MONTREAL, July 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ - The first monarch butterflies generally arrive in Québec in mid-June. This year, experts and the many people taking part in citizen science initiatives monitoring monarchs have seen an estimated drop of 90% in the overall monarch population in Eastern Canada. This is unheard of. Across the continent, scientists and butterfly enthusiasts are worried, and the Montréal Insectarium echoes their questions and concerns: could the migration of monarchs in eastern North America one day disappear altogether?
A few difficult seasons
Each year, the monarchs spend the winter in Mexico, then in the spring they gradually move northwards through the United States and eventually into Québec. In 2012, their reproduction rates fell dramatically throughout their journey, as they were confronted with extreme temperatures, record drought, flowers empty of nectar and a scarcity of their host plant milkweed. For the same reasons, their return to Mexico in the fall was no easier. The result? During the winter of 2012-2013, researchers found that the monarchs' hibernation area covered just 1.19 hectare of forest—60% less than the previous year's area, which was already well below the average of 7 hectares. On top of that, spring 2013 was marked by unusually cold temperatures and record rainfall. The monarchs' ability to reproduce as they headed back north was therefore greatly diminished.
The exceptionally good conditions for butterflies, including the monarch, last year in Québec were not sufficient to counter the negative effects observed in populations elsewhere on the continent. The monarch's current situation is a striking example of the impact climate change can have on biodiversity. Extreme phenomena associated with climate change and the loss of natural habitat are increasingly common. Butterflies are usually "champions" of adaptation, making recent observations all the more troubling. Although populations could potentially stabilize in the future, the teams at the Montréal Space for Life and the Insectarium remain vigilant and will be closely monitoring the progress of the monarch over the coming years. We underline the importance of developing a continental perspective to better identify the factors threatening monarchs all along their migration path in order to better protect them.
Meanwhile, we can all take concrete action to help monarch butterflies in the way we garden and use technology.
How can you give butterflies a helping hand?
Here are just two simple ways you can contribute to maintaining the monarch population:
|1)||Create a monarch oasis in your garden or on your balcony. You will help the monarchs reproduce and stock up on energy for their fall migration. http://espacepourlavie.ca/en/monarch-oasis|
|2)||Share your observations of monarchs on eButterfly.ca. The data accumulated will help researchers' better document the impact of climate change on the number and distribution of butterflies. e-Butterfly.org|
Keep your eyes peeled—the few butterflies observed along the way are expected to arrive in Québec soon!
Maxim Larrivée, head of entomological collections and research at the Montréal Insectarium / Space for Life and expert on climate change and butterflies, is available for interviews.
SOURCE Espace pour la vie