telemetry, etc.). Although this approach has its drawbacks and limitations, when used in conjunction with indirect genetic measures, it gives a clearer picture of population structure than either method alone.  In the past I have collaborated with colleagues to include indirect techniques (using molecular markers) while I used direct approaches.  Recently, molecular analyses have returned to my lab, with several graduate students analyzing population structure using microsatellites.

My research interests have also broadened to include Wildlife Health, in collaboration with Dr. Matt Allender, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, UIUC.

One of the longest running projects I am directly involved with is the study of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes at Carlyle Lake, Illinois.  This project started in 1999 and I hope to continue for several more years.  Collaborators include Dr. Mike “Drez” Dreslik, INHS; Dr. Matt Allender, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, UIUC; Dr. Sarah Baker, Department of Biology, McNeese State University.

Other areas of interest include:

  • Developing an index of integrity for seasonal wetlands in Illinois using amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates as indicators.
  • Terrestrial gastropods of Illinois | 217-244-7077 | 185 Natural Resources Building, 615 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign

Google Scholar | ResearchGate

Lab Alumni

Kelsey Low

Kelsey Low wields a net at a pondKelsey Low received her PhD in the U of I Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology. Dissertation topic: The impacts of Ranavirus on pond-breeding amphibians.


Michael Dreslik

Dr. Michael Dreslik Mike Dreslik in the field( received his Ph.D. in the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Dissertation Topic: The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake at Carlyle Lake, Illinois.

Current Position: Director of the Urban Biotic Assessment Program at the Illinois Natural History Survey.

Sarah Baker

Sarah BakerSarah Baker received her Ph.D. in the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Dissertation topic: Conservation of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, Sistrurus c. catenatus.


Bill Peterman

Bill Peterman was an INHS postdoc in the lab. He received his PhD under Ray Semlitsch at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 2013. Bill is now on the faculty at The Ohio State University.

Abigail Maley Berkey

Abigail BerkeyAbigail Maley Berkey ( received her Ph.D. in the U of I Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology. Dissertation topic: Microscale habitat use, gene flow, and kin selection in the Four-toed Salamander, Hemidactylium scutatum.



John Griesbaum

John Griesbaum ( received his M.Sc. in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in 2012. Thesis topic: Effects of habitat management on a grassland snake in east-central Illinois.

Current Position: Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Whitney Banning Anthonysamy

Whitney Banning Anthonysamy in the fieldWhitney Banning Anthonysamy ( received her Ph.D. in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in 2012. Dissertation topic: Impacts of landscape fragmentation on sympatric freshwater turtle populations.

Current Position: Assistant Professor, St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Ellen Schneider

Ellen Schneider ( received her M.Sc. in the Master’s in Biology Program, School of Integrative Biology in 2011. Thesis topic: Genetic variation within and among Illinois populations of Pseudacris illinoensis.

Brad Cosentino

Brad CosentinoBrad Cosentino received his Ph.D. in the U of I Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology in 2011.  He was co-advised by Bob Schooley in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.  Dissertation topic: Connectivity, metapopulation dynamics, and genetic structure of tiger salamanders in a heterogeneous landscape.

Current Position: Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Andrew Berger

Andrew BergerAndrew Berger ( M.Sc. 2010. Conservation and recovery of the Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens) in Mason and Tazewell counties, Illinois.

Current position: USGS, Las Vegas Field Station.



Jeanne Baker

Jeanne Baker ( M.Sc. 2009. Home range and movement of the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) in East Central Illinois.

Current position:  Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, Gainesville, Florida

Anne Readel

Anne ReadelPh.D. 2009. Effects of habitat on physiology and infection in aquatic turtles.

Current position: Patent Attorney at Perkins Coie LLP, Madison, WI. (




Chris Benda

Chris Benda in the fieldM.Sc. 2006. Status of Blanding’s Turtles in Lake County Forest Preserve District and feasability of initiating a head-starting program at Rollins Savanna.

Current position: Illinois Natural History Survey.

Brad Danner

M.Sc. 2006. The role of anurans in the enzootic cycle of West Nile Virus.

Current position: Pest Survey Specialist/Environmental Scientist II at Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Ben Jellen

Ben JellenM.Sc. 2005. Reproductive ecology of the eastern massasauga (Sistrurus c. catenatus).

Current position: Assistant Professor, St. Louis College of Pharmacy


Jessica Jakubanis

Jessica JakubanisM.Sc. 2004. Life history and ecology of the two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) in two ravines in Vermilion County, Illinois.



Jennifer Mui

Jen MuiM.Sc. 2004. Growth and survivorship of the state endangered silvery salamander (Ambystoma platineum) in Illinois.

Current position:  Illinois Natural History Survey.


Jeanne M. Serb

M.Sc. 1999. Intraspecific phylogenetic analysis of Kinosternon flavescens and the taxonomic significance of the Illinois mud turtle, K.f. spooneri.

Current position: Associate Professor, Iowa State University, Department of Biology

Frank T. Burbrink

Frank Burbrink holding a snake Doodle on lined notebook paper of a man standing between two tablesM.Sc. 1995. Factors determining richness of reptile and amphibian species in a riparian wildlife dispersal corridor.

Current position: Associate Curator, Department of Herpetology, American Museum of Natural History. (

Jarrett Johnson

Jarrett JohnsonUndergraduate researcher.

Current position:  Assistant Professor, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY.


John Crawford

Undergraduate researcher.

Current Position: Terrestrial Wildlife Ecologist, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center

Don ShepardDon Shepard

 Undergraduate.  Field Technician, Eastern Massasauga Project.

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Louisiana Tech University




Jon Warner

Jon Warner Undergraduate Researcher. Jon conducted his Master’s research on Gaboon Vipers and his PhD on Nile crocodiles at the School of Animal, Plant, and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Current Position: Alligator Program Leader, Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Tim Hunkapiller & Evan MenzelTim Hunkapiller & Evan Menzel

Undergraduate Researchers.  Current positions: unknown.



Ethan Kessler

Ethan KesslerEthan Kessler was an intern in the Phillips Lab. He finished his Ph.D. under Dr. Mike Dreslik.  Ethan’s dissertation topic was Reintroduction of Alligator Snapping Turtles in southern Illinois.