Monarch Butterfly Could Be At Risk Of Extinction

A new research finds that the number of monarch butterflies in North America has significantly dwindled in the last three decades. Are these butterflies in danger of extinction?

Monarch Butterfly Numbers Drop

A recently published study made by researchers from the Washington State University Vancouver revealed that the current population of monarch butterflies in North America has actually fallen more seriously than previously thought.

What researchers found was that compared to the 1980s, when there were up to 10 million western monarchs spending their winters in coastal California, now the numbers have dwindled down to merely 300,000. Although butterfly sanctuaries like Butterfly Town USA still have their own population of monarchs, the number of monarchs in the wild has significantly fallen in the last 30 years.

Extinction Risk

Although they are of the same butterfly species, the east and west monarch butterflies have separate populations, and as it stands, the western monarchs seem to be doing poorer than their eastern relatives.

Concerns were first raised in the 1990s when the western monarch population began to fall in numbers, and unfortunately, things have not improved for the pollinating invertebrates. What's more, researchers found that if serious action is not taken to protect the current population of migratory monarchs in western North America, there is a 72 percent chance of extinction risk in the next 20 years and an 86 percent extinction risk in the next 50 years.

What's Causing The Drop In Numbers

According to researchers, the exact cause of the dwindling number of monarchs is still unclear, but a possible culprit would be pesticide use as well as habitat loss across the west. Further, the effects of climate change in coastal California where the monarchs overwinter could also be a contributor.

"If things stay the same, western monarchs probably won't be around as we know them in another 35 years," said Cheryl Schultz of Washington State University Vancouver, lead author of the study.

What Can Be Done

With the data at hand, researchers note that serious courses of action must be taken to prevent the extinction of the western monarchs. They believe that the species must now be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, thereby encouraging agencies, land owners, and even regular citizens to engage in efforts to protect the species. For instance, homeowners could plant locally sourced milkweed as well as other monarch-inviting plant and wildflower species in their own gardens.

The data was gathered with the help of amateur as well as professional butterfly enthusiasts in the 1980s and 1990s, and hundreds of volunteers from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation's Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count since the year 1997.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

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