The reports this past year gave credence to what it seems everyone has been noticing these past years. Butterflies are on the decline. Soon all we might have of certain species is the romantic notion expressed in prose.
And the fault for the issues plaguing butterflies rests squarely on practices here in the US. As we mow down forests and meadows for farming and development, spray gardens, homes and crops with pesticide, and contend with weather extremes that our actions arguably contributed – the answer to the disappearance is simple. Look at it from viewpoint of a pollinator.
If you can’t locate a place to build your nest or lay eggs, find nectar on your bloom-specific flowers due to early bloom or drought, or have to travel well beyond your ability, then all that is left is the decline of your species. What happens is body fat is depleted in the insect and the butterflies lay fewer eggs when they travel beyond their range. That or they die of exertion or hunger before having a chance to reproduce.
Does this not sound like the plight of ducks in the last post, ducks not finding food and traveling beyond their range? All for differing reasons, but maybe not. Could the weather extreme this winter be related to climate change? But like ducks the butterflies are…
tough little insects, showing up in places where not seen previously.
It seems the US is a major area of disappearance in general of their around 700 different species. Not like they will disappear altogether, but quite a few are in decline, most notably the Monarch. Studies are predicting the US and Canada might lose the annual migration. This is the one new piece of study for 2014. Last year, it was pretty much consistent to what is being reported this year.
Last year I looked at this issue in Breakfast, Bedtime and Losing Butterflies. It is an impassioned post looking at the same issues being studied yet today. It asks questions that still have no answers.
How was this loss of migration determined? By winter studies of colony size in Mexico. “The largest area occupied by the butterflies was recorded in 1997 and reached 44.5 acres (18 hectares). This season, the area fell to 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares).” (source) Simple math.
Science is placing blame on the loss of milkweed breeding grounds in the US and Canada. Loss of milkweed is likely concurrent with the use of herbicide-resistant genetically modified corn and soybean. The resulting rise in herbicide use is killing other plants present in the fields, such as milkweed.
Not the only detrimental factor, the weather extremes associated with climate change are looking to be the second major factor in butterfly decline. Even places where milkweed would grow, drought has caused the milkweed to disappear too.
So are the monarchs rebounding anywhere? In California, they are in some places. At Natural Bridges, an estimated 7,800 monarchs were seen this winter, up from 1500 the year before. So what lies in store for 2014 and the northward return trip each March?
It may be a weather dependent year to at least increase their chances. In 2012 the drought set them back and a cool start in 2013 did the same. 2014 having even temperatures and abundant rain could aid in their travels, but the rapidly disappearing milkweed from the Great Plains is likely to get worse. Farmers are under pressure to produce more corn due to a government mandate to add ethanol to gasoline and that means more butterfly favorable land will be turned to corn crops.
Chip Taylor, a biologist at the University of Kansas said the Monarchs have a 40 day window to arrive at their breeding grounds. “If they arrive too early, the population crashes, and if they arrive too late, the population crashes,” he said in an interview here.
What is becoming abundantly clear, is that science knows why they are disappearing, but not what to do about it. Plant more milkweed yes, but it needs to be in places where it is most needed. The weather, well that one is a crap-shoot. We just might be beyond a solution on both fronts.
You know what might work? An intense breeding program for declining species and an artificially constructed wintering refuge. Not unlike us humans to get our hands in more natural processes to fix things we broke!
Now I have a question for our local garden show, Plantasia that happened this past weekend. Who is running your Facebook page? And why are they stealing photos, image 6 above, post Tracery in the Landscape to PROMOTE YOUR event? Next time PLEASE ask first, and if given permission, make sure that image is DIRECTLY LINKED to the site where it was taken!!!!!
Ironically, an image of a sunflower in the same post was stolen by a local firm to use in print advertising last year. They stole it from an international photo site, 500px where I posted images, yet I caught them too. This really is getting to be a problem…