1) Status of the Population
2) Conservation: Monarch Waystations
3) Tag recovery
4) La Cruz Habitat Protection Project
5) Pacific Grove Meeting
6) Images from the Monarch Sanctuaries
7) Preliminary Tagging Analysis
8) Notes on the Western Population
9) Thank You Map Resources!
10) About Our Update List
Unless otherwise noted, all content was authored by Chip Taylor, edited by Jim Lovett and Sarah Schmidt, and published by Jim Lovett.
1) Status of the Population
Smallest overwintering population on record
As most of you know, the monarch population in Mexico this past winter season was at an all time low (2.19 hectares). The possible reasons for these low numbers (e.g., losses due to the winter storms of 2004, poor recolonization in the spring, a cold breeding season, loss of milkweed habitat in the U.S. and Canada due to the adoption of glyphosate tolerant crops and a reduction in the quality of the overwintering habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging) are discussed in a report prepared by numerous monarch experts:
All of these factors, and perhaps even others, contributed to the low numbers. Unfortunately, our knowledge of monarch biology and our ability to monitor the monarch population is not comprehensive enough to give us an understanding of how each of these factors contributed to the lower numbers. As always, there is much we need to learn.
Mortality through the winter
During three of the last five winters, winter storms have killed large numbers of monarchs and the mortality following the storms of 2002 and 2004 was of historic proportions (see previous Updates for descriptions of these events). Our fear through this winter has been that there might be another such storm, one that would drive the monarch population to such low levels that several years would be required for the population to recover. Fortunately, the winter was storm free and, according to Eduardo Rendon Salinas (World Wildlife Fund Mexico), who has been monitoring the population through the winter, mortality due to bird predation and normal attrition has been at, or near, normal levels. Nevertheless, the question remains - are there enough monarchs available to recolonize the breeding areas in the United States and Canada? The answer appears to be yes, provided that the butterflies moving north are in sufficiently good condition to make the migration northward. [Here is another gap in our knowledge. We have no idea of the proportion of the butterflies moving northward from the overwintering sites that successfully reproduce.] As far as we can determine, the numbers of butterflies that appear to be available to move north this spring are similar to those available to make the journey following the winters of 2000, 2002 and 2004. Actually, the numbers of surviving butterflies available to move north in the spring of 2004 might have been substantially greater since an estimated 3.5 hectares of butterflies remained after the winter storms. The apparent failure of the 2004 survivors to colonize the southern United States in normal numbers in March and April of that year raises the question as to whether the exposure of the survivors to freezing conditions contributed substantially to their morbidity or impeded their reproductive capacity. On the other hand, the highest number of sightings of monarchs in March and April in the United States occurred in the spring of 2002 (see below), following the record catastrophic mortality of that winter.
If my estimate that the number moving north is not too different from previous years is correct, then the numbers of monarchs sighted in Texas through the 24th of March should be roughly similar as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Here are the numbers of monarchs reported to Journey North through the 24th of March for the last 6 years (California sightings have been excluded from these figures):
March 1-24, 2005 - 18
March 1-24, 2004 - 43
March 1-24, 2003 - 81
March 1-24, 2002 - 157
March 1-24, 2001 - 64
March 1-24, 2000 65
From these numbers, it looks like the population is off to a very bad start in 2005. However, we have to remember that these are simply observations and that the number of butterflies observed is often a function of the weather - particularly on weekends, when observers are more likely to see monarchs. Such comparisons also assume that similar numbers of people are available and interested enough to report sightings each year. Since many monarchs are still moving north through Mexico at this time (26 March), we will have to wait several weeks to get a better picture of the number of monarchs recolonizing the southern states this spring.
For reference, here are the numbers of monarchs reported to Journey North for all of March and April of the last 5 years together with the number of hectares of monarchs reported at the overwintering sites the following winters. Note that during the last three years the number of monarchs reported for March was higher than for April but that the opposite was true for 2000 and 2001. Let’s hope that many monarchs arrive in April this year as well. Note also that, as with nearly all monarch population data, only the lowest numbers, i.e., those for 2004 (149), seem to be of value in predicting the size of the winter population.
