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Tag Archive | "monarch butterfly"

Monarch champion and icon dies


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Lincoln Brower, who was considered one of the foremost experts on the iconic monarch butterfly and a scientist who advocated for protection for the declining species, died on July 17 at his home in Roseland, Virginia at age 86, with complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was a key researcher demonstrating that blue jays become ill eating monarchs and learned birds avoid eating them. His research helped build scientific evidence supporting that birds learn to avoid toxic insects in their diet. The orange color is a warning “don’t eat me.” 

Through scholarly papers, articles, and interviews, Dr. Brower illuminated the story of the monarch. Working with groups in Mexico and with the Mexican government in the 1980s, he helped establish sanctuaries to protect crucial fir forests from logging where the butterflies gather in the millions. In later years he said illegal cutting continued. I recall discussing the plight of monarch migration phenomena with him. 

He stated the monarch species has non-migratory populations that live in sedentary populations in the Caribbean islands, Trinidad, Bermuda and South America. Those are not likely to go extinct. Most of the Northern American population gathers in Mexico by the millions for a two-way multiple generation migration unique in the world. He said that would likely disappear in the early 21st century. Fortunately, that has not occurred. In part, the migratory population might still exist because of his tireless efforts to protect it. 

Biodiversity that supports humans and other life on Earth is disappearing piece by piece. Dr. Dave Warners recently stated we are losing 50,000 species worldwide annually. I have seen habitat sampling evidence that supports higher and lower estimates. We do not know the long-term impacts this will have on humans or ecosystems that support us. Lincoln focused research on monarchs but he held a broader view for protecting biodiversity essential for our species’ economic, social, and environmental health.

I write about such things in my nature niche column. They are not my original ideas. Most were generated in previous centuries with additional scientific evidence support being added in recent decades. Dr. Brower was a scientist whose work and evidence helped protect human interests. I hope voters consider the importance of scientific evidence and do not dismiss it because it does not agree with their desires. Most scientists are unwilling to voice political advocacy when their work is referred to as fake news. Lincoln used scientific evidence to advocate protection for the monarch. He said, “We’re too pragmatic in this country, and I think we need to realize that biological treasures such as the monarch are just as valuable as the Mona Lisa.” 

Brower charted the butterflies’ stark decline. Its overall population has fallen by about 80 percent over the last two decades, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. In 2014, Brower placed his name alongside conservation groups to petition the federal government to protect the monarch under the Endangered Species Act. “He was the only scientist who joined the petition–it’s a gigantic deal,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “A lot of scientists shy away from advocacy.” The Endangered Species, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Wilderness Acts are under grave threat by the Trump administration. I encourage readers to voice their opinions to Congressional representatives now. 

Dr. Brower recognized many people relate to human created treasures. Many species comprising Earth’s diversity are not equally valued and are considered expendable. Regarding protection of endangered species, Congress is not protecting the value of Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah where protections were removed by Executive Order last year. By who voters elected, we support the unlawful taking of private property along the Mexican border without due process. I am part owner of North American Butterfly Association property there where the Endangered Species Act has been exempted as a matter of national security. Dr. Brower objected to such taking and recognized personal rights and environmental protection are essential to national security and sustainability. 

I am honored to have known Lincoln and to have been mentored by him personally and through his published works. “Google” Lincoln Brower to discover the authors I used to cull information shared and to read details about his amazing life. Sadly, we have lost a monarch champion and icon. Will you champion monarchs? 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Monitoring Michigan’s migrating monarchs

A monarch butterfly spreads its wings at Peninsula Point in Delta County. Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

By Casey Warner, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

In a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, down a narrow, winding, one-lane road, lies a unique spot whose significance you might not guess from its secluded surroundings.

Peninsula Point lighthouse, at the end of the Stonington Peninsula in Delta County, offers spectacular views of Lake Michigan, a scenic place to enjoy a walk along the beach or a picnic, and excellent birdwatching, with more than 200 species of birds recorded there.

Then there’s the maritime history – the lighthouse, which was built in 1865 and once guided ships carrying iron ore and other products, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

But what Peninsula Point is most known – and visited – for is its connection to the monarch butterfly.

“Just as the Peninsula Point lighthouse guided ships on Lake Michigan, the Stonington Peninsula guides monarch butterflies as they begin their 1,900-mile migration south to their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico,” reads a sign that greets visitors. “In the fall, thousands of monarchs can be seen here, waiting for favorable conditions before they cross Lake Michigan.”

While the chance to catch the majestic sight of multitudes of monarchs boosts tourism by drawing flocks of visitors to the area, the site is even more important for its contribution to monarch butterfly research and conservation.

“Peninsula Point is one of only a very few places in North America where monarchs can be viewed migrating in great numbers,” says the sign at the lighthouse, part of Hiawatha National Forest and owned by the U.S. Forest Service. “Because it is so unique, the Forest Service, together with Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County and many volunteers, have been conducting research since 1994, making it the oldest data set on the monarch in North America.”

Ivan Brown, left, and his son, Jonnie, 6, of Ripon, Wisconsin, check the undersides of milkweed leaves for monarch butterfly eggs Wednesday at Peninsula Point in Delta County. Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Run exclusively by volunteers, the Monarch Research Project at Peninsula Point includes migration census monitoring, during which volunteers also tag butterflies as part of the national Monarch Watch Program. An annual monarch migration census is conducted in only one other location in the U.S., Cape May, New Jersey.

