Models, Monitoring, and Migratory Monarchs

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Karen S. Oberhauser

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Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) have undergone considerable population declines over the past decade, and the governments of Mexico, Canada, and the United States, as well as conservation organizations and concerned individuals are working to conserve the migratory phenomenon of this charismatic insect. Given limited resources, understanding where to focus conservation action is key for widespread, migratory species like monarchs. Multiple monitoring efforts, many of them citizen science projects, have resulted in data that can be used to address this need. Models that assess factors that are likely to be driving monarch numbers suggest that habitat loss and temperature conditions in the breeding range are the most important drivers of the eastern North American monarch population, although other factors throughout the migratory cycle are also likely to contribute to population variation. To support planning for continental-scale monarch habitat restoration, my colleagues and I used a spatially explicit demographic model that simulates the multi-generational annual cycle of the eastern monarch (see figure). Improving monarch habitat in the north central or southern parts of the monarch range yields a slightly greater increase in the population growth rate than restoration in other regions. However, combining restoration efforts across multiple regions yields positive population growth with smaller simulated improvements in habitat per region than single region strategies. These findings suggest that conservation investment in projects across the full monarch range will be more effective than focusing on one or a few regions, and will require international cooperation across many land use categories.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

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