Warning sounded over monarch migration levels

Star Tribune


The monarch butterfly — an orange and black icon that is Minnesota’s state insect — is facing dire population declines that have resulted in the smallest wintertime habitat since surveys began in 1993, an international team of conservation scientists warned Wednesday.

Monarch butterflies migrate nearly 2,500 miles from Minnesota and southern Canada to central Mexico, where they spend the winter — the second-longest migration of all known insects.

This year, conservationists say the area where the butterflies winter in Mexico was reduced by 44 percent, to just 1.7 acres.

Karen Oberhauser, a University of Minnesota entomologist who’s spent 30 years studying the butterflies, says the expansion of genetically modified crops in the Corn Belt is the primary culprit behind precipitous monarch declines over the past three years. These crops allow farmers to use herbicides later in the growth cycle, which has led to vast reductions in native milkweed and nectar plants that the butterflies rely on during the breeding cycle.

The monarch’s decline may be an indicator of larger ecological problems, she said.

“What is happening to monarchs is also happening to many other uncounted organisms — organisms whose loss would be equally tragic,” Oberhauser said.

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