The U.S. Corn Belt is the heart of the eastern monarch’s breeding ground, and abundant milkweed is needed in this region to maintain and increase monarch numbers. Every year across Iowa, the Iowa DNR Prairie Resource Center supports restoration of 1,500 – 2,700 acres of tallgrass prairie habitat on land recently acquired and managed by the state. The MJV has partnered with the Iowa DNR to create prime monarch habitat by including seeds of milkweed and key nectar plants in these prairie reconstruction projects. Adding plants helpful to monarchs is an easy and cost-effective way to improve these prairie plantings while building valuable monarch habitat. Since 2012, the Iowa DNR has added regionally sourced seeds of milkweed and nectar plants to their prairie planting mixes, and created more than 6,400 acres of improved monarch habitat. They have included a wide diversity of habitat plants including five milkweed species, two blazing star species and other native seeds.
Using the monarch magnet habitats created by the Prairie Resource Center, the Iowa DNR hosts an annual monarch tagging event to capture and tag monarchs during the fall migration. Now the Iowa DNR has begun two partnerships with Iowa Universities to improve monarch habitat restoration and bolster native milkweed availability. The Iowa DNR and Iowa State University are working jointly on a retrospective look at prairie reconstructions, to make the link between what seed was planted and which species are present 5-10 years later, and to develop guidelines for prairies managers. The collaboration between the Iowa DNR PRC and University of Northern Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center will involve propogation of Liatris ligulistylis (Meadow blazing star) from northern Iowa region and Asclepias tuberosa from central zone in Iowa. These species are very important in the monarch life cycle, and Asclepias tuberosa has not previously been sourced in Iowa. This project will help to build the commercial seed industry as well as providing seed for the Iowa DNR prairie reconstruction efforts.