How Climate Change Affects the Monarch Butterfly, and What We Can Do About It

This is a guest post from David Wolfe, Director of Conservation Strategies at Environmental Defense Fund.

Unusually severe snow storms and crippling droughts remind us that climate change is here, and we’re increasingly seeing the toll it’s taking on our landscapes and economy.

But there are other less obvious climate impacts that inflict a different kind of emotional and cultural distress: As landscapes change, so do the animals that depend on them for survival. 

The iconic and beloved North American monarch butterfly is one of the species that has difficulty adjusting to our new climate-stressed world. Its population has declined 95 percent in the last 20 years, making the orange and black-winged insect a less frequent visitor to American backyards and to Mexico’s famous Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

The loss is profound because of the historic role that this beautiful and delicate species plays in the education of children and families about wildlife and the environment. When the butterfly disappears, we lose that important opportunity.

But the monarch’s desperate fight for survival also serves as a warning to us all about the potentially irrevocable changes our warming planet faces, and why the global community must pull out all stops to stabilize our climate.

In March, the eastern population of monarch butterflies began their annual migration north from Mexico, making their way to Texas and Oklahoma – their journey carefully tracked by biologists.

Every year, a new generation of these butterflies follows the same path forged by generations before them. The only thing guiding them on this migration is temperature telling them when they need to travel – like a biological trigger setting them in flight.

But in recent years, the monarch’s fall south migration from Canada has been delayed by as much as six weeks due to warmer-than-normal temperatures that failed to trigger the butterflies’ instincts to move south.

By the time the temperature cooled enough to trigger the migration, it’s been too cold in the Midwest and many monarchs died on their trip south.

Climate change has also increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which can have catastrophic effects on migrating monarchs.

In 2002, a severe and sudden storm killed close to 80 percent of the overwintering monarch population in Mexico – a hit from which it has yet to recover.

What’s more, hotter and drier weather conditions have proven to be lethal during the larval stage of monarch development, with direct impacts on the survival and reproductive capacity of adult butterflies.

Where’s a butterfly to go?

Climate change may also be reducing the growth of vital milkweed habitat, with rising temperatures and severe drought limiting the number of places where monarch butterflies can feed and reproduce.

When coupled with other drivers of habitat loss, such as increased herbicide applications across America’s Corn Belt region, it becomes clear why habitat restoration can be key to halting the monarch population’s decline.

Citizen efforts are underway to plant milkweed in backyards, gardens and community spaces along the monarch migration route from Mexico to the U.S.-Canadian border. But we need strong incentives to bring large agricultural landowners into play and scale up restoration efforts.

A new conservation initiative, the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, uses an advanced accounting method to measure habitat recovery and assign credit values to such improvements. Landowners get paid for maintaining and creating monarch habitat – a concept proven effective for engaging landowners in conservation.

With their help, we can reverse the trajectory for this treasured species and effectively mitigate climate impacts on the monarch butterfly. Before it’s too late.

This article originally appeared on the EDF Voices blog and is reprinted with permission.

69 comments

FOTEINI HORBOU
FOTEINI horbou7 months ago

SAVE THE AWABAKAL BUTTERFLY CAVE FROM BULLDOZERS IN AUSTRALIA-SIGN NOW!: https://www.change.org/p/nsw-government-must-act-now-to-save-the-awabakal-women-s-butterfly-cave-site-from-development/u/18931496

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

Oh, this is just getting started; time to pay back!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Pablo B.
.about a year ago

tyfs

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Victoria C.
Victoria Cabout a year ago

The world won't be the same without butterflies of any kind...

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiranabout a year ago

noted

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Arlene C.
Arlene Cabout a year ago

Merci et protégeons nos papillons

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Peter Blattner
Peter Blattnerabout a year ago

Not only the by Monarch Butterflies! -

Some Examples: Eight million tons of plastic is dumped at sea each year... that's five whole bags-full for every foot of the world's coastline...

Approximately 45 billion chopsticks are consumed each year just in China. This corresponds to 1.7 million cubic meters of timber or 25 million fully grown trees...

Every sixty seconds, thirty acres of rain forest are destroyed in order to raise beef for fast food restaurants that sell it to people, giving them strokes and heart attacks, which raise medical costs and insurance rates, providing insurance companies with more money to invest in large corporations that branch out further into the Third World so they can destroy more rain forests.

~ Our once beautiful planet Earth full with an intact Nutur and countless Animal Species is slowly but surely from the so-called "God-given human crown of creation" increasingly pushed to the abyss! And almost everyone knows it but yet looks a large part of the whole humanity for whatever reason, much rather far away! ~

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Roman Klevets
roman Klevetsabout a year ago

thanks

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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