The monarch butterfly population has been fluctuating in recent years. Much of this flux is attributed to habitat loss, although climate change (severe winters and drought) have had an impact. Monarchs rely on milkweed as a place to lay their eggs and as a food source for larvae. But, milkweeds are among hundreds of weed species that farmers seek to control to prevent the weeds from competing for resources with crops. Weed management has been a contributing factor to the decline in milkweed habitat.
The Monarch Migration
The life cycle and journey of the monarch butterfly is nothing short of amazing. Every February and March in Mexico, millions of monarch butterflies begin a one-of-its-kind northern migration to the United States and Canada. The first generation of monarchs will only make it as far as Texas and Oklahoma. Subsequent generations will proceed further into the Midwest and make their way to the Upper Midwest and Canada, multiplying in numbers as they breed.
And then, an amazing thing happens in the fall: the adult monarchs know that, for the species to survive, they must make the 3,000 mile trek back to the Oyamel fir forest in the mountains of central Mexico. Millions of monarchs will cling to the branches and withstand the winter conditions before returning to the same area their great-grandparents gathered the previous year. This monarch migration is truly remarkable.
Along this 6,000-mile journey across multiple generations, monarchs play a role in assisting with pollination of flowers and some crops. We need monarchs to maintain a healthy, diverse ecosystem.
As a sustainable agriculture company, Monsanto is committed to preserving and protecting the biodiversity of our planet. Weed management has been a factor in the decline of milkweed habitat. However, those of us in agriculture can be part of the solution to restoring it. We’re collaborating with non-profits, universities, researchers and others to find ways to improve and protect monarch habitat across North America. It is clear that sufficient progress won’t be made without action. Monsanto is committed to working alongside others to address this important element of biodiversity.
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Monsanto will match the initial $1.2 million pledge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund and provide $2.4 million additional funding to match commitments from federal agencies over the next three years. This support will be targeted to provide habitat restoration, education and outreach and milkweed seed and plant production.
- Monarch Watch: A nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas – focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. This grant will enable Monarch Watch to produce and make available milkweed plants free of charge for landscape improvement, including buffer strips on farm-lands, roadsides, rights of way, parks, public lands and demonstration plots along the monarch’s migratory path – which stretches from Mexico to Canada.
- Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium: The grant will help drive research to create quality habitat, develop guidance and demonstrations for farmers to cost-effectively improve and expand habitat, and monitor milkweed and adult monarch populations to track progress. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium can serve as a model framework for other state-level initiatives planning to implement monarch conservation.
- Pheasants Forever: The grant will lead to the planting of monarch and pollinator habitats at more than 70 Monsanto research and manufacturing sites and facilities located in the monarch breeding range. This includes the creation of three Learning Center programs to demonstrate how to establish sustainable monarch and pollinator habitat, which is also the same habitat critical to upland birds. These programs engage, enroll and educate farmers and communities to contribute to a resilient monarch population.
- University of Guelph: The grant will help to understand migration patterns and identify priority areas for milkweed restoration in the United States and Canada so that investments in habitat improvement are more successful.
- University of Illinois at Chicago, Energy Resources Center: Researchers will use these resources to identify and prioritize available public and private lands for monarch habitat improvement using geo-spatial analysis. This information will support the success of restoration programs by considering habitat location, quality and cost across diverse landscapes.
As a result of the commitments, Monsanto will participate in:
- Supporting expansion and improvement of more than 10 million acres of quality, distributed habitat by 2025
- Funding additional efforts in 2015 and thereafter by conservation groups to further restore sustainable quality milkweed/pollinator habitat across the critical range for monarch breeding and migration
- Providing 100,000 milkweed plants for planting into priority landscapes where quality habitat is needed
- Developing and adopting Best Management Practices (BMPs) for quality habitat installation and landscape improvement
- Reaching 100,000 growers with guidance and BMPs for creating and protecting monarch habitat
- Implementing web-based monitoring and reporting tools to track and measure progress annually
- Annually quantifying progress and prioritizing on-going milkweed habitat restoration efforts
- Developing a county-level scoring system to prioritize habitat restoration by 2016
- Organizing a rights-of-way workshop to drive progress in this opportunity area
- Leveraging the capabilities of the company’s scientists and applying advanced technologies in seed treatments, seed manufacturing, distribution, and data science to advance knowledge and improve the capacity and speed of delivery of habitat restoration programs
- Annually reporting on Monsanto’s progress toward the delivery of improved habitat restoration technologies
- Building and helping to fund a broad public-private partnership to restore monarch/pollinator habitat on public and private lands in overwintering sites and throughout the monarch breeding range
It is clear that sufficient progress won’t be made without action. Monsanto is committed to working alongside others to address this important element of biodiversity.