Monarch Watch Blog

Monarch Population Status

7 February 2024 | Author: Monarch Watch

The WWF-Telmex Telcel Foundation Alliance, in collaboration with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR), announced the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies today. Nine (9) colonies were located this winter season with a total area of 0.90 hectares, a 59.3% decrease from the previous season (2.21 ha). This is the second lowest number counted to date – the lowest was 0.67 ha during the 2013–2014 overwintering season.

monarch-population-figure-monarchwatch-2024
Figure 1. Total Area Occupied by Monarch Colonies at Overwintering Sites in Mexico.

Report: TBA

WWF story: Eastern migratory monarch butterfly populations decrease by 59% in 2024

Note: The WWF-TELMEX Telcel Foundation Alliance collaborates with CONANP to systematically monitor the hibernation of the Monarch since 2004, and they join the Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to analyze changes in forest cover in the area core of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in order to have scientific bases that support the implementation of conservation strategies for the benefit of the species, ecosystems and human beings.


MEDIA ADVISORY: Monarch Watch experts at KU available to discuss today’s announcement of low numbers in monarch butterfly population

Today authorities in Mexico City announced that the size of the eastern monarch butterfly population that overwinters in Mexico is the second smallest on record. The numbers are so low that few monarchs will be seen this coming summer in many parts of the U.S. and Canada.

WWF-Telmex Telcel Foundation Alliance, in collaboration with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR), announced the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies as 0.90ha; a 59.3 percent decrease from the previous season (2.21ha).

This is the second lowest number of hectares counted to date. The lowest was 0.67 ha during the 2013–2014 overwintering season. A chart produced by Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas and posted to the Monarch Watch Blog shows the total forest area occupied by overwintering monarch colonies annually since the winter of 1994–1995.

Two Monarch Watch experts on the eastern monarch butterfly migration are available to discuss with reporters the low population numbers and their implications. Orley “Chip” Taylor founded Monarch Watch in 1992 and Kristen Baum is the organization’s new director – see Monarch Watch: About Us for bios.

Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org) is an education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas within the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research. To arrange an interview with Taylor and/or Baum for further comments, please use the following contact information:

• Kristen Baum, Director, Monarch Watch, kbaum@ku.edu
• Orley “Chip” Taylor, Founding Director, Monarch Watch, chip@ku.edu
• Monarch Watch, monarch@ku.edu, +1 785 864 4441

Reporters may use comments from the following Q&A with Taylor and Baum.

Q: Was this news expected?

Taylor: This news is a shock to all who follow monarchs. The depth of this decline is beyond our experience, and the implications for the future of the monarch migration are surely of concern. However, populations have been low in the past. This count does not signal the end of the eastern monarch migration.

Q: Why is the population so small this year?

Taylor: Monarch numbers are at a near all-time low because of drought conditions last fall that extended from Oklahoma deep into central Mexico. Droughts reduce flowering and therefore nectar production, and monarchs need the sugars in nectar to fuel the migration and to develop the fat reserves that get them through the winter.

Q: Will monarchs recover?

Taylor: Catastrophic mortality due to extreme weather events is part of their history. The numbers have been low many times in the past and have recovered, and they will again. Monarchs are resilient.

Q: What can people do to help monarchs recover?

Baum: To recover, monarchs will need an abundance of milkweeds and nectar sources. We need to get more milkweed and nectar plants in the ground, and we all need to contribute to this effort.

More information about the low population numbers can be found on the Monarch Watch Blog (https://monarchwatch.org/blog).

Filed under Monarch Population Status | Comments Off on Monarch Population Status

Background on the relationship of overwintering monarch numbers in 2023-2024 to the extreme drought in October and November 2023

7 February 2024 | Author: Monarch Watch

The text and graphics below are intended to provide the background needed to understand why many of the monarchs in the 2023 fall migration failed to reach the overwintering sites in central Mexico. This is a story of biology, weather and geography as well as the resource supply chains that support the monarch migration. This is not a scientific analysis. That is underway.

What is the monarch butterfly’s annual cycle?

The eastern monarch population overwinters in Mexico. Monarchs that survive the 5month winter begin moving north at the end of February/beginning of March with the leading edge of spring migrants reaching Texas in the second week of March. The returning females lay eggs on native milkweeds through March and April with most dying by the first of May. The offspring of the returning monarchs begin to emerge in late April. These butterflies migrate northward to colonize the northern breeding areas. It is the reproduction in these northern areas, usually two more generations, that produces third and fourth generations that migrate in the fall. The pattern of the north to south movement is represented on the map in Figure 1.

fig1_stage_map

Figure 1. Spring and fall migration map showing stages.

How can you predict monarch overwintering numbers?

For the purpose of developing a model that predicts overwintering numbers, the annual cycle of monarchs is partitioned into six overlapping stages: 1) overwintering in Mexico from November to April, 2) migrating back to the United States from late February to April, 3) breeding from March to May by returning monarchs, 4) first generation recolonization of the summer breeding areas north of 40N, 5) summer breeding from May to September and 6) migration to the overwintering grounds in Mexico from August to December. The time intervals represented by each stage are shown in Figure 2.

fig2_stages

Figure 2. Stages in the annual cycle.

This stage-specific approach represents an attempt to understand/estimate the numbers of adult monarchs at the start of each stage, to define the weather conditions during the stage and to assess how those conditions determine the birth and/or death rates that establish the number of adults entering the next stage. The analysis used to predict whether a population in a specific year will increase or decrease starts with the timing and number of monarchs arriving from Mexico in March (stage 2) and following that the outcomes are compared among years to see if similar metrics result in similar outcomes. 2023 is the most similar to the conditions of 2012, which was the second lowest wintering population (1.19hectares). However, 2023 is different from 2012 because of the drought in Texas in 2023 which suggested even lower numbers in the winter of 2023.

How do weather patterns influence monarch numbers?

Monarch numbers are a function of the weather conditions that determine reproductive success and mortality. Reproductive success itself is determined by the abundance, distribution and quality of host plants (milkweeds) and nectar resources which are also influenced by weather conditions. Predators, parasites and pathogens also limit population growth, and these sources of mortality are also enhanced or limited by weather. The influence of weather on all components in this system allows us to both explain and predict population numbers from one stage to the next. This overall influence of weather tells us that the only way to sustain monarchs is to maintain and restore the milkweed and nectar resources monarchs require. That dictum applies to vulnerable pollinators and insects in general. Given that we can’t change the weather, we must maintain habitats for vulnerable insect species.

How do changing climate trends influence monarch numbers?

The development of the population each year is strongly influenced by March temperatures. These temperatures determine the timing of the arrival of monarchs in Texas as well as the rate of egg laying and larval development, and therefore, the size of the first generation. These effects follow through the breeding season and usually determine the size of the fall migration. The temperature record for Texas from 1895 to 2023 is shown in Figure 3.

fig3_texas_temps

Figure 3. Average March temperatures for Texas from 1895-2023. Climate at a Glance Statewide Time Series

There are three trends in these records: the high variation from year to year that ended around 1974, the damped variation from 1975 to perhaps 1994 and the progressive increase in temperatures from 1994 to the present. The mean temperatures increased during these intervals from 1895-1974 = 56.1, to 1975-1993 = 57.7 and 1994-2023 = 58.6. The recent rate of increase is 1.3F per decade. Note the five periods of 2-3 years in succession with extreme cold March temperatures. Such temperatures delay recolonization by monarchs returning from Mexico and recolonization of the summer breeding area north of 40N. These conditions would have led to smaller migrations and lower numbers overwintering in Mexico.

Why and when do monarchs migrate in the fall?

Tens of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from eastern North America to Mexico each fall to overwinter in the high elevation oyamel fir forests of the Transvolcanic Range of central Mexico. Monarchs are unable to survive freezing temperatures and those breeding in temperate regions must escape to moderate climates to reproduce the next season.

The fall migration begins in early August in the north (Winnipeg) and in September at mid latitudes. The migration progresses at a pace of 25-30 miles per day, although individual butterflies often fly further during periods when conditions are favorable. Because not all monarchs join the migration at the same time and some advance faster than others, it takes the migration 25-30 days to pass through a specific area. Monarchs generally begin arriving at the overwintering sites in Mexico in late October a few days before the Day of the Dead (1-2 November). Most monarchs originate from the Upper Midwest from locations more than 1500 linear miles from the overwintering sites. The duration of the migration appears to be 2-2.5 months but can be longer.

How and when are monarchs counted on the overwintering grounds in Mexico?

The 13 overwintering sanctuaries located within the “Monarch Region” in central Mexico are visited twice per month starting in December. For each colony observed, GPS (global positioning system) coordinates are recorded. The area occupied by each colony is calculated by locating the tree that is farthest up slope and then recording the direction and distance from that tree to the trees around the edge of the colony. The formal report from the authorities includes a table with the size of the colony at each sanctuary. The combined total across all the sanctuaries is reported as the size of the overwintering population. The report from 2022-2023 is available and the most recent report will be posted soon.

2022-2023 Report: Area of forest occupied by the colonies of monarch butterflies in Mexico during the 2022-2023 overwintering period

Why are resource supply chains important?

The monarch annual cycle involves two phases, a period of births and population growth and a period of migration and wintering during which the population declines. Population growth rates are linked to the abundance, distribution and quality of resources and weather. The biological resources in this case involve milkweed host plants for larvae, and nectar for adults that is used to fuel flight and reproduction. In recent decades, it has become apparent that land use and weather largely define the distribution and abundance of the resource base that monarchs require. The intensive use of landscapes has increased fragmentation and eliminated the resources monarchs need. In a word, this is a supply chain problem. There are now big gaps in the resource base and that is limiting population growth (Crone and Schultz, 2022).

During the migration and wintering phase, monarchs are dependent on nectar and water. Nectar provides the sugars that are converted to fats (lipids) that monarchs require during the winter as well as water that is lost due to respiration. During the winter, the fats are broken down into a sugar known as trehalose that is used to fuel metabolic processes. This breakdown releases some “metabolic water”, but the quantities are evidently too low to replace water lost due to respiration, requiring monarchs to seek water sources when the temperatures are high enough for flight.

