Migrating monarchs are in trouble. Here’s how we can all help them.
A new conservation plan weighs the burden and interests of landowners, biologists, and butterfly enthusiasts alike.
Monarch butterflies cover a tree at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico.D.
André Green II
D. André Green II is an assistant professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. This story originally featured on The Conversation.
One of nature’s epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies’ fall migration. Departing from all across the US and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Since 1993, the area of forest covered by Eastern monarchs at their overwintering sites in Mexico has fallen from a peak of 45 acres in 1996-1997 to as low as 1.66 acres in the winter of 2013-2014. A 2016 study warned that monarchs were dangerously close to a predicted “point of no return.” The 2019 count of monarchs in California was the lowest ever recorded for that group.
What was largely a bottom-up, citizen-powered effort to save the struggling monarch butterfly migration has shifted toward a top-down conversation between the federal government, private industry and large-tract landowners. As a biologist studying monarchs to understand the molecular and genetic aspects of migration, I believe this experiment has high stakes for monarchs and other imperiled species.