Friday, January 31, 2014

Continuing decline in monarch numbers

Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA with its environmental accords to protect migratory species, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ trilateral cooperation  is at serious risk of disappearing. The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico has plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993, just 56 percent of last year’s total, which was itself a record low. A recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico's Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission blames the dramatic decline on the butterflies' loss of habitat due to illegal logging in Mexico's mountaintop forests and the massive displacement of the milkweed plant it feeds on in the US. The black-and-orange butterflies now cover an area of only 1.65 acres in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City, compared to 2.93 acres last year and more than 44.5 acres in 1996.

The monarchs’ migratory freeway runs through the Great Plains. As they flew north from Mexico in early 2012, months of near-record heat sapped their endurance and skewed their migratory patterns in ways that limited their ability to reproduce.Unusual springtime cold in Texas  in spring of 2013 delayed the butterflies’ northward migration, causing them to arrive late in areas where they would normally have bred weeks earlier.

The loss of habitat is a far more daunting problem. Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, and patches of the plant have rapidly disappeared from the Great Plains over the last decade. As corn prices have risen, in part due to the government mandate to add ethanol to gasoline, farmers have planted tens of millions of acres of idle land along the monarchs’ path that once provided both milkweed and nectar.
And they have switched to crops that are genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides wiping out milkweed that once sprouted between rows of corn and soybean. So the monarchs must travel farther and use more energy to find places to lay their eggs. With their body fat depleted, the butterflies lay fewer eggs, or die before they have a chance to reproduce.

While monarchs are one of the more visible victims of the habitat loss, a wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many that are beneficial to farmers, are also disappearing along with the predators that feed on them.

(There is also another smaller migration route that takes butterflies from the west to the coast of California, but that has registered even steeper declines.)

So what can we do?

Visit these websites to find out about more about organizations committed to helping the monarchs:

The Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) is a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs that are working together to support and coordinate efforts to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 United States.

Monarch Watch is an educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas that engages citizen scientists in large-scale research projects. Monarch Watch gets children of all ages involved in science. Their website provides a wealth of information on the biology and conservation of Monarch butterflies

To begin to restore habitats for monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife, Monarch Watch has initiated a nationwide landscape restoration program called “Bring Back The Monarchs.” The goals of this program are to restore 20 milkweed species, used by monarch caterpillars as food, to their native ranges throughout the United States and to encourage the planting of nectar-producing native flowers that support adult monarchs and other pollinators.
This program is an outgrowth of the Monarch Waystation Program started by Monarch Watch in 2005. There are now over 5,000 certified Monarch Waystations – mostly habitats created in home gardens, schoolyards, parks, and commercial landscaping.
We need a comprehensive plan on how to manage the fragmented edges and marginal areas created by development and agriculture since it is these edges that support monarchs, many of our pollinators, and the many forms of wildlife that are sustained by the seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, and foliage that result from pollination.

Moving for Monarchs: The Awakening
from Moving for Monarchs 
It is time to awaken... The world's majestic monarch butterflies are disappearing. Join the movement to reverse this trend. Move with us..

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