The availability of nectar along the entire migration route is critical. Again, it’s a supply chain problem, a supply chain in the form of fall flowers that is becoming increasingly fragmented. It’s also a supply chain that breaks due to droughts. And it’s the droughts that extended from southern Oklahoma and Texas all the way to the overwintering sites in Mexico that largely account for the low numbers of monarchs that reached the overwintering sites this past fall (Figures 4, 5). Monarchs entering Mexico from Texas in October encountered severe to extreme drought conditions along almost most of the pathway to the overwintering sites (Figure 6). In effect, they encountered a dearth of nectar required to fuel flight and develop fat reserves as well as the water in nectar needed to replace the water lost to respiration. It’s likely these conditions resulted in massive losses as monarchs continued to move south toward the overwintering sites. This interpretation is supported by the results of a recently published paper on the fat (lipid) levels in migratory monarchs from Canada to the overwintering sites (Hobson et al., 2023). There was a drought in Texas in 2019 that extended into northeastern Mexico. The lipid levels were low in monarchs collected in these areas in 2019, but increased and were effectively restored as monarchs passed through the mid-elevation sites in Mexico and approached the overwintering area (Figure 7, Table 1). There was no drought in these mid-elevation areas in 2019. The data from the monarchs reaching the overwintering sites in 2020 and 2021 also indicated that lipid levels had increased from the time they left Texas until they reached the overwintering area. Again, there were no droughts in central Mexico in 2020 and 2021. A conclusion from the Hobson et al., 2023 paper was that “The increase in mass and lipids from those in Texas to the overwintering sites in Mexico indicates that nectar availability in Mexico can compensate for poor conditions experienced further north.” It follows that the absence of nectar in mid-elevation areas in 2023 due to the extreme drought in October and November contributed to the low number of monarchs at the overwintering sites.

fig4_20231017_usdm

Figure 4. This drought monitor map for mid-October shows the extreme and exceptional drought conditions as monarchs migrated through Oklahoma and Texas and into Mexico. Map courtesy of NDMC via U.S. Drought Monitor.

fig5_mexico_drought
Figure 5. The leading edge of the monarch migration reaches Mexico during the first week of October with some monarchs reaching the overwintering sites by the end of the month. Monarchs continue to arrive at the overwintering sites through the first week of December. The three drought monitor maps from mid-October to mid-November indicate the occurrence of severe and extreme drought conditions along most of the pathway from South Texas to the overwintering sites. Extreme drought characterized the mid-elevation sites that usually are the last source of nectar for monarchs before they reach the overwintering sites. Map courtesy of Mexico Drought Monitor.

fig6_spring_sightings_mexico

Figure 6. Spring first sightings reported for Mexico to Journey North. These records suggest monarchs use two pathways (coastal and inland) to reach the breeding grounds in Texas and beyond. Records and observations suggest that monarchs use the same pathways to return to the overwintering sites in the fall. The coastal pathway is the weaker of the two pathways. In the spring, and sometimes in the fall, the temperatures can be too high and nectar availability too low for easy movement through this area. The inland pathway is longer (about 800miles vs 600miles). Much of this pathway hugs the mid-elevation contours where the temperatures are milder. From January 2023 Monarch Population Status (Taylor, 2023A).

fig7_lipid_sites

Figure 7. Monarchs were obtained for lipid analysis from these seven marked sites in Mexico in 2019. All samples were obtained along the main fall and spring migratory pathway.

Table 1. The data for the seven sites in Figure 7 – five mid-elevation sites and two overwintering sites in Mexico. (Hobson et al., 2023).

table1_lipid_sites

How many monarchs are there in a hectare?

The sizes of overwintering monarch populations are a function of the summation of all the areas of oyamel fir trees occupied by clustered monarchs. The areas are given in hectares (2.47 acres per hectare) with the mean number of monarchs per hectare estimated to be 21.1 million (Thogmartin et al., 2017). Using this estimate, each twentieth of a hectare would be about 1 million monarchs and a tenth of a hectare about 2 million. A million sounds like a large number of monarchs, but it isn’t given the loss that occurs during the winter and return migration. Further, the land area to be recolonized each season is massive. Comparing the first sightings of monarchs reported to Journey North this spring in Texas with the numbers and timing of arrivals over the last 23 years (when Journey North started) will provide out next measure of the status of the population.

What does the low count mean for the future of monarchs?

Unfortunately, the numbers are so low that few monarchs will be seen this coming summer in many parts of the United States and Canada. Several things will be key for developing the largest possible population during the breeding season in 2024. First, a maximum number of the remaining monarchs have to survive the rest of the winter and the return migration to Texas. But there is more, the timing of the monarchs reaching Texas will need to be favorable along with the temperature and precipitation that favor reproduction (Taylor, 2023B).

Despite the low numbers, this count does not signal the end of the eastern monarch migration. Populations have been low in the past, perhaps even lower. Based on what we know about how the monarch population responds to weather, a review of weather records back to 1895 suggests there were several 2-3year periods during which overwintering populations were probably extremely low due to cold temperatures or high temperatures and droughts (Figure 3) (Taylor, 2023C, 2023D).

The bottom line is that the eastern monarch migration is down but not out. Monarchs are resilient and will recover (Taylor, 2023E, 2023F) The pace of the recovery won’t be as fast as the six-fold increase we saw from 2013 to 2015 (0.67ha to 4.01ha), but monarchs will increase (Taylor, 2021). The year-to-year increases will be determined by the weather and the number of milkweeds and nectar plants first in Texas and Oklahoma and then in the northern breeding areas and throughout the rest of the monarch’s breeding range. Monarchs need an abundance of milkweeds and nectar sources, and we need to make that happen for monarchs to recover.

Why do we need to maintain resource supply chains for monarchs?

To sustain the monarch migration, we need maintain the supply chain resources that monarchs depend on during their annual cycle. That means large scale restoration of milkweeds and nectar sources during the breeding season and migration as well as sustaining the integrity of the forests in which they overwinter in Mexico.

What can people do to help?

Monarchs need milkweeds and nectar plants. We need to get more milkweeds and nectar plants in the ground, and we all need to contribute to this effort. There are many resources available to support the creation and management of monarch habitat. For example, you can create or register a Monarch Waystation, and help others do the same. You can also request free milkweed for large-scale restoration projects or for gardens for schools and educational non-profits, or you can order a flat of milkweed plants from our Milkweed Market. Many other organizations have resources and programs to support these efforts, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farmers for Monarchs, Monarch Joint Venture, the Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society, and many more.

People can also contribute to monarch community science projects, such as Journey North. Submitting your first sightings of monarchs to Journey North will help us understand the status of the population this spring. You can also submit monarch nectar plant observations to the Xerces Society. The Monarch Joint Venture maintains a list of community science projects focused on monarchs and milkweeds.

REFERENCES

Crone EE, Schultz CB. 2022. Host plant limitation of butterflies in highly fragmented landscapes. Theor Ecol 15, 165–175. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12080-021-00527-5

Hobson KA, Taylor O, Ramírez MI, Carrera-Treviño R, Pleasants J, Bitzer R, Baum KA, Mora Alvarez BX, Kastens J, McNeil JN. 2023. Dynamics of stored lipids in fall migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus): Nectaring in northern Mexico allows recovery from droughts at higher latitudes. Conserv Physiol. 2023 Nov 24;11(1):coad087. https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coad087

Taylor OR. 2021. Monarch population crash in 2013. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2021/06/11/monarch-population-crash-in-2013

Taylor, OR. 2023A. Monarch Population Status. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/01/04/monarch-population-status-49

Taylor OR. 2023B. Monarch numbers: dynamics of population establishment each spring. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/03/27/monarch-numbers-dynamics-of-population-establishment-each-spring

Taylor OR. 2023C. Monarch populations during the dust bowl years. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/07/17/monarch-populations-during-the-dust-bowl-years

Taylor OR. 2023D. Monarchs: Weather and population sizes in the past. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/07/21/monarchs-weather-and-population-sizes-in-the-past

Taylor OR. 2023E. Why there will always be monarchs. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/08/25/why-there-will-always-be-monarchs

Taylor OR. 2023F. Species Status Assessment and the three r’s. Monarch Watch Blog.
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/10/13/species-status-assessment-and-the-three-rs

Thogmartin WE, Diffendorfer JE, López-Hoffman L, Oberhauser K, Pleasants J, Semmens BX, Semmens D, Taylor OR, Wiederholt R. 2017. Density estimates of monarch butterflies overwintering in central Mexico. PeerJ 5:e3221 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3221

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

News reports

Drought in northern Mexico brings water shortages and social unrest
https://dialogochino.net/en/climate-energy/60151-drought-mexico-water-shortage-social-unrest

Mexico in Numbers: Drought
https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/mexico-in-numbers-drought

Background information on monarch biology

Monarch Watch: Monarch Butterfly Press Materials
https://monarchwatch.org/press

Monarch Watch Blog articles

Taylor OR. 2023. Monarch numbers: trends due to weather and climate. Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/03/27/monarch-numbers-trends-due-to-weather-and-climate

Taylor OR. 2023. The pending decision: Will monarchs be designated as threatened or endangered? Monarch Watch Blog. https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/06/14/the-pending-decision-will-monarchs-be-designated-as-threatened-or-endangered

Other links

Climate at a Glance Statewide Time Series
https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/climate-at-a-glance/statewide/time-series

Farmers for Monarchs
https://farmersformonarchs.org

Journey North: Monarch Migration & Milkweed Phenology Project
https://journeynorth.org/monarchs

Journey North: Monarch Sightings
https://journeynorth.org/sightings

Mexico Drought Monitor
https://smn.conagua.gob.mx/es/climatologia/monitor-de-sequia/monitor-de-sequia-en-mexico

Monarch Watch
https://monarchwatch.org

Monarch Watch: Free Milkweed Programs
https://monarchwatch.org/free-milkweeds

Monarch Watch: Milkweed Market
https://shop.milkweedmarket.org

Monarch Watch: Monarch Waystation Program
https://monarchwatch.org/waystations

Natural Resources Conservation Service: Monarch Butterflies
https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/monarch-butterflies

Monarch Joint Venture: Downloads and Links
https://monarchjointventure.org/resources/downloads-and-links

Monarch Joint Venture: Monarch Community Science Opportunities
https://monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/study-monarchs-community-science-opportunities

Pollinator Partnership: Monarch Resources
https://www.pollinator.org/monarch/monarch-resources

U.S. Drought Monitor
https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Xerces Society: Monarch butterfly Conservation
https://xerces.org/monarchs

Xerces Society: Monarch Nectar Plant Observations
https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/de1e0d022a4d4732939471cad6969b3a

Filed under General | Comments Off on Background on the relationship of overwintering monarch numbers in 2023-2024 to the extreme drought in October and November 2023

Monarch Watch Update January 2024

31 January 2024 | Author: Jim Lovett

This newsletter was recently sent via email to those who subscribe to our email updates. If you would like to receive periodic email updates from Monarch Watch, please take a moment to complete and submit the short form at monarchwatch.org/subscribe/

Greetings Monarch Watchers and Happy New Year to all!

Each and every one of you is an important part of our team and we are very thankful for everyone who supports us through donations, participation in our programs, and other activities that serve our mission to sustain the monarch migration. As we’ve said before, we need to get more plants in the ground – specifically milkweeds and nectar plants that support the breeding population and fall nectar plants that support the migration. The challenge is substantial and difficult to navigate but we must do what we can counter the threats to monarchs and their habitat. We all can create Monarch Waystations, restore habitats, and inspire stewardship in the younger generations. These actions represent our mission at Monarch Watch, and we are grateful for your continued support. We hope you will be with us again this year!

