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.
Creating habitat is one of the most important actions you can take to help the monarch butterfly. From backyard gardens to sprawling grasslands scattered across the country, these areas provide a network of crucial habitat for monarchs. Fortunately, the habitats that monarchs use also provide substantial benefits to other wildlife species.
High quality monarch habitat that includes a diverse assortment of native milkweeds and nectar plants can also support a wide range of wildlife. Because the habitat needs of pollinators overlap with those of other animals, pollinator conservation allows us to protect multiple species at once.
For example, hunters know that quality habitat is essential for wild game species, like pheasants and quail. These upland birds have their own habitat requirements, like nesting, winter, and brood rearing cover. Diverse grassland and prairie habitats containing native milkweeds and a variety of native nectar plants meets these requirements, and also provide bare ground which is important for upland bird chicks to move across their range in search of food.
Diverse plant communities attract many pollinators, like bees, butterflies, beetles, and other beneficial insects. This increase in insect diversity not only increases the resilience of the ecosystem, but it also results in greater food availability for other wildlife. Native plants are particularly important on the landscape since they serve as the host plants for many species of insects. Milkweed is the host plant for monarchs, and when caterpillars consume it, they store the toxins found within the plant that provide them some protection from predators. Many other insects that consume our native vegetation do not have similar protections and are a critical component of the diets of songbird chicks and other wildlife. Without a diverse plant community to rely on, our beloved wildlife populations cannot thrive.
Grasslands also provide vital nesting grounds for songbirds, waterfowl, and small mammals. Other larger animals, like deer, rely on grassland habitats to forage and safely travel across the landscape. Like the monarch, grassland songbirds have been in rapid decline due to habitat loss. Native milkweeds and nectar plants in grassland environments serve birds by providing ample food, protection from predators, and space for building their nests. Because these species build their nests on the ground rather than in trees, grasses and blooming plants provide structure and cover for their young. Waterfowl, like the blue-winged teal and mallard, depend on grasslands for nesting and stopover habitat during their spring and fall migrations.
Wildlife conservation 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.
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. Photos by Peter McGowan/USFWS and Candy Sarikonda. Article contributed by Mara Koenig, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for the Monarch Joint Venture Communications Working Group and NAPPC Monarch Taskforce.