Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population
Version of Record online: 12 MAR 2012
© 2012 The Authors. Insect Conservation and Diversity © 2012 The Royal Entomological Society
Insect Conservation and Diversity
Volume 6, Issue 2, pages 135–144, March 2013
How to Cite
PLEASANTS, J. M. and OBERHAUSER, K. S. (2013), Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 6: 135–144. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-4598.2012.00196.x
- Issue online: 15 MAR 2013
- Version of Record online: 12 MAR 2012
- Accepted 23 January 2012 First published online 12 March 2012 Editor: Simon R. Leather Associate editor: Thomas Schmitt
- monarch butterfly
Abstract. 1. The size of the Mexican overwintering population of monarch butterflies has decreased over the last decade. Approximately half of these butterflies come from the U.S. Midwest where larvae feed on common milkweed. There has been a large decline in milkweed in agricultural fields in the Midwest over the last decade. This loss is coincident with the increased use of glyphosate herbicide in conjunction with increased planting of genetically modified (GM) glyphosate-tolerant corn (maize) and soybeans (soya).
2. We investigate whether the decline in the size of the overwintering population can be attributed to a decline in monarch production owing to a loss of milkweeds in agricultural fields in the Midwest. We estimate Midwest annual monarch production using data on the number of monarch eggs per milkweed plant for milkweeds in different habitats, the density of milkweeds in different habitats, and the area occupied by those habitats on the landscape.
3. We estimate that there has been a 58% decline in milkweeds on the Midwest landscape and an 81% decline in monarch production in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010. Monarch production in the Midwest each year was positively correlated with the size of the subsequent overwintering population in Mexico. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that a loss of agricultural milkweeds is a major contributor to the decline in the monarch population.
4. The smaller monarch population size that has become the norm will make the species more vulnerable to other conservation threats.