Opinion: conservation of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) could be enhanced with analyses and publication of citizen science tagging data
- Recent declines in the size of overwintering colonies of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in eastern North America have stimulated calls for greater conservation efforts of the migratory phenomenon. Conservation decisions, however, should be guided by sound science, and the migratory phase of this population is the least-studied part of its life cycle.
- Data from large-scale citizen science programs can help address this knowledge gap. For over 20 years, volunteers have been tagging migrating monarchs with numbered stickers from MonarchWatch (www.monarchwatch.org), who oversees the management of tagging and recovery records. These data have the potential to vastly improve scientific understanding of the migratory phase (such as identifying spatial and temporal trends in mortality) and help target conservation efforts, but this potential has not yet been fully realised, based on a review of published studies in the last 20 years.
- Since citizen science programs are often understaffed and operate on minimal budgets, data analysis may not be a high priority for project staff. To stimulate scientific investigations using tagging data, there are alternative solutions that could be implemented including making data publicly available or soliciting assistance from external scientists. Such efforts would not only benefit research into monarch biology, but would lend scientific credibility to tagging activities.
- Tagging monarchs is a popular activity with clear educational value. In my opinion these data could be, however, better utilised to improve the conservation of the migratory phenomenon itself.