If you have not yet seen our 2023 Monarch Watch Summary, I encourage you to check it out via the Monarch Watch Blog when you have time – after reading this important update, of course 🙂

Included in this issue:
1. Monarch Watch One-Day Fundraising Event
2. Monarch Watch Welcomes a New Director
3. Monarch Population Status
4. Monarch Watch Milkweed Programs
5. Monarch Tag Data & Recoveries
6. Monarch Waystations
7. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!
8. About This Monarch Watch List


1. Monarch Watch One-Day Fundraising Event


Monarch Watch will again be featured in the University of Kansas’ annual One Day. One KU. 24-hour fundraising campaign which will take place on Thursday, February 15th this year. The event will provide an opportunity for Monarch Watchers all over the globe to come together and show their support of our program. As you may know, we have topped the departmental challenge leaderboard for the last three years, bringing in the greatest total number of gifts of any unit at KU during this event. This is extremely gratifying but not only that – it demonstrates to the entire KU community the substantial reach of our program (well beyond our city, state, and country boundaries) and the incredible support we receive from all of you.

We hope to top the chart once again this year and we need your help! Our 3-yr average number of gifts for this event is 592 and we would love to meet or beat that number. Several Monarch Watchers have stepped up to provide matches or challenges to make your donation go even further. Donations of any amount are appreciated and will push us closer to our goal.

This year, gifts will help get more milkweeds in the ground via our free milkweed programs (described below). Please plan to visit us on Thursday, February 15th to give and we will also email you the direct link on the day as a reminder. Please spread the word about this opportunity and thank you for your interest and continued support!

Additional information about this year’s campaign is available at https://monarchwatch.org/1day


2. Monarch Watch Welcomes a New Director


Dr. Kristen Baum, well known for her work on monarchs and pollinators, is now the Director of Monarch Watch. She comes to us from Oklahoma State University, where she was a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology for more than 18 years.

Kristen’s monarch research focuses on the effects of land use and management practices on the distribution and abundance of monarchs, milkweeds, and monarch-parasite interactions. She also has a long-term project focusing on the wing size, body weight, sex ratio, and OE infection status of fall migrants in Oklahoma. She has served on numerous state, regional and national working groups to support conservation efforts for monarchs and other pollinators.

The Monarch Watch Directorship will be supported in part by the Chip and Toni Taylor Professorship in Support of Monarch Watch, an endowment fund established in 2022 when Chip announced that he would be stepping away from the day-to-day operations of Monarch Watch to focus on writing and other projects:

“When close to retirement, I realized that the program was reaching at least 100,000 people a year and that it simply had to continue. I’m pleased to be able to turn the directorship over to Kristen Baum. Kristen is an outstanding scientist, a dynamic and experienced leader with a strong research program. She also has an outstanding record as an adviser to developing scientists.” – Chip Taylor, Founder and Director Emeritus of Monarch Watch

Kristen is excited to join the Monarch Watch team:

“Under Chip’s leadership, Monarch Watch has developed an international reach through research, education and on-the-ground conservation efforts that have benefited the monarch butterfly, as well as other pollinators and wildlife. I’m honored to have been selected to lead Monarch Watch and build on these efforts that have been decades in the making. It has been interesting to learn more about Monarch Watch and I continue to be amazed by Monarch Watch’s reach and impact. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes activities that I think you would be interested in learning more about as well, and we will look for more ways to share these with you soon.” – Kristen Baum, Director of Monarch Watch

You can learn more about Kristen at https://monarchwatch.org/about


3. Monarch Population Status


Eastern Monarch Population
Several key metrics linked to the development of the monarch population and success of the migration suggest that the overwintering numbers may be lower than last year. We expect the official report of the monarch numbers in Mexico to be released in the coming weeks and we will send a brief update at that time with a summary and analysis (and post via the Monarch Watch Blog as well) – stay tuned!

Western Monarch Population
A total of 233,394 butterflies across 256 overwintering sites were counted in the annual Western Monarch Count. This is lower than last year’s count but similar to that in 2021. From a Xerces Blog post about this season’s count: “One highlight was a visitor at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary in Monterey County, California, spotted a butterfly that had been tagged by the Southwest Monarch Study in northern Utah, meaning it had traveled over 700 miles.”

For additional discussion about historical Western monarch population numbers, please see Chip’s The Western monarch puzzle: the decline and increase in monarch numbers posted to the Monarch Watch Blog last year.


4. Monarch Watch Milkweed Programs


All hands on deck! Plant milkweed for monarchs! Great pollinator habitat includes native milkweeds. Milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly and a nectar source for many other insects. Invite monarchs to your habitat, large or small, with milkweeds from Monarch Watch. Please help us spread the word by sharing widely.

Monarch Watch Milkweed Market

Native milkweeds for gardens or habitat are available for purchase from our Milkweed Market. The minimum purchase is one flat of 32 plants (58 for Texas). If your space is too small for 32 milkweeds, share with your neighbors! Not available in all areas. https://shop.milkweedmarket.org

Free milkweed for habitat restoration projects

Monarch Watch will once again be distributing free milkweeds for planting in large-scale habitat restoration projects in 2024. Since this program began in 2015, 840,000 milkweeds have been distributed and planted in restored habitat throughout much of the monarch breeding range. To qualify, applicants must have a minimum of two acres (one acre or less in California) to restore to natural, native habitat, and have a management plan in place. Milkweeds are awarded on a first come, first served basis, so apply early. Those awarded free milkweeds need only pay shipping/handling, which is modest compared to the value of the plants. For more information and to apply, please visit: https://monarchwatch.org/free-milkweed-restoration

Free milkweed for schools and educational non-profits

Butterfly gardens are a great educational tool! Schools and educational nonprofits may apply for a free flat of native milkweeds for a public garden. Single flats of 32 plants (58 for Texas) will be distributed to recipients in the spring. The application can be found here: https://monarchwatch.org/free-milkweed-schools-nonprofits


5. Monarch Tag Data & Recoveries


Many of you have already submitted your 2023 season monarch tag data to us via mail, our online submission form, or our mobile app – thank you! If you haven’t submitted yours yet (even for previous years) please do so at your earliest convenience. Please review the “Submitting Your Tagging Data” information on the Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging

There is a large “Submit Your Tagging Data” button on our homepage that will take you directly to the online form. There you can upload your data sheets as an Excel or other spreadsheet file (PREFERRED; download a template file from https://monarchwatch.org/tagging ) or a PDF/image file (scan or photo). You may also record and submit your data via the Monarch Watch mobile app (iOS & Android).

If you have any questions about getting your data to us, please feel free to drop Jim a line anytime via JLOVETT@KU.EDU

As a reminder, tag recoveries from Mexico are typically reported to us in February/March and posted in April/May, as soon as everything has been verified. Tag recoveries within the U.S., Canada and northern Mexico are typically reported online in February. Once updated, you will be able to check your tag codes against the lists published on the Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging


6. Monarch Waystations


To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources we need to create, conserve, and protect monarch butterfly habitats. You can help by creating “Monarch Waystations” in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. Creating a Monarch Waystation can be as simple as adding milkweeds and nectar sources to existing gardens or maintaining natural habitats with milkweeds and nectar plants. No effort is too small to have a positive impact.

Have you created a habitat for monarchs and other wildlife? If so, help support our conservation efforts by registering your habitat as an official Monarch Waystation today!

Monarch Waystation Program: https://monarchwatch.org/waystations

A quick online application will register your site and your habitat will be added to the online registry. You will receive a certificate bearing your name and your habitat’s ID that can be used to look up its record. You may also choose to purchase a metal sign to display in your habitat to encourage others to get involved in monarch conservation.

As of 4 January 2024, there have been 46,102 Monarch Waystation habitats registered with Monarch Watch!

You can view the complete Monarch Waystation Registry and a map of approximate locations via https://monarchwatch.org/waystations/registry


7. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!


We are always looking for monarch photos, videos, stories and more for use on our website, on our social media accounts, in our publications, and as a part of other promotional and educational items we distribute online and offline to promote monarch conservation and Monarch Watch.

There are several ways you can send us your favorite files (please only submit your own materials) and all of the methods below are accessible via https://monarchwatch.org/share

1. Main submission form at https://monarchwatch.org/share/submit
This is the form we prefer you use as it is the most comprehensive and allows you to provide complete information.

2. Quick uploader for photos and videos at https://monarchwatch.org/share/photos
Note that this method does not allow you to include contact or other information.

3. If you have issues using either of the tools above you may also email your submission to us at share@monarchwatch.org but please include everything we ask for on the main form by copying/pasting the information below into your email message (or use it as a guide).

Name:
Email address:
Do you want to be credited when we use your materials, when feasible?
Name as you would like it to appear in credit:
Description of materials or other comments (for photos and videos this should include an approximate date of capture and location):

Please note that by sharing materials with Monarch Watch you agree to the statements provided at https://monarchwatch.org/share regarding their origin and use. Thank you!


8. About This Monarch Watch List


Monarch Watch ( https://monarchwatch.org ) is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program affiliated with the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas. The program strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. Monarch Watch engages in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration and also promotes the protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.

We rely on private contributions to support the program and we need your help! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Complete details are available at https://monarchwatch.org/donate or you can simply call 785-832-7386 (KU Endowment Association) for more information about giving to Monarch Watch.

If you have any questions about this email or any of our programs, please feel free to contact us anytime.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

Jim Lovett
Monarch Watch
https://monarchwatch.org

You are receiving this mail because you were subscribed to the Monarch Watch list via monarchwatch.org or shop.monarchwatch.org – if you would rather not receive these periodic email updates from Monarch Watch (or would like to remove an old email address) you may UNSUBSCRIBE via https://monarchwatch.org/unsubscribe

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Monarchs now ranked as ‘endangered’ in Canada

18 January 2024 | Author: Chip Taylor

I started the year with a rant!

While traveling over the holidays, I received an email from Canadian Don Davis on 26 December informing me that “Monarch butterflies are now ranked under Canada’s Species at Risk Act as “Endangered”.” There was no indication of how this decision had been reached or who among the Canadian experts had been consulted. Such decisions have wide ranging effects, and since I’m rather protective about monarchs, and all for accountability, I penned the below on 1 January and hastily posted it to Dplex-L. The following is an improved version of that text. – Chip Taylor, Founding Director of Monarch Watch

These rulings are puzzling. They reveal that there is absolutely no understanding of the factors that determine the number of monarchs that appear in Canada each summer. It’s all about the timing and number of females reaching Canadian latitudes and longitudes from 12 May to 12 June. When monarchs arrive early in that time frame, and in good numbers, the populations are robust if summer conditions allow, and if late, the growth is limited, especially if summer conditions are limiting (low temperatures and/or precipitation). Before that, the number of first-generation monarchs moving north in May is largely determined by the numbers returning from Mexico and the conditions in March and April in Texas and Oklahoma that determined reproductive success by the returning monarchs. Given that reality, there is nothing that Canada can do to increase the timing and numbers of colonizing monarchs. The only thing that can be done is to maintain and restore monarch habitat and hope for favorable weather throughout the annual cycle.

