Today, April 14th, is the third annual Citizen Science Day! We’re thrilled to shine a spotlight on some of the amazing monarch citizen science projects by Monarch Joint Venture partners and why citizen science is important.
Why Does Citizen Science Matter?
Citizen science is a cooperative effort that “engages non‐professionals in authentic scientific research” (Dickinson et.al, 2012). It is a crucial aspect of many important conservation discoveries, including monarchs, and is an important tool for public engagement in organized science!
People who may not otherwise feel like scientists can engage with the scientific process of observing and learning about the world around them through citizen science. Citizen science brings together communities of people with similar interests. It provides an accessible entry point to conservation because it is usually free and can be as simple as submitting an observation on a smartphone.
Citizen science can also provide communities with the knowledge and agency needed for taking action for their environment. For example, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring empowers communities to learn about their water quality, and to bring that information to local decision makers to address pollution concerns in the community.
This sense of knowledge and investment in the environment can make a really big difference. Beyond studying organisms like monarchs, research by Lewandowski and Oberhauser (2016) shows that citizen scientists are taking additional conservation actions to protect the species they are studying.
There are many pollinator focused citizen science programs, ranging from bumblebees to butterflies of all kinds. Butterfly counts have been an important source of ecological knowledge for a long time. Find out more about other butterfly citizen science programs here.
Monarch Citizen Science
The dedicated work of monarch citizen scientists has informed much of our current knowledge about the incredible monarch butterfly and it continues to do so today!
A History of Monarch Discovery
In 1975, Dr. Fred Urquhart, Norah Urquhart, Catalina Trail and Ken Brugger discovered a tagged monarch in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico. This butterfly had migrated south from Chaska, Minnesota, where two boys and their schoolteacher had marked it with a uniquely coded tag. This discovery documented the international phenomena of the eastern North American monarch migration, and was a defining moment in the history of monarch conservation.
The monarch migration has been tracked in real time since Journey North began in 1994. The live maps of the monarch’s journey north and south, populated by citizen scientist observations from across the continent, serve as an important education tool for classrooms and people of all ages.
Monitoring the monarch migration through tagging continues today through, Monarch Watch, the Southwest Monarch Study and Monarch Alert. These programs aim to provide information about many aspects of monarch movement.
Longstanding citizen science monitoring of the western monarch overwintering sites has occurred since 1997 through the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Volunteers have been collecting information about monarchs and overwintering sites in California during the week around Thanksgiving, and in 2017 expanded to conducting a second suite of observations during the week around New Year’s Day.
Citizen scientists have been instrumental in learning about increasing rates of the protozoan parasite, OE, in monarch populations through Project Monarch Health.
Finally, citizen scientists have been monitoring for monarch eggs and larvae during the breeding season for over 20 years. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project was developed at the University of Minnesota in 1997 to document monarch breeding through egg, larvae, and milkweed observations across space and time.
All of these projects continue today and influence our current understanding of monarch biology and current threats.
Continuing Citizen Science Discovery
The Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program (IMMP) is a new initiative engaging biologists, land managers, and citizen scientists in monitoring monarchs and their habitat across the US breeding and migratory range. To gather information from different land use types that support monarch habitat, the IMMP uses a spatially balanced, random grid system to prioritize areas for monitoring. It captures many aspects of habitat quality, threats, and habitat use by monarchs and data contribute to existing population and habitat models that inform broad goals for monarch conservation!
Celebrating Citizen Science
Today is about celebrating citizen scientists and citizen science programs. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who is involved in monarch citizen science and for our partners’ excellent programs.
If you’re not already involved in citizen science, today is the perfect day to start. Visit our website to learn more about monarch citizen science and choose the program(s) that are right for you! Your contributions will make an important difference for monarchs, and will hopefully impact you in even greater ways!
Dickinson, J. L., Shirk, J. , Bonter, D. , Bonney, R. , Crain, R. L., Martin, J. , Phillips, T. and Purcell, K. (2012), The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10: 291-297. doi:10.1890/110236
Lewandowski, E.J. & Oberhauser, K.S. 2016a. Butterfly Citizen Science Projects Support Conservation Activities among their Volunteers. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 1(1): 6, pp. 1–8, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/cstp.10%20
The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by Laura Lukens.