By Heather Callaghan, Natural Blaze
Monarch Butterflies Rapidly Disappearing from Western North America – More Than the East
Something is causing monarch butterflies to disappear at a dramatically higher rate in Western North America than in the Eastern regions of the U.S.
In the early 1990s, people in the Coastal areas of California noticed a disconcerting decline of the monarch. It turns out they were correct. While scientists have focused on the problems of butterflies in the Eastern region, a new study uses citizen science monitoring over the decades to see a dramatic decline at Western clusters.
Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor at Washington State University Vancouver and lead author of a new study, said:
Western monarchs are faring worse than their eastern counterparts…
In the 1980s, 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California. Today there are barely 300,000.
And it’s not just that there are fewer monarch butterflies then there were decades ago…
[The study] also tells us that, if things stay the same, western monarchs probably won’t be around as we know them in another 35 years.
What Schultz is emphasizing is that if something isn’t done right now to stop the decline, butterflies as we know them won’t be around for our children. Current trends indicate an extinction risk of 72% in 20 years and 86% in 50 years, according to their analysis.
Emma Pelton, endangered species conservation biologist at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and co-author of the study, said:
Scientists, policy makers and the public have been focused on the dramatic declines in the well-known eastern population, yet this study reveals that western monarchs are even more at risk of extinction.
We will need significant conservation action to save monarch butterflies in the West.
Washington State University reports:
Like eastern monarchs, which overwinter in Mexico, western monarchs have a spectacular migration. They overwinter in forested groves along coastal California, then fan out in the spring to lay their eggs on milkweed and drink nectar from flowers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah. They return to their coastal overwintering sites in the fall.
What has disrupted this part of their life cycle?
Since the trend started three decades ago, the scientists surmise that the modification of habitat and increasing pesticide use are likely culprits. Even the USDA scrutinizes pesticides for killing off butterfly populations. It wouldn’t be a true environmental study without also pointing fingers at climate change. However, they admit that we don’t really know what’s going on.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which funded the study, is now considering whether to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The research concludes that to get populations back up, “managers could target historic abundance and high enough growth rates to avoid near-term extinction.”