Come to think of it, all of the above applies to the United States as well, doesn’t it? Except that the United States is less vulnerable to unfavorable low summer temperatures. If you go back through the earliest temperature records, which began in the United States in 1895, there were years such as 1915 when it was so cold from March through May that it was unlikely that there was much of a monarch population in either Canada or the United States (Figure 1). Going further into the climatic history suggests that monarch populations in both countries are more robust now than in many periods prior to the 1940s. The interval from 1976 to the present has been more favorable for population development than in earlier decades. Monarch numbers are largely temperature driven (the same for most invertebrates) with the maximum numbers at any time interval determined by the abundance, distribution and quality of the resources that favor reproductive success. Given these relationships, terrestrial invertebrates are more vulnerable to changes in the weather than vertebrates and therefore more difficult to sustain or restore. The Endangered Species Act has had some remarkable successes in the restoration of vertebrates, but given increasing temperatures and more variable precipitation throughout the continent, it seems less likely that endangered status will lead to effective restoration of terrestrial invertebrates such as monarchs and pollinators, and perhaps many temperature-sensitive aquatic invertebrates and fishes as well.

There are near-term and long-term realities when it comes to saving species of concern. In the near-term, to sustain what we can, we must engage in massive efforts to sustain and restore habitats and the resources these species require. At the same time, the long-term realities tell us that we must do all that we can to mitigate climate change.

The following is from a blog post last summer, Monarchs: Weather and population sizes in the past (monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/07/21/monarchs-weather-and-population-sizes-in-the-past).


Figure 1. Average March temperatures for Texas from 1895-2023.

There are three trends in these records: the high variation from year to year that ended in 1974, the damped variation from 1975 to perhaps 1994 and the progressive increase in temperatures from 1994 to the present. The average temperatures have increased 0.8F per decade since 1975 to 60.14 F vs the long-term (1900-2020) average of 56.3F. Note the five periods of 3-4 years in succession with extreme cold March temperatures. Such temperatures delay recolonization by monarchs returning from Mexico and recolonization of the summer breeding area north of 40N. These conditions would have led to smaller migrations and lower numbers overwintering in Mexico.

On another note. I keep seeing a dramatic shift in the temperature data that starts in the mid 1970s. I haven’t seen anyone comment on that in the climate discussions, but it is suggestive of something of a tipping point, especially for temperate invertebrates.

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2023 Monarch Watch summary

1 January 2024 | Author: Jim Lovett

Season’s Greetings from Team Monarch Watch!

You are an important part of our team as well. Your interest shows that you are aware of the need to sustain the monarch migration, and that means advocacy for all measures that can be taken to increase monarch numbers. Stated simply, we need to get plants in the ground – specifically milkweeds and nectar plants that support the breeding population and fall nectar plants that support the migration. The challenge is substantial and difficult to navigate. The climate is changing; we can see that in the data. March temperatures in Texas are becoming too warm, allowing monarchs to fly too far north too soon. In addition, high September temperatures are slowing the migrations, leading to fewer monarchs reaching the overwintering sites in Mexico. These sites also face threats due to droughts, beetle damage and illegal logging. While there is not much we can do to counter some threats, we can create Monarch Waystations, restore habitats, and inspire stewardship in the younger generations. These actions represent our mission at Monarch Watch, and we are grateful for your continued support.

Monarchs have a remarkable annual cycle – a breeding season in the U.S. and Canada and a non-breeding season as they overwinter for 5 months in Mexico. In effect, every year is the same, yet every year is different due to weather and other factors that influence reproductive success. We have a similar rhythm at Monarch Watch. Winter is spent catching up, writing, and planning for the next season, including our Spring Plant Fundraiser. Late spring and summer we work with nurseries to distribute milkweeds. Fall is all about tagging and public events and later seed collecting and processing followed by planning the number of milkweeds to be grown the next year.

So, while it might be said that each year is the same, they are all different – even more so this year. As you may remember, last year Founding Director Chip Taylor announced that he would be stepping away from the day-to-day operations of Monarch Watch to focus on writing and other projects. We are pleased to announce that the need for a new director has been met. Dr. Kristen Baum, known for her research on monarchs and pollinators, joined us at the end of October and we are still in the process of making the transition. Kristen’s first task as Director of Monarch Watch was to put together a five-year review of our activities. That took some time and a lot of digging into records and memories which enabled Kristen to get up to speed rapidly.

“It has been interesting to learn more about Monarch Watch and I continue to be amazed by Monarch Watch’s reach and impact. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes activities that I think you would be interested in learning more about as well, and we will look for more ways to share these with you soon.” – Kristen Baum, Director of Monarch Watch

You can learn more about Kristen at monarchwatch.org/about

Monarch Watch had another busy year:

Monarch Waystations. We added more than 4,200 Monarch Waystations, bringing the total to over 46,000 registered sites. Our minimal target for next year is 50,000. Supporters can help by encouraging others to register and display our signs. If you see a sign in a prominent place, send us a photo – and a photo of your own Monarch Waystation as well! Share via monarchwatch.org/share

International Master Gardener Conference. Monarch Watch was a tour destination for the 2023 International Master Gardener Conference this past June. We thank the Douglas County Master Gardeners for their dedication to Monarch Waystation #1 and making it a showcase garden.

One Day. One KU. We won again. Each year after the One Day. One KU. fundraising event the Endowment Association recognizes the University unit that receives the greatest number of donations and each year we win. While we don’t receive the highest dollar amount, we have had more donors than KU Athletics three years in a row. Funds raised during this event support our work to grow and distribute milkweeds. It’s important work, and we invite you to join us again in this effort on February 15, 2024.

Monarch Habitat. We worked with five nurseries to produce and distribute 156,000 regionally appropriate milkweed plugs in 2023. Free milkweeds were sent to 200 schools and non-profits and to those managing restoration projects in the Midwest, Texas, and California. Many were also distributed through our Milkweed Market. We could do much more if there was additional funding to support milkweed production and distribution.

Public Events. Thanks to everyone who joined us for our free public events in the spring and fall. These family events are both fun and informative. This year the tagging event at the Baker University Wetlands Discovery Center attracted over 400 people. It was a great day, and 577 monarchs were caught, tagged, and released. We hope you will join us when we hold these events next year – Spring Open House & Plant Fundraiser (May 11); Fall Open House (September 14); Fall Tagging Event (September 21).

One last thing. On the 2nd of January 1975, Ken and Cathy Brugger came upon a monarch colony at Cerro Pelon, near Zitácuaro, Mexico. Although these colonies were known to local people, Ken and Cathy (now known as Catalina Trail) were the first outsiders to witness and report on this overwintering behavior. A month later, they “discovered” another concentration of monarchs at Sierra Chincua. These findings solved a long-term question about where monarchs spent the winter – a question long pursued by Fred and Norah Urquhart of the University of Toronto. Fred placed an ad in a Mexican newspaper looking for help in locating overwintering monarchs. Ken answered the ad and he and Catalina began a quest to locate monarch concentrations. After the findings were announced, Fred and Ken were widely lauded for the achievement; however, it is now clear that Catalina played a significant role in these discoveries. The “one last thing” in this case is the magnificent feature on monarchs in the January 2024 issue of National Geographic. The article is something of a commemoration of the events in early 1975. The photography by Jaime Rojo is extraordinary and the text by Michelle Nijhuis provides a glimpse of the diverse ways many scientists, conservationists and thousands of individuals are engaged with monarchs. It’s a far cry from the singular efforts by Fred and Norah Urquhart to answer a question that had lingered since the days of C. V. Riley and others in the 1860s. The question for more than 100 years was where and how monarchs spend the winter. Now, a mere fifty years later, the question has become How can we sustain the monarch migration?

Again, thank you for your continued interest and support and we hope you will be with us again this coming year. Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday season!

Sincerely,

Chip Taylor, Kristen Baum, Jim Lovett, Ann Ryan, Dena Podrebarac
Team Monarch Watch

To keep up with the status of monarchs and other news, subscribe to our email updates (monarchwatch.org/subscribe), join our email discussion list (monarchwatch.org/dplex), visit our blog (monarchwatch.org/blog), and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and X. To donate to Monarch Watch, please visit monarchwatch.org/donate


Looking back and looking forward

In 1992, I started a small monarch tagging project with the help of Brad Williamson, a local high school science teacher. That project attracted the attention of the public and led to the creation of Monarch Watch. Although we characterized Monarch Watch as focused on education, conservation, and research, in the early years, most of our efforts involved educational outreach and research. My thought at the time was that conservation would take care of itself. I was wrong. That became apparent when I received an email from a farmer in Nebraska in 2004 who informed me that the new genetically modified crop lines he had adopted were leading to the loss of milkweeds in his corn and soybean fields and that in turn was reducing the number of monarchs on his farm. Alarmed at this news, I knew we had to shift our emphasis to conservation. Although struggling financially at the time, we decided to start the Monarch Waystation program in 2005. The program has grown, and we now have over 46 thousand registered sites. Once we became more financially secure, we began to work with nurseries to produce milkweeds that could be used in these Monarch Waystations and for restoration. Although educational outreach and research continue, our main focus has become monarch and pollinator conservation. Over the years, we have facilitated the growth and distribution of over 1 million milkweed plugs. We were the first organization to step into this role and are proud of these efforts.

There are many challenges ahead. Our growing population and the intensification of agriculture continue to result in the loss of habitats for monarchs, pollinators, and other species that share these landscapes. Clearly, restoration projects need to increase, and we need to sustain and improve our outreach and research. Confronted with these realities, I realized that I had to assure that Monarch Watch’s role as a leading advocate for monarchs would continue. That meant stepping down as Director of Monarch Watch and finding a way to fund the salary of a new director. The solution was to create an Endowed Professorship at KU with the support of the University and the KU Endowment Association. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to contribute $1.4 million to start the Chip and Toni Taylor Professorship in Support of Monarch Watch and generous contributions received from others have brought us closer to our $3 million goal. The fund allowed the University to initiate a search for the position which resulted in the hiring of Dr. Kristen Baum, and we couldn’t be happier. Kristen is an outstanding scientist with a long history of working with monarchs, pollinators, and grasslands.

People ask me what I will be doing now that I’m retired. I’m not sure what retirement actually means, but I do know I will be contributing to Monarch Watch as long as I can. –Chip Taylor, Founding Director


In order of appearance, photos provided by: Mijeong Baek, Jenny Miner, KBS-CER, Chip Taylor, Chip Taylor, Ann Dean, Ken Brugger, Ann Ryan, and Mei Ling Liu. Thank you!

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Species Status Assessment and the three r’s

13 October 2023 | Author: Chip Taylor

When species are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a Species Status Assessment (SSA) is usually prepared. This assessment is based on the available science, and in some cases, the opinions of scientists that work closely with that species. At the core of the assessment are the three r’s: resilience, redundancy and representation. Resilience refers to data that may or may not support the ability of the species to respond to stochastic (random) events. Redundancy represents an assessment of the ability of a species to respond to catastrophic mortality. Representation seems to have two interpretations, the ability of a species to adapt to long term changes in the environment and/or the species role in the ecological processes in the range it occupies.

