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Tag Archive | "Monarch"

Human Health and Insect Surveys


 

OUT-Nature-niche-Swamp-milkweed-monarchSome people might wonder why the Monarch butterfly is currently proposed for Federal Endangered Species status. Monarch numbers have declined significantly during this new millennium and there are several contributing factors. One concern is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO). GMO crops have been genetically altered to be herbicide resistant so more chemicals can be used on crops, allowing higher yield to support our growing human population.

It is difficult for farmers to purchase seeds that are not genetically modified. The increased use of chemicals in farm fields has eliminated many of the milkweeds that Monarch butterflies require to successfully migrate from Mexico to Michigan.

Lincoln Brower conducted studies in the 1960’s to gain understanding about how Monarchs acquire chemicals from milkweeds that protect them from bird predators. Milkweeds developed chemical protections through natural selection that protected them from most insects trying to feed on them. Most insects cannot feed on milkweeds because of the plant’s poisons. Monarchs, milkweeds bugs, milkweed longhorned beetles and some others have developed the ability to feed on the plant and have developed ways to isolate the poisons without being killed.

Brower fed Monarchs to blue jays and the birds became ill, vomited, and had an irregular heartbeat. The birds learned to not eat Monarchs or other orange insects.

Later other scientists studied cardiac glucocides ingested by monarch’s from the milkweeds to learn how they affect the heart. It was discovered that if a person has an irregular heartbeat, the chemical could be used to help correct the heartbeat. After learning its medical value, the chemical has been manufactured in the laboratory and used to save human lives.

If monarchs were allowed to become extinct before the study, we might never have made the life saving discovery. Many, if not most, medicines first come from studying plants, fungi, and other organisms to understand their role in nature niches. Scientists do not just throw chemicals together and test them to see how they might be useful. They look to the natural world.

Butterfly and other insect surveys conducted by citizen scientists aid in monitoring the abundance and distribution of insects. Similar surveys for birds, mammals, and plants help us understand trends for various species populations. Most species have not been studied for their value to humans. The value of many has been lost to extinction and will never reveal their life saving secrets. What if the chemical in milkweeds and Monarchs was lost before the life saving use was discovered?

The recent local butterfly survey conducted by citizens like you has value for fun and learning about local nature niche relationships. It also is important in tracking population changes. The information can be used to preserve species that save human lives. Some people require a known human use before they are willing to support saving a species from extinction. It is impossible to know the value of each species. It is estimated that between five and fifteen million species live on Earth and possibly 30 million. We have named about 1.5 million so far and, for most of those, we know little about their value for us.

Insects that live in your yard might be human life saving organisms provided we do not eliminate them with pesticide and herbicide use. You have life saving control that is important for future generations. If we eliminate species, their value disappears with them. Encourage people to live in harmony with nature rather than trying to dominate it.

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

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Monarch Migration Plight


OUT-Nature-Niche-MonarchPopulationEstimate_graphic3By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

In September people see Monarch butterflies migrating south.

Mrs. Tacoma, a kindergarten teacher at Cedar Trails Elementary, collects Monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants and feeds them until they form a chrysalis. When the adult butterfly emerges to pump fluid into its bright orange wings, students see a miracle that most people have not witnessed. Once fluid has dried in the butterfly’s wing veins, the class releases it for a 2000-mile journey to south central Mexico.

This year fewer Monarchs will be migrating. It has been a rough year and decade for survival. Dr. Lincoln Brower predicted long ago that migrating Monarchs would become a thing of the past during the first decades of the 21st century. It is hoped his prediction will prove wrong. The predictions of Brower and other scientists are based on several factors that have been building to diminish wildlife in North America.

Dr. ‘Chip’ Taylor, of Monarch Watch, highlighted factors. He said, for monarch recovery, we need to create a lot of milkweed habitat and need to mobilize people to do it to save wildlife, by creating habitats in yards and gardens. He continued that gardeners across this country could help by planting milkweed and using native plants to stabilize native pollinator communities. People now have another purpose for creating a garden. The purpose is conservation.

Taylor identifies factors that have led to the sharp drop in the monarch population.

1. Monarch numbers seen each year in the eastern United States and Canada are determined by the amount of habitat that remains. New roads, housing developments, and agricultural expansion serving a growing human population transform a natural landscape in ways that make it impossible for Monarchs to live.

2. Month to month temperature and moisture conditions are critical factors and are affected by climate change. Climate change is well documented but the question of how much is human caused is still not precise. It is clear human activities are affecting the rate of climate change but quantifying exactly how much is exceedingly difficult.

3. Increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest promotes greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills milkweed. Monarch decline is coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. We’re basically creating a desert out there, except for the corn and the soybeans.

4. The increase of soybean and corn crops as bio-fuels has reduced wildlife habitat.

5. Extreme weather events threaten to become more common and may have a negative impact on Monarch populations and other wildlife.

6. Taylor points out that sustaining the monarch migration will be a challenge that requires support and cooperation of Canada, the United States and Mexico. This is symptomatic of issues affecting plant and animal nature niches and may impact our national wellbeing.

7. As human populations grows, lumbering, clearing land for growing food and grazing cattle reduces space essential for survival of other life forms, on which society is dependent.

8. Our own population is projected to increase by two billion people by 2040 so Taylor doesn’t see the monarch in that future world. Our population cannot continually grow and also maintain a healthy world. We are going to see a lot of changes. There are natural restrictions on how fast populations can grow based on food production, declining arable land, and limitations of water. If we don’t get with it and if we don’t start modifying our behavior, life is going to get to be pretty tough.

He says the Monarch issue is his way of introducing people to the larger issues.

9. Monarch over wintering sites are vulnerable for a number of reasons. A census taken at the monarchs’ wintering grounds found their population had declined 59 percent over the previous year and was at the lowest level ever measured.

Italics in this article are my commentary additions. To read Taylor’s complete discussion go to http://e360.yale.edu/feature/tracking_the_causes_of_sharp__decline_of_the_monarch_butterfly/2634/

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

 

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One for the road


This Monarch butterfly appears to be getting some last minute nectar before hitting the highway to Mexico. “I was really surprised to see a Monarch still here in October,” said Chris McFarlane, of Nelson Township, who took this photo of a Monarch butterfly perched on a New England aster on October 23. Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico every year, traveling thousands of miles. They then come back in the spring and lay eggs. There have been a few Monarchs spotted in other northern areas at this late date. The problem with that is that as winter approaches, the nectar dries up and the butterflies might not make it to Mexico.

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