2) Conservation: Monarch Waystations
Monarch Watch is moving in a new direction. Although we have always emphasized education, conservation, and research, we have, in fact, given less support to conservation. The extensive deforestation in the last year in Mexico, the rapid adoption of herbicide resistant crops in the last 5 years that appear to have eliminated 80-100 million acres of monarch habitat and the incremental losses of farm and ranch land signal a substantial decline in the habitat available to monarchs in North America. The record low number of monarchs at the overwintering sites in Mexico this past winter is certainly, in part, a reflection of this decline. It is time to act - we need to protect monarch habitats in both the United States and Mexico. In addition, we need to create new habitats for monarchs and to this end we are introducing the concept of “Monarch Waystations”. Our objective is to not only create habitats for monarchs but to use the concept to educate and engage the public in a conservation effort. It is our hope that public awareness will lead to wildlife friendly management of public and private lands and to legislation that will support monarch conservation.
The concept of the WAYSTATION
Waystation an intermediate station between principal stations on a line of travel. In the 1800s, waystations were typically places where steam driven trains stopped to take on water and coal, or pony express riders changed horses and picked up food.
If we imagine the principal stations for monarchs to be the overwintering sites in Mexico and the points of reproduction for each individual in the breeding season, then it becomes easy for us to visualize the value of all the waystations along the monarch’s route through its annual fall and spring migrations. Without resources, in the form of nectar from flowers, fall migratory butterflies would be unable to make the journey to Mexico. Similarly, without milkweeds along the entire route north in the spring and summer months, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall.
Resources Needed by Monarchs are Declining
Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of the milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations. Unfortunately, farmland is disappearing at rate of nearly 3,000 acres per day. In a five-year period starting in 1992, 6 million acres of farmland (an area the size of the state of Maryland) were converted to subdivisions, factories, and other developments. The widespread adoption of herbicide resistant corn and soybeans is of even greater concern. Because these crops have been genetically modified to resist the common herbicide glyphosate, growers now spray their fields with this herbicide instead of tilling to control weeds. Milkweeds survive tilling but not the repeated use of glyphosate. In fact, before the adoption of these transgenic crops, surveys in several states revealed that croplands with modest numbers of milkweeds per acre produced more monarchs per unit area than all other monarch habitats. The milkweed base for the monarch population is being reduced. This change is significant. These croplands represent >30% of the total monarch summer breeding area. Although there will still be milkweeds along roadsides, these habitats only constitute 2-4% of the summer breeding area and these, together with the remaining milkweed habitats such as pastures, hayfields, native habitats and urban areas, are not sufficient to sustain a large monarch population. Monarchs need our help.
What We Can Do
To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources due to development and use of herbicides, we need to create Monarch Waystations in home gardens, school, parks, zoos, nature centers, and along the roadsides managed by the department of transportation (DOT) for each state. While this effort won’t replace the amount of milkweed being lost, without a major effort to restore milkweeds to as many locations as possible, the monarch population is certain to decline to extremely low levels.
In addition to creating monarch habitats in those areas each of us control, we need to lobby on behalf of monarchs, i.e., to persuade our schools, cities, nature centers, and departments of transportation to also create these habitats. The unnecessary use of herbicides should also be discouraged.
Monarch Waystation Kits
To help you create Monarch Waystations, we have designed kits appropriate for your area that contain seeds of milkweeds and nectar plants. Included in the kit are instructions for selection of garden sites, planting guidelines, recommended flowering shrubs, and plans for a garden layout. Information on how to rear monarchs is also outlined.
By providing a habitat for monarchs you will create an education site - a location that can be used to educate your neighbors, local teachers and students, as well as the public about the value of protecting milkweeds and nectar plants and about monarchs and monarch conservation.
