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Monarch butterfly blitz needs citizen scientists

Jul 28, 2019 06:17AM ● By Editor
These monarch butterflies were photographed in Brookings County, S.D., by USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren in 2014. Photo: Jonathan Lundgren | USDA

By Dan Gunderson of Minnesota Public Radio News - July 27, 2019

Scientists across North America are organizing an international monarch monitoring blitz. 

Government agencies, academic researchers and environmental groups are joining forces to recruit citizen scientists to gather data about where they see monarch eggs, caterpillars or butterflies. The initiative is also collecting data on the location of milkweed plants, a critical habitat for monarch butterflies. 

The Midwest, including Minnesota, is an important breeding area for the iconic butterfly -- "especially for the generation which we call the super generation, which migrates and overwinters in Mexico," said Mara Koenig with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

The monarch has experienced sharp population declines over the past two decades. The USFWS is assessing whether to protect the monarch under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

Monarch caterpillar
This monarch caterpillar was photographed in Brookings County, S.D., by USDA entomologist Jonathan Lundgren in 2014. Photo:  Jonathan Lundgren / USDA

After significant population decreases at Mexican overwintering sites for the past 20 years, the population showed a strong increase over the past winter, but the population remains well below historic levels.

The western monarch population in California hit an all-time population low last winter. 

Citizen scientists can help the effort to improve habitat that supports the monarch populations. 

"We're wanting to know where monarch eggs are, where the caterpillars are, where they are in chrysalis and where they are adult butterflies," said Koenig. "We are also asking folks to let us know where they are finding milkweed plants in their area." 

No expertise is needed, said Koenig. Volunteers can find instructions online and simply share their observations, which will be compiled along with those from observers in Canada, elsewhere in the U.S. and in Mexico. 

The first such international monitoring effort was tried last year, and Koening said fewer than 500 volunteers participated. She's hoping for significantly more help this year. 

The data will be used to help prioritize monarch initiatives. 

"Researchers are able to identify priority areas for where monarch conservation actions need to take place throughout North America," said Koenig. "This is a great opportunity for those that really want to participate and help make a difference for monarch butterflies and other pollinators as well."

Find more information about the citizen scientist monitoring effort here.

To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the MPR News website.

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