Prevalence of monarch (Danaus plexippus) and queen (Danaus gilippus) butterflies in West Texas during the fall of 2018

Matthew Z. Brym, Cassandra Henry, Shannon P. Lukashow-Moore, Brett J. Henry, Natasja Van Gestel, Ronald J. Kendall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a conspicuous insect that has experienced a drastic population decline over the past two decades. While there are several factors contributing to dwindling monarch populations, habitat loss is considered the most significant threat to monarchs. In the United States, loss of milkweed, particularly in the Midwest, has greatly reduced the available breeding habitat of monarchs. This has led to extensive efforts to conserve and restore milkweed resources throughout the Midwest. Recently, these research and conservation efforts have been expanded to include other important areas along the monarch's migratory path. Results: During the fall of 2018, we conducted surveys of monarch eggs and larvae through West Texas. We documented monarch and queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) reproduction throughout the region and used the proportion of monarch and queen larva to estimate the number of monarch eggs. Peak egg densities for monarchs were as high as 0.78 per milkweed ramet after correction for the presence of queens. Despite our observations encompassing only a limited sample across one season, the peak monarch egg densities we observed exceeded published reports from when monarch populations were higher. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to correct for the presence of queens when calculating the density of monarch eggs. This research also provides insight into monarch utilization of less well-known regions, such as West Texas, and highlights the need to expand the scope of monarch monitoring and conservation initiatives. While the importance of monarch research and conservation in the Midwest is unquestionable, more comprehensive efforts may identify new priorities in monarch conservation and lead to a more robust and effective overall strategy, particularly given the dynamic and rapidly changing global environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalBMC Ecology
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 12 2020

Keywords

  • Danaus plexipuus
  • Egg correction
  • Migration
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Reproduction
  • West Texas

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