(UR) United States — Monarch’s face a ‘quasi-extinction’ event over the next 20 years, according to new research published in Scientific Reports. Without a major grassroots effort to support a migratory population that has declined 84 percent in the last few decades, monarch populations are likely to collapse with little hope for recovery. There is something you can do though, to help one of the most important pollinating insects recover from herbicide exposure and the loss of a major food source.
Experts Say Saving the Monarchs “Will Require All Hands on Deck”
Though this year’s monarch population, tracked through their migratory patterns which lead them them through Mexico, improved from its lowest point during the winter of 2013-2014, they still face an uncertain future. The slight increase in their numbers is most likely due to favorable summer weather, and not conservation efforts, or the reduction of pesticide and herbicide use.
Even Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” has said, oops we “accidentally decimated the monarch butterfly population.”
More than 50% Chance of Monarchs Going Extinct
Based on data calculations, the researchers think that the monarch butterflies have between an 11 percent and 57 percent chance of becoming extinct. A major role in their continued decline has been the loss of milkweeds. Glyphosate — the main ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp — in particular has devastated monarchs by killing off their main food source.
Much of the monarch’s habitat, including the milkweed plant, has been destroyed by destruction of grasslands for the purpose of growing pesticide resistant corn and soy.
In Need of Milkweed
Milkweed is a touchstone for monarchs. They lay eggs on the plant and the leaves and stems feed growing caterpillars that will someday turn into monarch butterflies. A bitter toxin in the milkweed actually protects them from predators throughout their lifespan, thus encouraging a bumper crop of butterflies each season.
The capacity for a monarch population to blossom is simply impossible without the restoration of milkweed — and these will need to be planted outside of agricultural areas where genetically modified foods have soured the landscape in areas where farmers use glyphosate-based herbicides.
Milkweed can be planted in gardens, on lawns, in highway medians, in patio containers, on roof green spaces, and on conservation land — anywhere that monarch butterflies might find a welcoming ‘hotel and free buffet’ for their young.
Can You Help Plant 2 Billion Milkweeds?
A conservation goal included in a national pollinator strategy announced last year aims to increase the number of milkweeds to support a monarch population of about 15 acres. This would cut the probability of quasi-extinction in half, according to the research team’s projections, but would require something on the order of nearly 2 billion additional milkweed plants to be available to monarchs.
“Anything anyone can do would help,” says Brice Semmens, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the lead author of the study.
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