Certify Your Monarch Waystation
To show that you are contributing to monarch conservation, you can have your Monarch Waystation certified. Once your monarch habitat is certified, you are eligible to display a sign that declares that your site is recognized as a certified monarch/milkweed habitat. This display helps convey the conservation message to those who visit your garden.
Our goal is to foster the creation of 10,000 Monarch Waystations in the next three years. To achieve this goal, we need the help of all who are interested in monarch conservation and the preservation of the monarch’s extraordinary migration. We need you to help us educate the public of the need to plant milkweeds and nectar plants, the necessity of reducing the use of herbicides, and the value of converting roadsides, vacant lots, field margins, etc., to monarch habitats.
In the coming months, we will create additional support for the Waystation concept. This will include online resources, a database/gallery featuring certified Waystation sites, garden supplies to enhance your Monarch Waystation, and a whole lot more!
3) Tag Recovery
This winter has been a tough one for us financially and we weren’t able to take the whole crew to Mexico this year to deliver materials to schools and buy tags. Yet, the tag buying had to be done even if we didn’t have all the money we needed. So, on Wednesday the 16th of March I headed to Mexico with Janis Lentz for the express purpose of buying tags before the sanctuaries shut down for the season. We reached Chincua on Thursday afternoon but were disappointed to find that relatively few guides were present and that the number of tags available for purchase was quite low (<60). That evening we connected with Carole Jordon and Eduardo Rendon in Zitacuaro and both agreed to help us buy tags at El Rosario on Friday. Eduardo asked two of his assistants, Adriana and Carla, to work with us and Carole agreed to drive them to El Rosario. We all met in the large parking lot at below the entrance at 1PM and slowly made our way to a new building at the entrance to the trail leading to the monarchs. Adriana helped explain the arrangements for the purchase of the tags. We told everyone that we would only buy 20 tags per person and that those who held our IOUs from the previous year would be served first. We expected lots of IOUs but only about 15 of the over 100 cards we distributed last year were presented to us. After buying the tags from the holders of these 15 cards, we bought tags from the guides and then the families. As the money was running out, we reduced the number of tags per person to 10, then to 5 and finally to 1 so as to distribute the money available to as many families as possible. Only two people remained in line when we ran out of money. Although we were able to purchase most of the tags available at El Rosario on this day, many persons holding tags were not present so it seems likely that an additional 500-600 tags remain to be acquired.
In all, we purchased over 1,500 tags at a cost of $6,800. This amount, combined with the over $1,200 paid to those who purchased tags in our behalf means that we spent over $8,000 on tags this year. Together with the $12,000 spent last year, the tagging operation has contributed $20,000 to the families that live on the land, manage the forests, and protect the butterflies. These pesos are a substantial contribution to the local people and we wish to thank all of you who have contributed to the Tag Recovery Fund. Your money has been well spent since the payment for the tags gives value to the butterflies. And, as you will see in the abstract of the tagging results given at the conference in California (below), it is contributing substantially to our knowledge of the monarch migration.
As we have mentioned in the past, we have been building a searchable database for recoveries. We anticipate that this will be online within 4-6 weeks and will allow you to search recovery data across multiple years (and eventually all years). The database will also allow us to publish new recovery data much faster than we have been able to do in the past. Coupled with this we will also be instituting a “self-service” recovery certificate policy, which we will explain in further detail in the coming months.