Resilience and redundancy are somewhat similar in that both assessments address evidence of the ability of a species to respond to external factors such as weather events, diseases, or the actions of predators or competing species. Representation seems to be more difficult to assess since it depends on a known history of adaptability which is often lacking. Similarly, evidence of the role a species plays in the ecological processes of the environment in which it resides is also difficult to assess. Representation would seem to rely quite often on subjective assessments rather than quantitative data. For example, what is the role/contribution (value) of an herbivorous insect that is one of many species that feeds on a particular plant, but whose main contribution is as a food item for foliage-gleaning wasps and birds? How is that judged? As a practical matter, it is quite difficult to assess how the presence of a species fits into the ecological mix in a particular environment. Still, it’s possible to define species that are host specific as lacking in adaptability if their host is removed from the environment by disease or other factors. Weevil and moth species, and perhaps many other insects, were lost as the result of the blight that killed the American chestnut (Anderson, 2017). This is an example of co-extinction. Co-extinction is likely to apply to most of the 300 species of insects that use ash trees as their hosts. Many will become extinct due to their inability to adapt to other hosts as their host ash trees (18 species) are eliminated by the introduced Emerald Ash Borer (Horne, et al., 2023). These will be silent extinctions. There will be no SSAs or clamor of any kind to save these species.

So, how do the three r’s apply to monarchs? As I have pointed out in previous articles, monarchs are remarkably resilient (Taylor, 2023A, B). The assessments of how monarchs have responded to weather events over the last 29 years have been used to ask how monarch populations might have been affected by extreme weather in the past. This approach led to two articles. One examined the probable responses to the most extreme weather events in the record that dates from 1895 and the other examined the likely outcomes of the extreme conditions during the dust bowl years from 1927–1936 (Taylor, 2023A, B). In both cases, there were several years in which it was likely that the population was as low or much lower than it was in 2013 (0.67ha). In all of these examples, monarchs recovered, again demonstrating the resilience of the species. Since many of the extremes were greater than any recorded in the last 29 years, it could be argued that these recoveries demonstrated adaptability to the climate and therefore a degree of representation. As for the last 29 years, there are numerous examples of recoveries from extreme weather events, e.g., the decline from 1999 (9.05) to 2000 (2.83) due to the drought in 2000 and the subsequent recovery in 2001 (9.35). There were similar declines and recoveries from 2003–2005 (11.12 – 2.19 – 5.92), 2008–2010 (5.06 – 1.92 – 4.02). Multiple factors were involved in the declines recorded in 2004 and 2009 (Taylor, in prep). There was also the big crash from 2011-2015 that began with the 7-month drought in Texas in 2011. In that case, the numbers, starting with 2011, were 2.89 – 1.19 – 0.67 – 1.13 – 4.01. There were significant increases in the population in each of the two years following the low (0.67) in 2013. For reference to the overwintering numbers see Figure 1. For an account of the decline and recovery from 2011–2015, see Taylor, 2021. A long explanation for what happened in the Western monarch population in the fall of 2020 with only 1,899 found at overwintering sites, to the following fall when 247K were counted can be found at Taylor, 2023C. This account represents another example of the resilience of the monarch population.

As to redundancy, which refers to the ability of a species to recover from catastrophic events, monarchs have that ability. In the last 29 years, the population has recovered from three El Niño related winter weather events that killed 75% of the butterflies in January of 2002, 70% killed in two January–February storms in 2004 and 40% in an early March storm in 2016 (Brower, et al., 2004, Brower, et al., 2017, Taylor, 2004). The severity of those storms was reflected in the post storm recovery of Monarch Watch tags from dead monarchs. These tags had been applied the previous fall migration. While tag recoveries typically number 400–600, the tags recovered after these storms numbered 3,331, 3,127, and 1,798 respectively. The monarch populations were lower in the year following each of these events (2002, 2004, 2016) but increased again in 2003 and 2005 and decreased only slightly from 2016 to 2017 (2.91 – 2.48). Thus, in each case, while the catastrophic mortality was severe, the population recovered in the second year or the following year. These are remarkable examples of the ability of the monarch population to recover following episodes of mass mortality.

The representation/adaptability/ecological role for monarchs is more nuanced. To some extent monarchs are pollinators and to another they are food for other species, but these roles are minor in the sense of representation. Monarchs cannot be described as a keystone species. In another sense, they are vulnerable since they are dependent on milkweeds as hosts for their larvae. Thus, if there are no milkweeds, there are no monarchs. Further, they show little capacity to explore alternative hosts in the Apocynaceae. Fortunately, milkweeds are diverse and widespread and monarchs are sufficiently adaptable to utilize at least 30 of the more than 70 species of milkweeds in the United States. A counter to concerns about habitat loss is our ability to propagate and restore milkweeds in habitats from which they have been extirpated. In the sense of representation, monarchs are adaptable, in that, if we create habitats, they will find them. Further, monarchs which were originally a species limited to the Americas, are now a pan-tropical species having adapted to a wide range of subtropical and tropical habitats following the introductions of several milkweed species. These examples surely speak to adaptability.

Curiously, though the three Rs are at the core of SSAs, they are only mentioned in passing in the SSA of 2020 (FWS, 2020, see pp 12-13). There was no discussion or analysis of how these criteria applied to monarchs even though all of the evidence outlined above was readily available at that time (except for the recovery in the West from 2020 to 2021). The data cited above, and more, should surely be incorporated into the SSA being prepared for the pending listing decision.

The silent partner in the push to have monarchs regulated is their cultural value. They are an iconic species. Their migration is remarkable. They are a species of wonder with a remarkable capacity to traverse a continent. Their beauty, and accessibility, along with charisma, generate emotional responses like no other insect. They are part of our heritage and reminders that we are the stewards of their fate being that we dominate the landscape and how it is used or misused. Biologically, they are an extraordinary example of the drive to survive and reproduce. Much remains unknown of how they respond to the physical cues in the environment and how those cues are processed in a manner that leads to behavioral responses. They are a model species for this research area. None of these considerations can be part of the SSA, yet they heighten the concerns about the need to sustain the monarch migration.

References

Anderson, R. S., 2017. Co-extinction: The Case of the American Chestnut and the Greater Chestnut Weevil (Curculio caryatrypes). https://nature.ca/en/co-extinction-and-the-case-of-american-chestnut-and-the-greater-chestnut-weevil-curculio-caryatrypes/.

Brower, L. P., Williams, E. H., Jaramillo-Lopez, P., Kust, D. R., Slayback, D. A., and Ramíerz, M. I. (2017). Butterfly Mortality and Salvage Logging from the March 2016 Storm in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Amer. Entomol. 63, Issue 3, 151–164.

Brower, L.P., D.R. Kust, E. Rendon-Salinas, E. G. Serrano, K. R. Kust, J. Miller, C. Fernandez del Rey, and K. Pape. 2004. Catastrophic winter storm mortality of monarch butterflies in Mexico during January 2002, pp. 151–166. In K. S. Oberhauser and M. J. Solensky (eds.). The monarch butterfly: biology and conservation. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Fish and Wildlife Service. Monarch Butterfly Species Status Assessment (SSA) Report. September 2020. https://www.fws.gov/media/monarch-butterfly-species-status-assessment-ssa-report

Horne, G. M., R. Manderino, S. P. Jaffe. 2023. Specialist Herbivore Performance on Introduced Plants During Native Host Decline. Environmental Entomology, Volume 52, Issue 1, February 2023, Pages 88–97, https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvac107

Taylor, O.R. 2004. Status of the population. Monarch Watch Update, 16 February 2004.Monarch Watch, Lawrence, Kansas. http://www.monarchwatch.org/update/2004/0318.html#4.

Taylor, O. R., 2021. Monarch population crash in 2013
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2021/06/11/monarch-population-crash-in-2013/

Taylor, O. R., 2023A. Monarchs: Weather and population sizes in the past
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/07/21/monarchs-weather-and-population-sizes-in-the-past/

Taylor, O. R., 2023B. Monarch populations during the Dust Bowl years
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/07/17/monarch-populations-during-the-dust-bowl-years/

Taylor, O. R., 2003C. The Western monarch puzzle: the decline and increase in monarch numbers
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/05/29/the-western-monarch-puzzle-the-decline-and-increase-in-monarch-numbers/

monarch-population-figure-monarchwatch-2023
Figure 1. Total Area Occupied by Monarch Colonies at Overwintering Sites in Mexico.

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Monarch Watch Update September 2023

29 September 2023 | Author: Jim Lovett

This newsletter was recently sent via email to those who subscribe to our email updates. If you would like to receive periodic email updates from Monarch Watch, please take a moment to complete and submit the short form at monarchwatch.org/subscribe/

Greetings Monarch Watchers!

A brief update this time around as we wrap up our fall events and begin to think about catching our breath – fall is a busy time for us, as you can imagine. If you have contacted us recently and not yet received a response, thank you for your patience!

Included in this issue:
1. Summary of Monarch Watch Fall Events
2. Monarch Watch Tagging Kits
3. Submitting Tag Data
4. Monarch Calendar Project
5. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!
6. About This Monarch Watch List


1. Summary of Monarch Watch Fall Events


As the monarch migration continues, we are wrapping up our local fall events and want to thank everyone who visited us in person or otherwise participated in our events and activities. It is extremely gratifying to see so many people enjoying what we do and to hear how their experiences with monarchs have enriched their lives. We couldn’t do what we do without the support and participation of all of the Monarch Watchers out there, so THANK YOU!

Some event photos appear on our Facebook page and we plan to share lots more with you soon!

MONARCH WATCH TAGGING EVENT
Last weekend more than 400 monarch enthusiasts joined us at the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center for our annual monarch tagging event. We provided the tags, nets, and instruction then sent taggers out into the field to tag and release monarch butterflies as a part of our long-term mark and recapture program. By the end of the 4-hour event, more than 550 monarchs had been tagged and sent on their way to Mexico.

MONARCH WATCH FALL OPEN HOUSE
Two weeks ago, we welcomed hundreds of visitors of all ages to Monarch Waystation #1 at Monarch Watch headquarters in Lawrence, KS. They made seed balls, took a chrysalis or two home, got their faces painted, watched tagging demonstrations, played with balloon butterflies, enjoyed our garden, experienced monarchs emerging from their chrysalis, tried their hand at origami, discovered braille, learned about monarchs, milkweed, nature and a whole lot more – all thanks to a dedicated group of staff, students and volunteers that Monarch Watch is lucky to have. It was a great day!

CHIP IN FOR MONARCH WATCH
The 2023 Chip in for Monarch Watch fundraising campaign is coming to a close but there is still time to Chip in! If you are in a position to offer financial support to Monarch Watch, please consider making a donation of any amount during our fall campaign.

We encourage you to spend a little time on the Chip in for Monarch Watch page – the connections that are facilitated by monarchs and Monarch Watch are truly extraordinary.

Chip in for Monarch Watch: https://monarchwatch.org/chip


2. Monarch Watch Tagging Kits


Tagging Kits are still available for those of you in southern locations and if you order today, they should arrive within 7-10 days via USPS First Class Mail.

