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Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits Designed to Support Imperiled Western Monarchs

By Angela Laws on 10 December 2019
Angela Laws

These specially designed kits, geared towards large-scale projects, incorporate native milkweeds, nectar plants, and climate considerations.

As we learned last winter, the western monarch population has plummeted from over 4 million individuals in the 1980s to less than 30,000 individuals. In response to this drastic decline, the Xerces Society created the Western Monarch Call to Action, launched in January 2019. One of the key actions that individuals and organizations can take is to restore monarch breeding and migratory habitat in California. While we encourage everyone to help with this effort, we decided as an organization to focus our efforts on working with partners who are already interested in—and have experience with—habitat restoration work. This decision led to us piloting a new program to provide Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits to partners doing restoration work.

 

In this close-up photo, a monarch perches atop a cluster of small, white and pink flowers. The image is so detailed, you can see the eye of the monarch, and the scales on its wings.
The Western Monarch Call to Action, led by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, aims to provide a set of rapid-response conservation actions, including habitat restoration, that can help the western monarch population bounce back from its extremely low 2018–19 overwintering size. Distributing Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits in California in fall 2019 was part of that effort. (Photo: Xerces Society / Stephanie McKnight)

 

Our longtime partner Hedgerow Farms worked with us to develop the kits, which are designed to be used in large-scale projects. Each kit contains 1600 transplants, half of which are native milkweeds (monarch larval host plants). The other half consists of nectar plants that can support adult monarchs and other native pollinators. The selection of nectar plants was informed by the contributions of community scientists through the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper; their observations have expanded our list of known nectar plants for western monarchs! Nectar plants included in the kits include California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense), California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica), and Vervain (Verbena lasiostachys).

These kits also further our goal of incorporating considerations of climate change into our restoration work by restoring habitat and increasing habitat connectivity. In California, drought will become more frequent and more intense. Using a variety of native, drought-tolerant plants like those included in our kits in restoration work will help these habitats to provide important resources for pollinators—even under stressful conditions.

 

Many small, green plants of the same height and general shape are clustered together in trays.
The Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits contain several species of nectar plants, including black sage (Salvia mellifera) and California goldenrod (Solidago velutina ssp. californica), shown here. These nectar plants are all drought-tolerant California natives popular with monarchs, native bees, and other pollinators. (Photo: Nurit Katz)

 

With funding from the Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund and Xerces Society members, we were able to provide 32 kits to partners in 20 counties in California. Many of our kits went to people working with one of California’s Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), while others went to national wildlife refuges, demonstration gardens, and local conservation groups. Many of the kit recipients have outreach activities planned that will help spread the word about ways to support monarch and pollinator conservation in California. It was inspiring to read the kit applications and see how many dedicated people there are, doing important conservation work in California. I wish we could have funded all the projects for which we received applications. These dedicated people will help to restore many acres of climate-smart habitat in California.

All of the kits were delivered or picked up by mid-November—and now that rain has returned to much of the state, planting has begun! One of the first organizations to plant their kit—and one of the first to update us on their progress—was the California Native Plant Society in Los Angeles County, who have been working hard to help restore the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. Their kit was planted in an area where they have focused on the removal of invasive plants.

 

A row of plants is tended by a row of people, who are bending over each newly planted seedling. The person in the foreground is watering the plant with a plastic jug, while other people are patting down the soil around the plants.
Planting 1600 plugs is a lot of work! Over 18 volunteers showed up to help with the first day of planting at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. These plants will provide important food and habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. (Photo: Nurit Katz)

 

While kit recipients are busy getting plants in the ground, our Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count volunteers are fanned out across the coast counting overwintering monarchs. The Thanksgiving count ran from November 16 through December 8; the New Year's count will run from December 28 through January 12, 2020. Thanksgiving totals will be announced in January. Curious what we're seeing this season? New this year, we have added real-time count data for a few select sites—which is informed by, and thanks to, the efforts of our awesome volunteers!

I have really enjoyed working on this project, and I look forward to seeing its long-term impacts. We’re also happy to announce that we’re going to be able to offer Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits in California again next year! We look forward to working with more Californians dedicated to monarch and pollinator conservation—and we’re also considering ways to expand this program to other parts of the U.S.

 

Further Reading

Find out how you can help: Western Monarch Call to Action.

Learn more about the Xerces Society's endangered species program and pollinator conservation program.

 

Authors

Based in Sacramento, California, Angela is working on habitat restoration for pollinators and monarch butterflies in the Central Valley. Her role at the Xerces Society also involves incorporating climate resiliency into pollinator restoration projects. Angela has over 15 years of experience studying arthropods in grassland habitats, including studies of how climate change can affect species interactions. She received a master's of science in ecology from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Notre Dame.

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