Using community science to map western monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in spring

Emily Erickson,Christopher Jason, Hannah Machiorlete, Lilianne de la Espriella,Elizabeth E. Crone,Cheryl B. Schultz


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Migratory animals follow seasonal cycles comprising linked phases often with different habitat requirements and demographic processes. Conservation of migratory species therefore must consider the full seasonal cycle to identify points limiting population viability. For western monarch butterflies, which have experienced significant declines, early spring is considered a critical period in the annual population cycle. However, records of western monarchs in early spring, when overall abundance is lowest, have historically been extremely limited. We used a community science initiative, the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge, to collect data on monarch distribution throughout the western United States between February 14th and April 22nd over 3 years. Using data from the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge and iNaturalist, we identified potential breeding habitat for western monarchs in early spring that spanned a large geographic area and several ecoregions. We observed monarchs in early spring that likely eclosed in the current year, suggesting that population expansion from overwintering sites reflects both movement and population growth. The number of records of western monarchs from early spring was higher during the Mystery Challenge (33.0/year) than earlier years (5.1/year). This study demonstrates the potential for and limitations of community science to increase our understanding of species at points in the life cycle when they are rare.
annual lifecycle conservation,citizen science,community science,conservation of migratory animals,monarch butterfly,western monarch
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