Monarch Watch Tagging Kits are only shipped to areas east of the Rocky Mountains. Each tagging kit includes a set of specially manufactured monarch butterfly tags (you specify quantity), a data sheet, tagging instructions, and additional monarch / migration information. Tagging Kits for the 2023 season start at only $15 and include your choice of 25, 50, 100, 200, or 500 tags.

Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and other materials (don’t forget a net!) are available via the Monarch Watch Shop online at https://shop.monarchwatch.org – where each purchase helps support Monarch Watch.

2023 datasheets and instructions are available online via the Monarch Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging

Tagging should begin in September and early October in areas south of 35N latitude. See a map and tables with expected peak migration dates and suggested dates to begin tagging on the Monarch Tagging Program page at the link above.


3. Submitting Tag Data


Many of you have already submitted your 2023 season monarch tag data to us via mail, our online submission form, or our mobile app – thank you! If you haven’t submitted yours yet (even for previous years) please do so at your earliest convenience. Please review the “Submitting Your Tagging Data” information on the Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging

There is a large “Submit Your Tagging Data” button on our homepage that will take you directly to the online form. There you can upload your data sheets as an Excel or other spreadsheet file (PREFERRED; download a template file from https://monarchwatch.org/tagging ) or a PDF/image file (scan or photo). You may also record and submit your data via the Monarch Watch mobile app (iOS & Android).

If you have any questions about getting your data to us, please feel free to drop Jim a line anytime via JLOVETT@KU.EDU


4. Monarch Calendar Project


For those of you participating in our Monarch Calendar project for 2023 (complete details and short registration form at https://monarchwatch.org/calendar ), observation Period 2 has ended (the final date being September 25th, for those of you south of 35N). Once you have logged all of your observations using whatever format works for you (spreadsheet, notebook, calendar, etc.), please use the appropriate online form to submit your data to us:

2023 Submission Forms:

SOUTH (latitude less than 35N)
Form for Period 1 (15 March – 30 April): https://forms.gle/wcUEvi1qQhyaQcot8
Form for Period 2 (1 August – 25 September): https://forms.gle/jDvXMbdnsktn1oNF8

NORTH (latitude greater than 35N)
Form for Period 1 (1 April – 20 June): https://forms.gle/tCF26JhaCPYD8Ubm7
Form for Period 2 (15 July – 20 August): https://forms.gle/HDZ4yPMpBpVu9dfh6

You may also use the Monarch Watch mobile app to record and submit your observations. Please see https://monarchwatch.org/app


5. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!


We are always looking for monarch photos, videos, stories and more for use on our website, on our social media accounts, in our publications, and as a part of other promotional and educational items we distribute online and offline to promote monarch conservation and Monarch Watch.

There are several ways you can send us your favorite files (please only submit your own materials) and all of the methods below are accessible via https://monarchwatch.org/share

1. Main submission form at https://monarchwatch.org/share/submit
This is the form we prefer you use as it is the most comprehensive and allows you to provide complete information.

2. Quick uploader for photos and videos at https://monarchwatch.org/share/photos
Note that this method does not allow you to include contact or other information.

3. If you have issues using either of the tools above you may also email your submission to us at share@monarchwatch.org but please include everything we ask for on the main form by copying/pasting the information below into your email message (or use it as a guide).

Name:
Email address:
Do you want to be credited when we use your materials, when feasible?
Name as you would like it to appear in credit:
Description of materials or other comments (for photos and videos this should include an approximate date of capture and location):

Please note that by sharing materials with Monarch Watch you agree to the statements provided at https://monarchwatch.org/share regarding their origin and use. Thank you!


6. About This Monarch Watch List


Monarch Watch ( https://monarchwatch.org ) is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program affiliated with the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas. The program strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. Monarch Watch engages in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration and also promotes the protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.

We rely on private contributions to support the program and we need your help! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Complete details are available at https://monarchwatch.org/donate or you can simply call 785-832-7386 (KU Endowment Association) for more information about giving to Monarch Watch.

If you have any questions about this email or any of our programs, please feel free to contact us anytime.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

Jim Lovett
Monarch Watch
https://monarchwatch.org

You are receiving this mail because you were subscribed to the Monarch Watch list via monarchwatch.org or shop.monarchwatch.org – if you would rather not receive these periodic email updates from Monarch Watch (or would like to remove an old email address) you may UNSUBSCRIBE via https://monarchwatch.org/unsubscribe

If you would like to receive periodic email updates from Monarch Watch, you may SUBSCRIBE via https://monarchwatch.org/subscribe

This e-mail may be reproduced, printed, or otherwise redistributed as long as it is provided in full and without any modification. Requests to do otherwise must be approved in writing by Monarch Watch.

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Why there will always be monarchs

25 August 2023 | Author: Chip Taylor

Why there will always be monarchs:
Reproductive rate, replacement, resilience and extinction
by Chip Taylor, Director, Monarch Watch

Last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) added the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) to its Red List of endangered species. The simplified headlines and accounts that followed this announcement led many people to assume that the monarch is on a path to extinction. What that decision actually targeted was the eastern migratory population that overwinters in Mexico and not the species itself. The assumption that the eastern migratory population is endangered is based largely on the premise that the monarch populations of the mid-1990s (1994-1996) represented the average numbers that could be expected at the overwintering sites each winter. Based on that standard, due to the declines in monarchs in the following decades, many observers declared that the population has declined by 85%.

While the monarch decline from the late 1990s can be attributed to the loss of habitat following the adoption of herbicide tolerant (HT) crop lines as well as the implementation of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) (Pleasants and Oberhauser, 2013, Zuckerman, 2014, Lark, et al 2015, Pleasants, 2017), the loss of habitat due to these changes in agriculture declined after 2012 (Taylor, in prep). Nevertheless, there seems to be the assumption that the population is continuing to decline and that the monarch migration is threatened, possibly endangered and could be lost forever. That premise has been challenged by Meehan and Crossley (2023) who have shown that the population has not declined in the last decade. Indeed, multi-year running averages since 2012 show that the population averages between 2-3ha and is not continuing to decline (Taylor, in prep).

So, what does this mean for the United States? Should the Fish and Wildlife Service declare the monarch threatened or endangered or, given the present numbers and examples of representation, resilience and spatial redundancy, determine that regulatory protection is unwarranted? I favor the latter. In my view, there is nothing to be gained by declaring monarchs threatened or endangered at this time (Taylor, 2023). The “at this time” is key. In the near term, the numbers will certainly vary from year to year, and the prospect of losing the eastern migration may loom from time to time, but the monarch population is remarkably resilient, and the migration will be with us for decades. In the long term (>50 years), due to climate change, the migration will be lost. However, as a species, monarchs will be with us forever. That said, many species are less likely to survive during the coming decades than monarchs. In the following paragraphs, I will outline how the prospect of extinction is related to reproductive rate, specialization and resilience.

There are millions of species on this planet. Some complete their lives in hours while others live thousands of years. For each of these species, continuation from generation to generation depends on continuous successful reproduction by enough individuals to sustain the species. Failure to do so results in extinction. Continuation depends on the reproductive success of individuals that have the capacity to survive and reproduce – adaptations that have been shaped by selection through time. In the simplest terms, the goal for each individual is to replace itself. Some are unfit to do so while others are exceptionally successful. Reproductive rate is the result of long-term selection for numerous traits such as age to first reproduction, the number and size of offspring and more. And all of those traits are influenced by the rate of death prior to reproduction. What selection has produced – for the species that are still with us – is a reproductive rate that offsets the death rates with most species being able to produce an excess of potential reproductive individuals each generation. It is the ups and downs in these excess numbers that we track when trying to assess the status of species of interest. In spite of the shaping of reproductive rates by evolution, there have been intervals in evolutionary history during which change has out-paced the ability of species to evolve or adapt leading to mass extinctions. We are at the beginning of another such period of extinction known as the Anthropocene. Climate change and related human activities during this period seem certain to lead to the extinction of a large number of species that will not sustain their numbers in the face of higher death rates or lower birth rates, or both, associated with these changes.

So, what species will survive, and what species will be lost? We can’t be sure, but it already seems clear that species that are highly specialized, those that live in isolated and unique habitats, and those with extremely low reproductive rates are likely to become extinct in the coming decades. Indeed, some species appear to have already done so, e.g., the golden toad in Costa Rica (Note 1.) Specialization can be adaptive. Selection can favor traits that improve survivorship in a manner that narrows the resource base and habitats in which species reside. It can even result in reproductive modes that rely on the presence of other species, e.g., the emu/quinine/ant/seed dispersal in Australia (Note 2). These specializations can be maladaptive in the face of rapid environmental change. There are a variety of species with these specializations including many butterflies, other insects and even plants. In the case of plants, we have no idea how many involve a relationship with a specific pollinator such that, if the pollinator were to disappear, it would also lead to the loss of the plants themselves due to their inability to produce seeds. There are indications that this may already be happening. Specialists can be left behind during periods of change (Note 3).

As to the pollinators, many, especially social and solitary bees, and many wasps, have low reproductive rates. Bumble bees (Bombus) are especially vulnerable. Colonies are started in the spring by a queen that has survived the winter. If the colony grows well during the summer, reproductive males (drones) and females (queens) are produced toward the end of summer. These mate and the mated queens overwinter. However, during the winter losses can be high due to weather conditions and predation by skunks and other predators leaving few to start the population in some years. Nest failure is common following winter and in other cases, especially when resources are scarce, developing colonies produce only a few reproductives or none at all. After two to three years of low queen production and survival, bumble bees can become locally scarce or even locally and regionally extinct. Pockets may remain, and slow recoveries may be possible in some cases if habitats are stable, but that is less likely if resources decline or weather conditions continue to limit reproductive success. And then there is disease. If disease is the main driver of the decline, recovery may not occur with extinction to follow. Solitary bees, most of which are single brooded, also have low reproductive rates and are probably vulnerable to climate change although we know very little about their demography and year to year survival. Solitary bees are responsible for the pollination of many species of plants that are not visited by honey bees and bumble bees. These bees have an important roll in maintaining the integrity of the ecosystems in which they reside. Given the changing conditions, it is likely that many bee species will decline rapidly in the coming decades with significant numbers becoming extinct. Should that happen, there are indications that plant diversity will decline along with insect species that specialize on these plants. Those declines could be followed by declines in birds and other species that depend on the insects and seeds of the plants that are lost. The long-term result of such a negative cascade would be habitats and sometimes entire ecosystems dominated by a small number of species with high reproductive rates and the ability to survive in a broad range of environments. This has already happened in many areas where humans have extensively modified the landscape.

So, what does all of this say about monarchs? In contrast to the species described above, monarchs have a high reproductive rate and they are highly vagile (wide ranging). They are resilient in that they can quickly recover from conditions that led to sharp declines in numbers as we have seen during the recovery from 2013 (0.67ha, the all-time low) to 2015 (4.01) in the East and in the West from 2019 (30K) to 2022 (247K). Whether monarchs will be resilient enough to sustain the migration for the next 50 years is an open question. That will depend on the pace and extent of climate change, but surely, the migration will continue for several decades. However, even if the migration is lost, as a species, monarchs will always be with us (Note 4).