4) La Cruz Habitat Protection Project
If you don’t know about the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project, you should. On our trip to Mexico to acquire tags, we took a side trip to visit Jose Luis Alvarez, the creator and director of this project. The world’s appetite for softwood lumber for construction and paper products, driven in part by the rapidly growing economies in southeast Asia, is partly responsible for the rapid increase in illegal logging in Mexico during the last year (see the The Mexico-Chile-China connection in the June 2004 Update). Through the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project Jose Luis grows and distributes (at no cost to the landowner) seedlings of pine and oyamel fir trees. Over the last 7 years 1,150,000 trees have been planted on private lands in the vicinity of the monarch overwintering sites. The trees grow rapidly in this environment and the sequential harvest that accompanies the required thinning of the tree stands allows the landowner to earn substantially more from this use of the land than from more traditional crops such as corn. In theory, these mini-forests benefit the monarchs indirectly by providing forest products for the local market thus lessening the demand for mature trees in the monarch reserves. The problem is that the demand for tree products is increasing faster than the ability of Jose Luis or the government to reforest the region and the problem is getting worse since the government is shutting down a number of nurseries for seedlings due to the high cost of production. Clearly, much more reforestation is needed in the area and since reforestation is one of the potential solutions to long term conservation of monarchs, I wanted to have a first hand look at pine and oyamel seedling production and to talk to Jose Luis about the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project. The pictures below provide views of portions of the seedling production managed by Jose Luis.
For more information about the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project see http://www.michoacanmonarchs.org/MichoacanNewsletter2003.pdf (PDF file)
5) Pacific Grove Meeting
You should have been there! The monarch symposium held at Alisomar in Pacific Grove in conjunction with the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America, was terrific! The only problem was that the meeting was too short and there just wasn’t enough time for those of us who want to talk monarchs non-stop to get it out of our systems. I’ve prepared a series of photos to give you a sense of the area and its wildlife and have included images of most of the speakers and a few of the participants. The only speakers not pictured below are Nelli Thorngate of the Big Sur Ornithology Laboratory, Ventana Wilderness Society, Monterey, California, and Kingston Leong of the Biological Sciences Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA. Titles of the talks given by the speakers can be found in the February Update.
6) Images from the Monarch Sanctuaries
In February I was scheduled to visit the monarch sanctuaries with a group of entomologists. Unfortunately, a leg injury that was slow to heal prevented me from participating in this adventure. After their return, the coordinator of the group, Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy from Kansas State University, sent all of us an email giving us access to a digital photo album he prepared of the trip. Some of the monarch shots are excellent and “Sonny” has graciously allowed me to post a number of the images in this Update so that those of you who haven’t visited the colonies can get a better sense of what it is like to be in the midst of millions of butterflies.
Video: http://www.MonarchWatch.org/update/2005/rosario.mov (4MB QuickTime Movie)
7) Preliminary Tagging Analysis
The following in the abstract of a presentation given at the Pacific Grove Meeting earlier this month.
Monarch Tagging in 2001 and 2003: A Preliminary Analysis
Orley R. Taylor, Jim Lovett, Sarah Schmidt and Tyler Schmidt
Monarch Watch, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Funds obtained from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks allowed us to create a database for the monarch tagging conducted in 2001 and 2003. We chose to analyze the data for these years, in preference to others, since the winters that followed the tagging of 2001 and 2003 were characterized by catastrophic mortality due to winter storms, that resulted in the recovery of unprecedented numbers of tagged butterflies. The following is a preliminary assessment of the coarser details of the tagging and recovery as revealed by our analyses. This information was presented at the meeting of the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America in Pacific Grove, California (1-2 March 2005). The tagging data is a veritable gold mine and more information will be forthcoming at a future date.
The tagging records reported on all returned data sheets from the tagging conducted in 2001 and 2003 were entered into a database. Each tagged butterfly was represented by the date tagged, location recorded in latitude and longitude, sex of the butterfly, sun angle for the date of tagging, and the name of the tagger. Recoveries were recorded by latitude and longitude. Since the exact date of most recoveries is not know for the recoveries obtained in Mexico, “date of recovery” was not a useful parameter. Because the information on the data sheets is sometimes incomplete, and, because some of the taggers do not return their data sheets, the number of complete tagging records, as well as recoveries with complete records, is lower than the total numbers tagged and recovered. The analyses are based only on those tagged and recovered butterflies for which there are complete records.
