An assessment of monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) prevalence and milkweed (Asclepias spp.) restoration in the Rolling Plains of West Texas



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The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is among the most famous insects on earth, widely recognized for a remarkable ~3000 mile biannual migration across North America. The monarch is also a flagship for pollinator conservation, as steep declines of monarchs over the past several decades have captured the attention of the public and led to international efforts to protect the species. While many factors influence monarch abundance, the loss of breeding habitat is well supported as a primary contributor to the decline of these butterflies. For example, increases in herbicide use have resulted in the widespread destruction of the milkweed (Asclepias spp.) that are exclusive host plants of monarch caterpillars. So many milkweed have been lost that researchers estimate 1.6 billion milkweed must be restored in the Midwestern US alone to reach monarch conservation goals. Milkweed restoration in other portions of the monarch’s range has also been emphasized, as several areas are critical waypoints for the monarch migration. Texas, in particular, occupies a strategic location, as nearly the entire eastern monarch population funnels through the state during both the spring and fall migrations. However, most monarch conservation in Texas centers on the more populated central and eastern portions of the state, with few monarch monitoring and habitat restoration initiatives in West Texas. The lack of monarch conservation initiates in West Texas thus leaves a potentially overlooked opportunity to facilitate monarch conservation. To address this, my research objectives included 1) examine the potential of West Texas as an opportunity to facilitate monarch conservation, 2) monitor monarch prevalence and utilization of milkweed in West Texas, and 3) evaluate milkweed restoration in West Texas to assess the feasibility of milkweed restoration and provide a baseline for the development of regionally adapted restoration strategies specific to the area.

Embargo status: Restricted until January 2022. To request access, click on the PDF link to the left.



Asclepias spp., Danaus plexippus, Conservation, Milkweed, Monarch butterfly, Restoration, West Texas