References

Lark, T. J., Salmon, J. M., and Gibbs, H. K. (2015). Cropland expansion outpaces agricultural and biofuel policies in the United States. Environ. Res. Lett. 10:044003. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/4/044003

Meehan, T.D. & Crossley, M.S. (2023) Change in monarch winter abundance over the past decade: A Red List perspective. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 1–8. doi.org/10.1111/icad.12646

Pleasants, J. (2017). Milkweed restoration in the Midwest for monarch butterfly recovery: estimates of milkweeds lost, milkweeds remaining and milkweeds that must be added to increase the monarch population. Insect Conserv. Divers. 10, 42–53. doi: 10.1111/icad.12198

Pleasants, J. M., and Oberhauser, K. S. (2013). Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conserv. Divers. 6, 135–144. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4598.2012.00196.x

Taylor, O. R., (2023). The pending decision: Will monarchs be designated as threatened or endangered? Monarch Watch Blog.
https://monarchwatch.org/blog/2023/06/14/the-pending-decision-will-monarchs-be-designated-as-threatened-or-endangered/

Zuckerman, J., 2014 Plowed Under. https://prospect.org/power/plow

Notes

1. Golden toad – This toad, first reported in 1964 from a small rainforest site in Costa Rica was last seen in 1989. It has now been listed as extinct by the IUCN. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_toad

2. There are many species whose reproductive success is dependent on the presence and specific response of another species – sometimes two. One of the more complex three species interactions involve seed dispersal aided by emus and ants in Australia. https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2019/9/30/emus-ants-one-heck-of-a-seed-dispersal-strategy

3. The Emerald Ash Borer, an introduced species from Asia, is decimating 18 species of ash trees over much of the United States. Ash trees are known to be the hosts for 300 insects with about 100 species being Lepidoptera. Among these are species, such as the seed weevil (Thysanocnemis bischoffi ), that specialize on ash trees. Since, there seems to be no natural resistance to the ash borer among most of the ash species, it is likely that the insects that specialize on ash trees, and lack alternative hosts, will become extinct along with their host trees. https://entomologytoday.org/2023/02/07/ash-trees-insects-alternative-host-plants/

4. Monarchs are genetically programed to migrate, and would continue to migrate in the spring and fall as long as populations persist through the winter in southern states.

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Monarch Watch Update August 2023

18 August 2023 | Author: Jim Lovett

This newsletter was recently sent via email to those who subscribe to our email updates. If you would like to receive periodic email updates from Monarch Watch, please take a moment to complete and submit the short form at monarchwatch.org/subscribe/

Greetings Monarch Watchers!
As we’ve mentioned before, the number of communications we receive can be overwhelming at times, so we ask for your patience if you are waiting for a response – we are not always able to respond in a timely manner but we do try to address every email, voicemail and letter we receive. We love to hear from you but please be sure to check out all of the information we have online via our Website, Blog, Facebook page, etc. before contacting us with questions. THANK YOU! 🙂

Included in this issue:
1. Chip in for Monarch Watch
2. Monarch Population Status
3. Upcoming Monarch Watch Events
4. Monarch Watch Tagging Kits
5. Submitting Tag Data
6. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!
7. Monarch Waystations
8. About This Monarch Watch List


1. Chip in for Monarch Watch


The 2023 Chip in for Monarch Watch fundraising campaign is now underway! If you are in a position to offer financial support to Monarch Watch, please consider making a donation of any amount during our fall campaign.

This annual fundraising campaign was created in honor of our director and founder, Chip Taylor (whose birthday happens to be at the end of August, by the way). This campaign offers a chance for Monarch Watchers, colleagues, friends, and family across the planet to show their support for Chip and the monarch program he brought to life more than three decades ago. It has provided tremendous support for Monarch Watch over the years, through both monetary contributions and kind words. As you may recall, Chip recently announced that he will be stepping down as the director of Monarch Watch later this year, which makes this campaign even more special.

This year we have moved the fundraiser to a new platform provided by KU Endowment (they manage all of our donations, no matter how you give) and you can now see the number of gifts and how much has been raised in real time. There is also a donor wall (you can opt out of this or remain anonymous) and a heat map to give an idea of where donations are coming from. Very cool!

We encourage you to spend a little time on the Chip in for Monarch Watch page at https://monarchwatch.org/chip – the connections that are facilitated by monarchs and Monarch Watch are truly extraordinary.

As always, there is also a link to a form where you can submit your comments, thanks, birthday wishes, photos, etc. We will compile these and present them to Chip at the end of the campaign – and try to share many of them with you as well.

Donating securely online is easy but if you would rather make a donation by phone or mail, complete details may be found at https://monarchwatch.org/chip

Please share this campaign via social media or other means to reach anyone you think may be interested in donating to Monarch Watch and thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU for your continued support!

Chip in for Monarch Watch: https://monarchwatch.org/chip


2. Monarch Population Status


Eastern Monarch Population
Here, in bullet form, is what I think I know about this migration:

1) The migration is underway at the most northerly latitudes having started at 50N and a bit further north sometime after the 5th of August.

2) Pre-migration roosting has been reported to Journey North before the solar angle at solar noon (SASN) drops below 57 degrees, the date at each latitude, when we can first expect to see directional flight indicative of the migration.

3) Good numbers of monarchs should reach the Twin Cities around 23-26 August.

4) North of 35N (Oklahoma City), the migration should proceed at a pace that roughly follows the declining angle of the sun unless the September temperatures across the latitudes are substantially above the long-term average. If temperatures are extremely high (>86F but mostly in the 90s) the pace of the migration will be slowed.

5) A drought is developing south of 35N and unless there are several inches of rain between now and early October, nectar will be scarce as monarchs pass through southern OK and TX and perhaps northeastern Mexico. The drought effects on nectar production are difficult to unravel. Droughts early in the growing season can stunt plants such that nectar production can be limited even if there is adequate rainfall later in the season. The key to fall nectar secretion in this region appears to be the amount of rainfall that has occurred in the 8-12 weeks before the migration arrives. It’s the conditions during that interval that determine floral development for many flowering plants. Therefore, it’s the soil moisture during this period of development and not during the migration that largely determines nectar secretion – and the soil moisture is determined by the precipitation in the month or two prior to the passage of the migration and less so, or not at all, during the migration. In other words, if the soil moisture is adequate there can be an abundance of nectar in the absence of rainfall during the migration. I checked for rain in Texas and none is expected through the 21st (See blog post for photos by Chuck Patterson, Driftwood, TX).

6) The first sightings in Texas in March and April were relatively low suggesting that the population was off to a poor start. Following that, the colonization of the summer breeding range north of 40N (1May through 9 June), while fairly good for Minnesota and Wisconsin and terrific for the prairie provinces (see Monarchs: Reaching 50N and beyond), seemed to involve modest to low numbers of monarchs with many arriving late, particularly in eastern Ontario. Yet, as I write this update, the number of monarchs reported to Journey North from 1May to 9 August (1893) is virtually the same as the number for the same period in 2022 (1913), a year with better early and later first sighting numbers.

7) Putting it all together, the migration through the Midwest, from 90W to 100W should be similar in size to the migrations of the last three years while the migration from 65W (Maritimes) to 90W (mid-Michigan) will be somewhat lower this year.

Western Monarch Population
There is really not much to report for the West. I couldn’t find anything in the records for iNaturalist or Journey North that indicated that the numbers during the Thanksgiving Counts would be as high or lower than last year. The records are really too few to fit my purposes. Still, there were hints in the NW that monarchs had returned to the breeding areas in good numbers. Again, as in Manitoba to the east, due to warm May and early June temperatures, there was greater recolonization of British Columbia and Alberta than had been seen in many years. Aside for reports from the greater Salt Lake City area, the areas to the east of California have been silent and much of Nevada and Arizona has been too hot to sustain good numbers of monarchs.

Monarch production along the California coast got off to a slow start due to the colder and wetter conditions in June. More recently, the numbers increased significantly along with the incidence of predators and parasites. Yet, there is still the prospect that monarch production in the southern counties will contribute substantially to the overwintering numbers – or not. There seem to be two schools of thought about the monarchs in southern California, one proposes that the population is non-migratory and the other maintains that these monarchs migrate north in late October and November to join other overwintering clusters. In summary, it appears that the numbers along the coast in the late fall and winter will be lower than last year for sure and possibly lower than the 247K recorded in 2021.

For a more detailed discussion, please see the complete Monarch Population Status article posted to the Monarch Watch Blog at https://monarchwatch.org/blog


3. Upcoming Monarch Watch Events


Chip in for Monarch Watch
August–September
Annual Fundraising Event in honor of Chip
https://monarchwatch.org/chip

Monarch Watch Fall Open House (Free event)
Saturday, September 16, 2023
Monarch Watch
Lawrence, Kansas
https://monarchwatch.org/openhouse

Monarch Watch Tagging Event (Free event)
Saturday, September 23, 2023
Baker Wetlands Discovery Center
Lawrence, Kansas
https://monarchwatch.org/tag-event


4. Monarch Watch Tagging Kits


Tags for the 2023 fall tagging season are available and the migration is underway. If you would like to tag monarchs this year, please order your tags soon! Tagging Kits ordered now should arrive within 10–14 days but priority will be given to areas that will experience the migration first.

Monarch Watch Tagging Kits are only shipped to areas east of the Rocky Mountains. Each tagging kit includes a set of specially manufactured monarch butterfly tags (you specify quantity), a data sheet, tagging instructions, and additional monarch / migration information. Tagging Kits for the 2023 season start at only $15 and include your choice of 25, 50, 100, 200, or 500 tags.

Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and other materials (don’t forget a net!) are available via the Monarch Watch Shop online at https://shop.monarchwatch.org – where each purchase helps support Monarch Watch.

2023 datasheets and instructions are available online via the Monarch Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging

Tagging should begin in early to mid-August north of 45N latitude (e.g., Minneapolis), late August at other locations north of 35N (e.g., Oklahoma City, Fort Smith, Memphis, Charlotte) and in September and early October in areas south of 35N latitude. See a map and tables with expected peak migration dates and suggested dates to begin tagging on the Monarch Tagging Program page at the link above.


5. Submitting Tag Data


Thousands of you submitted your 2022 season tag data to us via mail, our online submission form, or our mobile app – thank you! We are still receiving data and if you haven’t submitted yours yet (for 2022 or even previous years) it is not too late. Please review the “Submitting Your Tagging Data” information on the Tagging Program page at https://monarchwatch.org/tagging

We have conveniently placed a large “Submit Your Tagging Data” button on our homepage that will take you directly to the online form. There you can upload your data sheets as an Excel or other spreadsheet file (PREFERRED; download a template file from https://monarchwatch.org/tagging ) or a PDF/image file (scan or photo). You may also record and submit your data via the Monarch Watch mobile app (iOS & Android).

