Across North America, considerable resources are being invested in protecting the monarch butterfly, the migratory populations of which have dropped substantially in the last twenty years. But why go to so much trouble? Is one species worth all that effort?
Protecting the monarch
The year 2003 saw the monarch added to Canada’s List of wildlife species at risk because of the drop in numbers observed at wintering sites. The federal government consequently issued a management plan that contained a series of actions designed to reduce the threats facing the monarch, the principal ones being the use of pesticides, the loss of habitats, and climate change. The plan included measures for conserving breeding, feeding and staging habitats, as well as the promotion of citizen science programs – such as Mission Monarch – aimed at making the butterfly better known. Ultimately the goal of these actions is to stop the monarch decline and preserve the migratory phenomenon.
Protecting the habitat: the umbrella effect
To breed and feed, monarchs visit locations where milkweed and other nectar-producing plants thrive. These habitats are essential for a number of pollinators: butterflies, bees, bumblebees, flies and other small creatures eager for nectar. These insects play a crucial role in the health of ecosystems and in agricultural production, but not all of them are lucky enough to be monitored as closely as the monarch. For several other species, data are insufficient to assign legal protection to them. The monarch is therefore what we call an umbrella species, because all the species sharing its habitats benefit from its status.
Protecting a symbol
Beyond its ecological importance, the monitor has become a true emblem. With a migration that covers the three North American countries – Canada, the U.S. and Mexico – it is now a symbol of environmental cooperation whose scope transcends political borders. The butterfly’s unique life cycle and its lively colors fascinate children and adults both: it’s not by chance that every summer hundreds of people participate in Mission Monarch!
Lastly, you’ll understand that in protecting the monarch butterfly, we’re protecting an entire ecosystem. An ecosystem that we’re part of.