Planning ahead to help protect monarch butterflies

Views for monarch butterflies are not good at the moment. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Mother Nature, or IUCN, has just added North American monarchs to its list of endangered species.

With news like this, it can be easy to forget the reasons to hope that we can save these iconic insects from extinction. But those bright spots are there if people know where to look.

Now there are forecasts to help guide conservation, thanks to Elise Zipkin of Michigan Point out University and to his colleagues.

Working with large datasets and established models, the team predicted which counties in the US Midwest and Ontario, Canada, are the most likely to provide the most hospitable breeding grounds for monarchs in the face of climate change. These predictions, published August 19 in the journal World Transform Biology, can help identify the best opportunities to support monarch conservation.

“These projections allow us to look at how monarch populations will change in the Midwest and say, ‘Here’s where they’ll probably do a little better, here’s where they might do a little less well,” said Erin Zylstra, the first author of the new report and former postdoctoral researcher at the Zipkin Quantitative Ecology Lab. eastern monarchs. Over the course of a year – and four generations – monarchs migrate between central Mexico and some get-togethers in the United States and southern Canada east of the Rocky Mountains.

But between 80 and 2014, the population of Eastern Monarchs decreased by more than 80 %. Last year, Zylstra, Zipkin and their colleagues published a paper showing that weather conditions were the main driver of recent declines.

Building on this study by 2021, the team took their understanding of how climate influenced monarch populations since 80 and used it to predict what might happen in the next 80 years in a range of climate change scenarios.

“Climate change is a huge global problem that requires nations to work together to solve it. However, when we talk about conservation, we tend to want to know what we can do in our local communities,” said Zylstra, who is now a quantitative ecologist with the Tucson Audubon Society in Arizona. “If we can find the places where the impacts of climate change are not expected to be so severe, these could become the areas in which we invest our resources.”

“In general, our research is informed by asking what the conservation needs are,” said Zipkin, the study’s lead author and associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the College of Natural Sciences. She is also director of the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior program, a pillar of MSU’s world-wide ecology program, which was recently ranked No. 32 globally.

Zipkin and Zylstra’s latest work was supported by the Nationwide Science Foundation and the Midwest Local climate Adaptation Science Center at the US Geological Study, which facilitates partnerships between scientists, community leaders and natural resource managers.

“We answer scientific questions that we think are important, but we also work with individuals and agencies on the ground who can use our work to implement strategic conservation,” Zipkin said. “The Midwest Local weather Adaptation Science Center is helping us put our research directly into the hands of those thinking about next steps.”

Another unique feature of the work is the way it considers sources of uncertainty and provides quantitative estimates for them, the researchers said. This approach – which explicitly considers what is unknown about the future – can help the research community better understand and use the team’s results and models. It also helps researchers identify what is needed to improve the accuracy of future predictions.

For example, unknowns about future climate are the greatest source of uncertainty, car or truck the team predicts what monarch populations will look like at the end of the 21th century. But in the immediate future, the uncertainties about the exact influence of specific climatic variables on the abundance of local monarch populations weigh heavily. Collecting more robust and targeted data on monarchs could thus improve near-term projections.

on data in collaboration with Naresh Neupane, a climatologist at Georgetown University. The team predicted monarch population shifts in counties across summer breeding grounds and wintering grounds in Mexico under four different climate scenarios.

In each scenario, forecasts suggest that the eastern monarch population will continue to decline, which is not surprising given the current trajectory of the butterflies. But identifying pockets where, locally, populations are increasing or remaining constant gives hope that the decline can be slowed or reversed.

And if the approach helps save monarchs , it can also help other endangered species.

“Monarchs are special. They’re beautiful, easy to identify, widely distributed, and they make people care about conservation in general,” Zipkin said. “Absolutely, with action we can protect our planet, we can protect other migratory species, we can protect pollinators and we can protect monarch butterflies.”

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