If you have any questions about getting your data to us, please feel free to drop Jim a line anytime via JLOVETT@KU.EDU


6. Send us your photos, videos, stories, and more!


We are always looking for monarch photos, videos, stories and more for use on our website, on our social media accounts, in our publications, and as a part of other promotional and educational items we distribute online and offline to promote monarch conservation and Monarch Watch.

There are several ways you can send us your favorite files (please only submit your own materials) and all of the methods below are accessible via https://monarchwatch.org/share

1. Main submission form at https://monarchwatch.org/share/submit
This is the form we prefer you use as it is the most comprehensive and allows you to provide complete information.

2. Quick uploader for photos and videos at https://monarchwatch.org/share/photos
Note that this method does not allow you to include contact or other information.

3. If you have issues using either of the tools above you may also email your submission to us at share@monarchwatch.org but please include everything we ask for on the main form by copying/pasting the information below into your email message (or use it as a guide).

Name:
Email address:
Do you want to be credited when we use your materials, when feasible?
Name as you would like it to appear in credit:
Description of materials or other comments (for photos and videos this should include an approximate date of capture and location):

Please note that by sharing materials with Monarch Watch you agree to the statements provided at https://monarchwatch.org/share regarding their origin and use. Thank you!


7. Monarch Waystations


To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources we need to create, conserve, and protect monarch butterfly habitats. You can help by creating “Monarch Waystations” in home gardens, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. Creating a Monarch Waystation can be as simple as adding milkweeds and nectar sources to existing gardens or maintaining natural habitats with milkweeds. No effort is too small to have a positive impact.

Have you created a habitat for monarchs and other wildlife? If so, help support our conservation efforts by registering your habitat as an official Monarch Waystation today!

Monarch Waystation Program: https://monarchwatch.org/waystations

A quick online application will register your site and your habitat will be added to the online registry. You will receive a certificate bearing your name and your habitat’s ID that can be used to look up its record. You may also choose to purchase a metal sign to display in your habitat to encourage others to get involved in monarch conservation.

As of 16 August 2023, there have been 45,002 Monarch Waystation habitats registered with Monarch Watch! Texas holds the #1 spot with 3,690 habitats and Illinois (3,460), Michigan (3,288), California (2,904), Ohio (2,334), Florida (2,329), Pennsylvania (2,007), Wisconsin (1,960), Virginia (1,939), and New York (1,493) round out the top ten.

You can view the complete listing and a map of approximate locations via https://monarchwatch.org/waystations/registry


8. About This Monarch Watch List


Monarch Watch ( https://monarchwatch.org ) is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program affiliated with the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research at the University of Kansas. The program strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. Monarch Watch engages in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration and also promotes the protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.

We rely on private contributions to support the program and we need your help! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Complete details are available at https://monarchwatch.org/donate or you can simply call 785-832-7386 (KU Endowment Association) for more information about giving to Monarch Watch.

If you have any questions about this email or any of our programs, please feel free to contact us anytime.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

Jim Lovett
Monarch Watch
https://monarchwatch.org

You are receiving this mail because you were subscribed to the Monarch Watch list via monarchwatch.org or shop.monarchwatch.org – if you would rather not receive these periodic email updates from Monarch Watch (or would like to remove an old email address) you may UNSUBSCRIBE via https://monarchwatch.org/unsubscribe

If you would like to receive periodic email updates from Monarch Watch, you may SUBSCRIBE via https://monarchwatch.org/subscribe

This e-mail may be reproduced, printed, or otherwise redistributed as long as it is provided in full and without any modification. Requests to do otherwise must be approved in writing by Monarch Watch.

Filed under Email Updates | Comments Off on Monarch Watch Update August 2023

Monarch Population Status

18 August 2023 | Author: Chip Taylor

Eastern Monarch Population

I recently agreed to write up a brief update on the status of the population at the start of the migration. Sure, I said, that’s easy – I can write about the fact that the migration has started at the northern most latitudes (Winnipeg, 50N) and I can check on the numbers reported to Journey North and iNaturalist, drop in some observations about the summer temperatures and the possibility of a drought in October in Texas and throw in a few observations about unusual events like the large number of monarchs that colonized Manitoba and Saskatchewan in May and early June. It should be a piece of cake, right? And then, I sat down to write.

My goal is always to come to the best understanding of what is happening or will happen. For that I need the perfect metric or series of metrics that paint a convincing picture of what has happened and what will happen. It’s a never-ending quest, but alas, there is no perfect metric or series of metrics. The available metrics are akin to those mythical, yet quite formidable, rabbit holes that we hear of so frequently. And, I’m a sucker for them – diving into one after another for hours with little to show for it and never finding the bottom. As it turns out, nothing is very predictive and I’ll try to explain why. It’s partly because the biology is complicated, the weather is unpredictable and because the metrics are connected to people.

Before I get to that, here in bullet form, is what I think I know about this migration:

1) The migration is underway at the most northerly latitudes having started at 50N and a bit further north sometime after the 5th of August.

2) Pre-migration roosting has been reported to Journey North before the solar angle at solar noon (SASN) drops below 57 degrees, the date at each latitude, when we can first expect to see directional flight indicative of the migration.

3) Good numbers of monarchs should reach the Twin Cities around 23-26 August.

4) North of 35N (Oklahoma City), the migration should proceed at a pace that roughly follows the declining angle of the sun unless the September temperatures across the latitudes are substantially above the long-term average. If temperatures are extremely high (>86F but mostly in the 90s) the pace of the migration will be slowed.

5) A drought is developing south of 35N and unless there are several inches of rain between now and early October, nectar will be scarce as monarchs pass through southern OK and TX and perhaps northeastern Mexico. The drought effects on nectar production are difficult to unravel. Droughts early in the growing season can stunt plants such that nectar production can be limited even if there is adequate rainfall later in the season. The key to fall nectar secretion in this region appears to be the amount of rainfall that has occurred in the 8-12 weeks before the migration arrives. It’s the conditions during that interval that determine floral development for many flowering plants. Therefore, it’s the soil moisture during this period of development and not during the migration that largely determines nectar secretion – and the soil moisture is determined by the precipitation in the month or two prior to the passage of the migration and less so, or not at all, during the migration. In other words, if the soil moisture is adequate there can be an abundance of nectar in the absence of rainfall during the migration. I checked for rain in Texas and none is expected through the 21st (See photos below by Chuck Patterson, Driftwood, TX).

6) The first sightings in Texas in March and April were relatively low suggesting that the population was off to a poor start. Following that, the colonization of the summer breeding range north of 40N (1May through 9 June), while fairly good for Minnesota and Wisconsin and terrific for the prairie provinces (see Monarchs: Reaching 50N and beyond), seemed to involve modest to low numbers of monarchs with many arriving late, particularly in eastern Ontario. Yet, as I write this update, the number of monarchs reported to Journey North from 1May to 9 August (1893) is virtually the same as the number for the same period in 2022 (1913), a year with better early and later first sighting numbers.

7) Putting it all together, the migration through the Midwest, from 90W to 100W should be similar in size to the migrations of the last three years while the migration from 65W (Maritimes) to 90W (mid-Michigan) will be somewhat lower this year.

Western Monarch Population

There is really not much to report for the West. I couldn’t find anything in the records for iNaturalist or Journey North that indicated that the numbers during the Thanksgiving Counts would be as high or lower than last year. The records are really too few to fit my purposes. Still, there were hints in the NW that monarchs had returned to the breeding areas in good numbers. Again, as in Manitoba to the east, due to warm May and early June temperatures, there was greater recolonization of British Columbia and Alberta than had been seen in many years. Aside for reports from the greater Salt Lake City area, the areas to the east of California have been silent and much of Nevada and Arizona has been too hot to sustain good numbers of monarchs.

Monarch production along the California coast got off to a slow start due to the colder and wetter conditions in June. More recently, the numbers increased significantly along with the incidence of predators and parasites. Yet, there is still the prospect that monarch production in the southern counties will contribute substantially to the overwintering numbers – or not. There seem to be two schools of thought about the monarchs in southern California, one proposes that the population is non-migratory and the other maintains that these monarchs migrate north in late October and November to join other overwintering clusters. In summary, it appears that the numbers along the coast in the late fall and winter will be lower than last year for sure and possibly lower than the 247K recorded in 2021.

The not-so-perfect metrics

In the second paragraph, I lamented the complexity of the monarch’s life history, the unpredictability of the weather and the fact that the metrics are connected to people. While it is difficult to track the development of the monarch population, and to understand the impact of the weather on monarch numbers, the data connected to humans presents a different set of problems – namely separating the number of humans and monarchs. Here are two examples of my dilemma. Here are the number of iNaturalist records for 1July to 9August starting with 2019=426, 2020=707, 2021=928, 2022=940, 2023=998. The respective overwintering numbers were 30K, 1899, 246K, 335K and yet to be determined for 2023. Ok, it is reasonable that in 2019 both the sighting records and the overwintering numbers are low. However, 2020 is off the charts in the wrong direction, and what about 2021 and 2022 that have almost identical numbers of reports yet the count in 2022 was about 90K greater? And then there is the highest number yet for 2023. Does that mean the numbers will be higher this year in spite of signs to the contrary? I don’t think so.

There are similar difficulties interpreting the Journey North records. To get a sense of the potential size of the migration this year, I summed up the JN numbers of monarchs sighted for 1May through 8 August for the years 2018-2023. The number sighted for 2023=1893 and 2022=1913 were virtually identical, but in 2022, the migration was small and relatively low numbers were tagged. Yet, both of were higher than 2019 =1798 and 2018=1547 which were larger migrations with good numbers tagged each year. So, is there any takeaway from the number of sightings this year? No. At this point, all I can say is that, at best, the numbers could be similar to last year, and at worst, they could be lower.

Clearly, these records represent both the number of sightings, but perhaps more importantly, the number of people willing to report the data. If you go back through all the records for both iNaturalist and Journey North, it is quite clear that while there has been a general increase in the number of people reporting to each site, there are also intervals during which the numbers of reports are virtually the same for several years suggesting that there is a limited cohort willing to report with most doing so year after year.

The bottom of this rabbit hole*, if there is one, is that the monarch numbers in these records are only indicative of trends when the numbers are extremely low or extremely high relative to the average over a span of several years that contains the outlier.

*I’m sure you all remember that “down the rabbit hole” comes from the first chapter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice sees a white rabbit who, after checking his watch, bounds into a rabbit hole. Alice follows. It’s a long fall which takes Alice to the strange happenings of Wonderland. The rabbits I follow into the rabbit holes have never taken me to Wonderland, although it would be interesting to met the Red Queen. According to Wikipedia, “In the 21st century the term has come to describe a person who gets lost in research or loses track of time while using the internet.” That applies to me for sure.


Photo by Chuck Patterson, Driftwood, TX. Circa 10 August 2023


Frost weed. Photo by Chuck Patterson, Driftwood, TX. Circa 10 August 2023

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