Summary of the Records for 2001 and 2003
The records in the database were sorted by latitude and longitude, date of tagging and sun angle. The records were sorted to quadrants representing 5 degrees of latitude and longitude to allow us to determine the proportions of the total population tagged and recovered from each quadrant east of the Rocky Mountains. The ratio of the number tagged to the number recovered in each quadrant gives us a measure of the relative success of the tagging as a function of latitude and longitude. This procedure also allows us to determine if there are major differences in the distribution of the population and/or the success of tagging each year.
An analysis of the tagging records and recoveries by latitude and longitude shows that 55-58% of the butterflies were tagged between 45-40 degrees latitude, with 47-54% tagged between 100 and 90 degrees longitude. In combination, 72-78% of the monarchs were tagged within 45-40 degrees latitude and 100-90 degrees longitude. These records are consistent with the notion that the major breeding range for monarchs is centered north of 40 degrees N and that there is a major pathway of the migration from N to S through the central portion of the country.
In 2003, higher proportions of the total numbers of monarchs tagged occurred between 90-80 degrees longitude, suggesting a shift in the concentration of monarchs to the east or, perhaps, more favorable conditions during the migration for tagging by participants in that region.
The recovery rates calculated from this analysis showed that the probability of having a tagged butterfly recovered increased from N to S. However, the recovery rates declined markedly from W to E. In both cases, the rate changes are non-linear. The lack of a proportional increase in recoveries with decreasing distance to the overwintering sites may be an indication that the rates of survival are relatively uniform through the main flyway passing within 100-90 degrees longitude. The decrease in recoveries toward the N and E may reflect an increase in hazards for the butterflies outside the main flight-path.
The highest recovery rates for both years occurred between 105-100 degrees longitude. Relatively few butterflies are tagged within these parallels but these longitudes would appear to represent the shortest and most direct route to the border with Mexico.
The lowest recovery rates for both years occurred along the coasts and in north-central MN and western WI. The coastal patterns may be due in part to increased hazards and lower survival of monarchs moving along the coastlines or the monarchs in the east may be more likely to move into peninsular Florida than to continue toward Mexico.
An analysis of the tagging and recoveries by date and sun angle showed that the pace of the migration is similar across latitudes from year to year within the 100-80 degree parallels. However, the data also suggest that the migration of 2001 was two days ahead of 2003. The tagging records indicate that the migration may lag 2-7 days W and E of the center 20 degrees of longitude. Whether these lags are an artifact of the tagging process, especially in the west were there few taggers, or due to the highly variable weather conditions along the east and Gulf coasts, is not clear.
The tagging data suggest there is a migration window of about 30 days that advances southward across latitudes as the season progresses. In 2001 and 2003, 87.3% and 95.6% of the monarchs were tagged in this window respectively. Monarchs tagged within the window are 13-15 times more likely to be recovered in Mexico than those tagged after this period. Surprisingly, monarchs tagged as much as three weeks after the main migration has passed have been recovered in Mexico. However, the proportion of late-tagged monarchs that reach Mexico is evidently quite small.
As mentioned at the outset, this summary is based on preliminary analyses of the data. We anticipate the recovery of at least another 1500 tags from the 2003 tagging season and perhaps another 500 from 2001. Although new records from these tags are unlikely to change the overall patterns mentioned above, they should allow us to analyze the results more completely for each 5 degree quadrant and across all dates.
8) Notes on the Western Population
Western Overwintering Season Ends
The remaining few monarchs at most western overwintering sites are tired males. Early spring weather hit in patches throughout February, between BIG storms up and down the coast, stimulating mating and spring dispersal. Site monitors are now turning towards data entry and evaluation, but it looks like it was a low year overall in California. Paul Cherubini, long-time monitor of sites throughout California, reports that the population may be 20-50% lower this year than other recent years. Some sites, however, such as those in the East Bay, Marin and Lighthouse Fields were stable with two sites in Marin (Terwilliger and Fort Baker) occupied for first time in a few years.
