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More than Monarchs: Connections through Community Science

Jul 31, 2020


  • Community Science
  • More than Monarchs

(Misinformation from our previous More than Monarchs wildfires article has been corrected and an updated version can be found here.)

Why monarchs? While monarchs are intrinsically important, conserving monarchs matters for more than just their own protection. We’re exploring the ways that monarch habitat and conservation helps people, other wildlife, and the environment in this More than Monarchs series! Join us to learn more.

Monarch butterflies have a fascinating ability to draw people in. Their inherent charisma makes them an ideal organism for creating connections. It may start with a short observation of an egg on a leaf, or a caterpillar munching on flower buds, which then leads to questions: how fast do monarchs grow? Where did that caterpillar go that I saw yesterday? I wonder how many monarchs are in my garden?

Community science (also called citizen science) is a wonderful way to deepen and foster those connections. Community science is the involvement of the public in scientific research. There are several monarch community science programs that people can get involved with to increase our collective understanding of these amazing insects. Check out MJV's Community Science Page to find a program right for you. 

Data reported by volunteers in community science programs contribute to our collective knowledge about monarchs. For instance, data collected through the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) have provided valuable insight for monarch conservation habitat and population targets, including how many milkweed plants are needed to produce one migratory monarch. MLMP research (Nail et al., 2015) suggests the answer is 29 milkweeds! Other community science programs like Journey North and the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper are painting a picture of where and when monarchs and milkweeds are found on the landscape.

How do these programs extend beyond monarchs? Monarchs are the draw, but humans are innately curious creatures. We cannot help but ask more questions or take note of the other things we see in our milkweed patch. Participating in monarch community science projects provides an opportunity to make observations, further connections in nature, and introduce volunteers to conservation work that benefits entire ecosystems. A 2017 paper by Lewandowski and Oberhauser looked at the behaviors of volunteers who participated in monarch community science programs. They found that most volunteers increased their participation in conservation after taking part in a formal monarch project, and were more likely to either plant or maintain existing habitat as part of their efforts. As we highlighted in previous More than Monarchs articles, this benefits other organisms as well. Another paper published by the same authors in 2016 laid the foundations for these results by demonstrating that butterfly community science programs tend to focus on conservation, and use a variety of social and behavioral incentives to encourage conservation engagement beyond the project. 

Monarchs tell a story; community science helps us tell that story more completely. Through volunteering, participants inherently make connections between what they see and report, weaving stories of the biological ecosystems in their community. Researchers put the data together to tell a more complex, nuanced, and detailed story of what is happening in ecosystems across the country and beyond.  The connections and stories grow the more we participate and the more we learn. The desire to conserve and protect wildlife grows with it. 

Community science is just one example of how the work we do for monarchs can make a difference in many ways. What are the co-benefits of monarch conservation that matter most to you? Keep following our More than Monarchs series to hear more stories of what monarchs can do for us, our communities and our world.  


Article written by Katie-Lyn Puffer (MJV) and Angie Babbit (Monarch Watch) for the Monarch Joint Venture Communications Working Group and NAPPC Monarch Taskforce’s More than Monarchs Series. 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.



Lewandowski, E.J. & Oberhauser, K.S. (2016). Butterfly citizen science projects support conservation activities among their volunteers. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 1(1), 6.

Lewandowski, E.J. & Oberhauser, K.S. (2017). Contributions of citizen scientists and habitat volunteers to monarch butterfly conservation. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 22(1), 55-70.

Nail, K.R., Stenoien, C., Oberhauser, & K.S. (2015). Immature monarch survival: Effects of site characteristics, density, and time. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 108(5), 650-690