A brand new way to help the monarch

Danaus plexippus
A brand new way to help the monarch

Despite the upsurge in migratory populations noted last winter, saving the monarch is not a sure thing at this point. In the face of the threat, the Insectarium is launching a brand new research project aimed at describing, and then protecting, the butterfly’s breeding grounds. Both well-known scientists and citizens will be taking part. Let’s hear it for Mission Monarch!

Early March: a wonderful piece of news reaches us. In Mexico, evaluation of the eastern population at its overwintering sites reveals an encouraging increase. Spread out over 4.01 hectares of forest, the population is triple that of last year’s, and five times that of the sad record year of 2013. On the other side of the Rockies, the western population also registered a slight increase when the annual evaluation was carried out, in November, with 271,000 individuals. Despite all this, much work remains to be done to reestablish the abundant populations of earlier decades.

Protecting at the source

To reach the numbers of the 1990s (18 hectares for the eastern population and 1.2 million individuals for the western population), the monarch must above all have access to favorable breeding grounds. The caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, a wild plant several species of which are found in southern Canada. If the emblematic butterfly is to be saved, the habitats rich in milkweed and accessible to monarchs must be protected.

By way of a major pan-Canadian research project, the Insectarium, in collaboration with the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV) , the Université du Québec à Rimouski, the University of Ottawa and the University of Calgary, is examining the state of the monarch situation in the country. One component of this study consists in identifying, through the use of computer models, the monarch’s potential breeding habitats. The next stage aims at checking, in the field, whether or not the butterflies are there. For that titanic task, Canadian citizens are being asked for help.

Citizens to the rescue with Mission Monarch

Mission Monarch comprises the participatory-science component of this major study. The project aims to determine the presence of monarch eggs and caterpillars in natural environments. Beginning in June, experts are inviting science and butterfly fans to get out in nature, examine young milkweed plants and share their findings on the website. Data collected that way will provide valuable information, year after year, and make more effective monarch protection possible.

More than ever, people from all backgrounds are taking part in environmental solutions, whether by changing their habits or by participating in research. Mission Monarch is one more way of helping the monarch – that dazzling king of butterflies!

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