Partnering to conserve the monarch butterfly migration

Sharing What We Know: Tri-national Data Exchange and Population and Monitoring Program Analyses

For decades, monarchs have been monitored in many locations and with many different methods. Citizen scientists--armed with data sheets and pencils, hand lenses, butterfly nets, and binoculars--are key players in almost all monarch monitoring programs. With the help of these programs, we are able to answer basic questions about how and when monarchs use available habitat, how population numbers change within and between years, how habitat degradation affects these changes, and how monarch populations are responding to human-driven environmental change and conservation efforts. Over the past few years, monarch researchers and other population biologists have compiled and analyzed data from a number of butterfly- and monarch-focused monitoring programs. This work has yielded many new insights into monarch habitat and population trends, but it has also revealed limitations in the data available to document monarch population trends and guide monarch conservation work.

MonarchNet (www.monarchnet.org) was established in 2009 to create a centralized resource of monarch monitoring data for researchers and citizen scientists.  Today this partnership is reflected as a website that serves as a database of monarch population size and movement data from several organizations around the country.  MonarchNet allows site visitors to view charts showing trends in monarch abundance from most of our partnering programs, both in the east and west.  In addition to specific data sets, MonarchNet is also home to several other resources, such as peer-reviewed research papers and links to useful websites. The collective data have been used by scientists in publications about monarch population trends, habitat and conservation, and contributions of citizen scientist programs in understanding this incredible insect.

MJV partners at the Universities of Minnesota and Maryland are identifying and prioritizing geographic gaps in citizen science monitoring programs addressing different life history and migration stages. These prioritizations will be used to help motivate and guide monarch monitoring expansions.

The MJV is also supporting monarch scientists who are analyzing existing population data to better understand trends in monarch numbers and the causes behind patterns of population decline. Early publications evaluating population data have begun to appear in peer-reviewed journals, and others are currently in review. These findings will help us to target conservation efforts to maximize our positive impacts on monarch populations.

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