Monarch research at Peninsula Point also includes participation in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, coordinated by the University of Minnesota. The protocol developed at Peninsula Point, one of the project’s first sites, has been used at other locations across North America.

“The Monarch Project on the Stonington Peninsula began in 1994, when a Forest Service volunteer noticed that there were a lot of monarch butterflies passing through Peninsula Point during later August and the month of September,” said Sue Jamison, who coordinates the work of the volunteers who collect data on monarch larva and eggs at Peninsula Point for the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.

“Each year we try to have volunteers check daily during those weeks to look for increased numbers of monarchs congregating at the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula.”

The project is currently without a volunteer coordinator for the fall migration census and tagging – according to Janet Ekstrum, Forest Service wildlife biologist for Hiawatha National Forest, Rapid River Ranger District – and may not have the capacity to do regularly scheduled migration monitoring this year.

In previous years, as many as 21 monarchs tagged at Peninsula Point have been recovered in El Rosario, Mexico, almost 2,000 miles from the Stonington Peninsula.

Monarchs are unique in that they are the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration, similar to birds, because they can’t survive cold winters in northern climates.

“Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website. “Monarchs use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home.”

The eastern population of North America’s monarchs goes south to the same 11 to 12 mountain areas in Mexico from October to late March.

“Monarchs traveling south congregate on peninsulas. The shape of the peninsula funnels the migrating butterflies,” says the Forest Service website. “At its tip, the monarchs find the shortest distance across open water. They congregate along the shore to wait for a gentle breeze to help them across.”

Wind also plays a role in the volunteers’ monitoring efforts.

“We check the winds, as monarchs do not like to fly over water so they will leave with a north wind to fly over to Door County, Wisconsin,” said Jamison. “Peninsula Point is the southernmost point for monarchs in our area to fly over Lake Michigan.”

The Monarch Research Project at Peninsula Point, which depends on financial support from local organizations like Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County and the work of volunteers, collects data that is sent to various universities and has resulted in several research publications.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Janet Ekstrum at jekstrum@fs.fed.us or 906-474-6442, ext. 140.

“It’s a neat thing to do if you’re retired and all you do is golf,” said Rosie Spindler, who has volunteered to monitor larva at Peninsula Point for the past five years. She became interested in monarch conservation after a trip to visit butterfly preserves in Mexico where monarchs winter.

For those who don’t live in the central U.P., there are other opportunities for citizen scientists to get involved in studying monarchs – learn more at https://monarchjointventure.org. Michigan residents also can help inform conservation decisions in the state by reporting monarch sightings at https://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/.

The eastern population of monarch butterflies has declined by 80 percent over the last 20 years due mainly to habitat loss.

And this year’s measurement of the eastern monarch overwintering population in Mexico showed a 27 percent decrease compared to last year, likely due to an extreme winter storm.

Efforts to restore and maintain monarch habitat can help monarchs rebound and reverse the population decline.

“Because of the tremendous migration they make, monarchs need a variety of habitats,” said Dan Kennedy, endangered species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “In the summer, they lay their eggs on milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars will eat.

“Monarchs also need habitat to overwinter in, not to mention habitat where they can stop and refuel along the way. They are very active insects and require a wide variety of flowering plants to provide the food they need to survive and make their long journey.”

Grasslands, vitally important to many species, including monarchs and other pollinators, have become increasingly rare.

“Making sure pollinators have habitat that supports milkweed and other native, flowering plants is important to preserving these key species,” said Kennedy.

Through several habitat enhancement projects, the DNR – along with many partners, organizations and volunteers – is working to increase habitat for monarchs and other pollinators in Michigan.

“Because of the critical role these insects play in the ecosystem, as well as people’s lives, it is up to us to help keep these pollinator populations abundant and healthy,” Kennedy said.

For example, in southern Michigan, the DNR is working to restore and enhance grassland and pollinator habitat at the Shiawassee River State Game Area in Saginaw County and in Barry County’s Barry State Game Area.

In addition to the DNR’s efforts, many other organizations are supporting projects to improve pollinator habitat in Michigan. In June, TransCanada partnered with the Save Our Monarchs Foundation and many volunteers to plant 6,000 native wildflowers around TransCanada’s Woolfolk Gas Plant in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Currently, 4,000 acres already are being utilized as pollinator habitat. As part of their Pollinator Pathway Initiative, the organizations will continue their plan to seed an additional 7,000 acres across other TransCanada rights-of-way with native wildflowers this fall.

“Our existing assets align remarkably well with the monarch migratory route between Mexico and Canada,” said Brad Stermer, environmental specialist, operations and engineering for TransCanada. “Through our environmental partnership with Save Our Monarchs we have an opportunity to play a larger role in directly supporting pollinator health over the long term.”

Even for those who don’t have a large amount of land, there are ways to create habitat that helps pollinators. More information about creating habitat for monarchs and other pollinators is available on the Monarch Joint Venture page at https://monarchjointventure.org.

Other helpful resources include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s steps for building a pollinator garden at https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/yourhelp.html and the Michigan State University Extension’s Pollinators & Pollination page at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/pollinators_and_pollination, which also offers information on gardening for pollinators.

Find out more about what ways to help pollinators in Michigan by visiting mi.gov/wildlife and clicking on the Monarchs in Michigan box.

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