Why it’s likely that America’s most famous butterfly will be listed as endangered

Why it's likely that America's most famous butterfly will be listed as endangered

Monarch butterflies can fly tens of kilometers in a single day

They are an amazingly brave species of North America. In some areas, however, populations of migratory monarch butterflies, an iconic subspecies of the monarch butterfly, have declined in recent decades.

The conservation group International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently placed this species on its infamous Red List. According to the IUCN, migratory monarch butterflies are critically endangered, with populations plummeting by 22-72% on their winter breeding grounds. This Red List by an international organization may convey a sense of urgency to protect monarchs now, but the United States has no legal protections for monarch butterflies. Given the multiple threats it faces, it warns that it’s time to proactively protect monarch butterflies from extinction.

Biologist Emma Pelton, who was involved in the recent IUCN Monarch Assessment, says people are having a hard time accepting the idea that animals that are frequently seen in the summer have a problem.

An amazing specie

The iconic style is notable for many reasons. Monarch butterflies are very good pollinators. Like honeybees, when monarch butterflies sip nectar from flowers, pollen powder attaches to their bodies, carrying pollen and fertilizing other plants.

Monarch butterflies are the only known butterfly species that migrate in both directions like birds. Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate her astounding 3,000 miles from their summer rookeries in North America to spend the winter (a stage known as “hibernation”) in the forests of Mexico. Mexico’s mountainous climate is ideal for monarch butterflies to slow their metabolism, conserve energy and avoid frostbite.

But hibernation also exposes monarch butterflies to vulnerability, said John Pleasants, associate professor of ecology at Iowa State University.

Overuse of herbicides is killing the milkweeds that monarch butterflies rely on to lay eggs as they travel long distances. Credit: Raquel Lonas/Getty Images

The monarch’s decline

Since the mid-1990s, there have been three major monarch fatalities at wintering grounds, Pleasants explained. “These are big winter storms, and the butterflies are drenched, cold and dead,” he said. Even as they leave Mexico and head north toward Texas, they also face winter vulnerability due to drought. Told.

In addition to these natural environmental problems, spurge is being wiped out by human activities such as deforestation and habitat destruction. Pleasants says overuse of pesticides has also contributed to milkweed losses.

“It is truly heartbreaking that these monarchs have to be listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.”

Monarch butterfly populations declined sharply from the late 1990s to he 2007. Pleasant’s research found that this decline was related to the use of the popular Roundup his Lady herbicide, which is widely used pre- and post-plant to control weeds. Corn and soybeans were unaffected by the herbicide, but all other crops in the field, including spurge, died, Pleasantz said.

Add to the ill effects of herbicides, habitat destruction and natural mass mortality. For this reason, the monarch deserves an endangered designation, Pleasant said.

“It’s really heartbreaking that these monarch butterflies have to be listed as vulnerable by the IUCN,” said Stephanie Crose, an endangered species expert at the Arizona Center for Biodiversity. has an 80% chance of going extinct within the next 50 years.

She also acknowledged that the IUCN Red List does not provide legal protection for U.S. monarchs.

The monarch is still unprotected

The IUCN is an international body of scientists that analyzes the threats facing species and places them on endangered species lists where appropriate. More than 41,000 plant and animal species are listed as endangered, and conservation groups update them several times a year. However, the Red List status granted by the IUCN does not provide legal protection for endangered species in the United States.

Rather, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency that sets legal protections for species and works with the scientific community to restore endangered plants and animals to stable population levels. In 1973, Congress passed a powerful Endangered Species Act. This has allowed the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect and save endangered species like the bald eagle. Importantly, the agency funds the protection of endangered species. (Nevertheless, importantly, researchers found that most endangered species are underfunded, making recovery of many endangered species difficult.)

“We really need a Biden administration to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet listed the migratory monarch butterfly as an endangered species. In 2020, officials concluded that “listing monarch butterflies as vulnerable or endangered is justified” given the threats facing monarch butterflies, but other plant and animal species important to conservation Priority must be given to the huge backlog of other plant and animal species that need to be prioritized for conservation.

“We really need a Biden administration to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act,” Kurose of the Center for Biodiversity told Mashable. Kurose said the agency could make a decision about protecting the monarch in 2024. Pelton, who also runs the monarch conservation program at the conservation group Xerces Society, said her organization He said he was one of the first to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to research monarch butterflies and hopefully have them on the list. “We have been at this camp for many years,” she said.

What’s more, raising awareness of popular showcase species like the monarch may lead to more interest in conserving other wildlife, not just the monarch, Pelton told her Mashable.Told.

A cluster of overwintering monarch butterflies. Credit: Maureen P Sullivan / Getty Images 

But not all experts are convinced by the IUCN’s decision to list iconic butterfly species as vulnerable. Andy Davis, an animal ecologist at the University of Georgia, questions the timing of the decision, given that several monarch butterfly populations have been very thriving in North America in recent years. It’s based on a misunderstanding of monarch ecology, and perhaps a misunderstanding of science,” Davis told Mashable.

A recent study by Davis analyzed trends in monarch butterfly populations in breeding ranges during the summer. But the IUCN analysis is based on overwintering colony size, he explained, Davis. Monarch butterflies don’t move around much during hibernation, so they may be easier to count, he said. But counting the number of butterflies that return in the spring, as Davis’ study did, can give us a true picture of butterfly populations. “There is no evidence that breeding ranges are shrinking,” argues Davis.

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