Monarch Conservation

monarch

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) are perhaps the most well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America. Their renowned long-distance, seasonal migration and spectacular winter gatherings in Mexico and California have heralded the transition from fall to winter for thousands of years. Monarchs are also culturally significant; they symbolize the returning spirits of the deceased in the November celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

Throughout the northern states and Canadian provinces, meanwhile, their arrival announces the change from spring to summer. A once-ubiquitous sight in gardens, prairies, and natural areas from coast to coast, the monarch butterfly population has recently declined to dangerously low levels on both coasts—but particularly in the west.


MonarchMap-NatureServe-10.20

Click the map to view and download a larger version

An Epic Migration on the Verge of Collapse

Both the eastern and western migrations have experienced significant decline in a matter of decades. In the 1990s, nearly 700 million monarchs made the epic flight each fall from the northern plains of the U.S. and Canada to sites in the oyamel fir forests north of Mexico City. Now, researchers and citizen scientists estimate that there has been a decline of more than 80% in the east. In the west, the news is more dire. Monarchs have experienced a decline of 99.4% in coastal California, from an estimated 4.5 million in the 1980s to 28,429 as of January 2019.


Save Western Monarchs


Threats

GMO cropsLoss of milkweed breeding habitat due to the widespread use of herbicide resistant crops.
GMO cropsPesticide use which kills non-target insects and further degrades habitat.
climate changeClimate change is affecting monarch populations in a number of ways.
loggingLogging and development have degraded monarch overwintering sites.
 

Monarchs require suitable habitat that provides host plants for breeding and flowering plants to provide nectar for adults. In the case of monarchs, the loss of milkweed means the loss of breeding habitat. Loss of milkweed from prime migration routes is primarily due to the dramatic increase in the use of the herbicide resistant crops Commonly known as Roundup™ Ready Crops, these corn and soy crops are genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills everything other than the resistant crop, including milkweed. Harsher winters in monarch overwintering sites have caused larger than usual die-offs. Erratic weather may also delay the emergence of milkweed in spring and change the bloom time of flowering plants that provide resources to migrating monarchs. Legal and illegal logging in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico where eastern monarchs overwinter has removed important winter cover for the species and impacted microclimates that protect the butterflies from extreme cold and precipitation. In California, many sites where western monarchs overwinter have been lost due to development.


Conservation Efforts

In the three decades since first standing up for monarchs, the Xerces Society has gained extensive experience and accumulated expertise in all aspects of monarch conservation. Our work now extends to protecting and managing the habitats that support all stages of the monarch’s lifecycle throughout the transcontinental range of the butterfly’s migration.

Monarchs in the West

In January 2019, the Xerces Society released a call to action for addressing significant declines in the western monarch population. The California overwintering population has experienced a 99.4% decline since the 1980s, dropping from a population of 4.5 million (larger than the current population of Los Angeles) to a population of 28,429 as of January 2019 (smaller than the current population of Monterey). The Xerces Society has been working to ensure that the western monarch population is included in monarch conservation efforts. Xerces has been working on many fronts, holding workshops to assist land managers in identifying monarch conservation needs, training biologists and volunteers to conduct surveys for milkweed breeding habitat, and developing citizen science programs and tools to better address conservation issues specific to western monarchs. We are redoubling these efforts, and invite you to learn how you can help. Visit our Save Western Monarchs page for more information.


Resources

Project Milkweed and Milkweed Seed Finder

Monarchs need milkweed! Locate seed and/or plant vendors near you using our Milkweed Seed Finder. Learn more.

Monarch Nectar Plant Guides

Are you interested in gardening for monarch butterflies? Find out which plants are the best nectar sources for monarchs in your area. Learn more.

Pollinator Conservation Resource Center

A directory of regionally specific information, plant lists, habitat conservation guides, and more. Learn more.


 

Get Involved

monarch-sos

Monarch SOS app

Monarch SOS is a field guide and citizen science reporting app, developed by scientists to cover monarch ID, confusing look-alikes, and numerous milkweed species encountered in North America. Learn more.

western monarch count

Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count

The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count is an annual effort of volunteer citizen scientists to collect data on the status of monarch populations along the California coast during the overwintering season.  Learn about western monarchs and how you can join the count!

monarch milkweed map

Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper

Join citizen scientists and researchers across the West to track milkweed and monarch observations in the butterfly’s breeding and migratory range West of the Rocky mountains. Learn more and contribute sightings.


Partners and Sponsors

The Xerces Society’s work to protect monarch butterflies and other pollinators has been made possible with generous support from the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust, Audrey & J.J. Martindale Foundation, Aveda, Cascadian Farm, Ceres Trust, Cheerios, Clif Bar Family Foundation, CS Fund, Disney Conservation Fund, Endangered Species Chocolate, LLC, Gaia Fund, General Mills, Hind Foundation, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Iowa Department of Transportation’s Living Roadway Trust Fund, Irwin Andrew Porter Foundation, J.Crew, National Co+op Grocers, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Nature Valley, Nestlé Dreyer’s Ice Cream Company, Sarah K. de Coizart Article TENTH Perpetual Charitable Trust, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Swimmer Family Foundation, The Bay and Paul Foundations, The Dudley Foundation, The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, The Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation, The Monarch Joint Venture, The New-Land Foundation, Inc., The Oregon Zoo Foundation, The White Pine Fund, Turner Foundation, Inc., U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Whole Foods Market and its vendors, the Whole Systems Foundation, and Xerces Society members.

 










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Contact Us

Email us with your questions and comments about monarch conservation.

Western Monarchs in Crisis
Save Western Monarchs!

The western monarch migration is on the verge of collapse. Learn more, including how to help.

Help Save Monarchs: Plant Milkweed!


Milkweed species support monarch butterflies, native bees, honey bees, and other beneficial insects. Search for sources of milkweed seed now!

Pollinator Conservation Resource Center


The Resource Center is where you can find regional information about plant lists, habitat conservation guides, and more. Learn more.

Monarch Conservation News
  • Western Monarch Ecology and Conservation – San Francisco, CA

  • New Year’s Count of Western Monarchs Confirms Decline, Trends Seen in Previous Years

  • Monarch Butterflies in Western North America in Jeopardy

  • Record Low Number of Overwintering Monarch Butterflies in California—They Need Your Help!

  • Pollinator Conservation Program Digest – December 2018

  • Early Thanksgiving Counts Show a Critically Low Monarch Population in California

  • Gardening for Butterflies
    Gardening for Butterflies
    Our newest book introduces you to a variety of butterflies who need our help, and provides suggestions for native plants to attract them, habitat designs to help them thrive, and garden practices to accommodate all their stages of life. Click here to read more
    On Captive Breeding and Release of Monarchs
    OE infected monarch
    Following news of the dramatic decline in monarch numbers, some people are rearing large numbers of monarchs in backyard operations or obtaining them from commercial breeders or other organizations and releasing them with the goal of supplementing local populations. But are such efforts doing more harm than good? Click here to read more