Large Cluster of Monarch Scientists Spotted in Pacific Grove in Early March!
As part of the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, a series of monarch events were convened at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History offered a wonderful venue for a welcome reception hosted by Friends of the Monarchs and The Xerces Society. A field trip to historic Washington Park gave all a chance to see monarchs and learn about the Ventana Wilderness Society's monitoring program, as well as the site challenges at the nearby famous Monarch Sanctuary. An evening Outreach Event drew students, enthusiasts, land managers, docents and scientists to hear Ro Vaccaro, Chip Taylor and Karen Oberhauser discuss the Citizen as Scientist, Conservationist and Educator. The locally famous 5M band added to the fun, as did varied exhibits. The Symposium on Monarch Biology and Conservation was dense with new information and findings (abstracts available on web; other event summaries will also soon be posted). The local state park staff took advantage of the opportunity to interview scientists for their new distance-learning project, “Portals”. Dr. David James did an outstanding job coordinating this gathering and making sure it was available to a wide swath of the monarch world.
Western Monarch Day Highlights Monarchs Statewide
Thanks to initiative promoted by Sheila M. Boone (yes, a direct descendant of Daniel Boone!) and the leadership of California Senator Bruce McPherson, the State Senate and Assembly declared February 5 California Western Monarch Day!
Tours were offered at Ellwood, San Leandro and Marin sites.
Ellwood Saved And Transferred To City Of Goleta
On March 4 a formal ceremony transferred the recently saved "Ellwood Mesa" from the Trust for Public Lands to the City of Goleta, CA. Public events are planned for the near future and city officials are already looking at management steps to protect monarchs and other critical natural resources while balancing the recreational values for the community.
Monarch Sanctuary Closed For Season
The Monarch Sanctuary has closed, but city managers are hard at work discussing how to remove hazardous dead trees while still providing a welcoming and healthy sanctuary for monarchs. Now that the monarchs have nearly all left for the year, work can soon get underway. The Sanctuary will be ready to welcome back both butterflies and visitors next fall. As reported in an earlier update, the Butterfly Lady found that she had extra time on her hands when the Sanctuary closed prematurely. What did she do with that time? Many found her description of monarch mating on National Public Radio the most beautiful and evocative Valentine they had ever heard. And, she seemed to be everywhere as "hostess with the mostess" at the recent monarch events in Pacific Grove!
Ventura Monarch Festival
The Roots And Shoots Youth hosted a festival in Ventura in late January. Over 1000 monarch enthusiasts attended. These young people monitor local sites, support local tagging programs and are now preparing to check the spring dispersal. Congratulations Roots And Shoots Youth for a job well done!
Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, California.
There will be an Open House on Sunday April 3, from 1-4PM. A number of the docents who guide trips to the monarchs at Natural Bridges visited the monarch sanctuaries in Mexico this past winter. During the Open House, they will share their experiences with the monarchs in Mexico and will discuss the opportunities to work with local schools and others interested in monarchs.
A migration of Painted Lady butterflies
During the week of the 21st of March a large migration of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) began to move northward through southern California. As a result, many of the monarch experts in California, and elsewhere, have been inundated with accounts about "amazing migrations of monarchs". While it is sometimes difficult to convince the observers that the butterflies are not monarchs, these incidents give those of us who are interviewed by the press an opportunity to educate the public about the "real" monarch migration.
Look for tagged monarchs!
In the west it is time to look for tagged monarchs. Through Monarch Alert, a program funded by Helen Johnson of Salinas, California, Dennis Frey and his colleagues tagged monarchs on the Central Coast to learn more about spring dispersal.
9) Thank You Map Resources!
A big THANK YOU goes out to Map Resources - the company has recently donated some of their incredible Royalty Free digital maps to Monarch Watch. These maps will will be used to enhance resources available on our website, to present data generated by the tagging program, and in many other projects!
To check out their maps yourself visit their website at
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