If you think people don't care about monarch butterflies, think again.
A recent survey published in Conservation Letters showed that Americans are willing to spend at least $4.78 billion to help conserve monarchs (Danaus plexippus), one of the most recognizable of all insects. Indeed, what is more spectacular than the multigenerational migration of monarchs heading from their breeding grounds in northern United States and southern Canada to their wintering grounds in central Mexico and coastal California?
The study of 2,289 U.S. households, led by Jay Diffendorfer of the U.S. Geological Survey, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, Denver, found that we Americans love monarchs so much that we're more than willing to plant milkweed, their larval host plant, to save them.
The article, published Oct. 28 and titled National Valuation of Monarch Butterflies Indicates an Untapped Potential for Incentive-Based Conservation, calls attention to the destruction of the monarch's habitat and the importance of conservation.
"Since 1999, the size of the overwintering colonies in Mexico and California have declined, and the 2012 survey in Mexico showed the lowest colony size yet recorded, which prompted wide-scale media reports," the authors wrote. "Habitat loss in the overwintering sites in Mexico and California is well-documented, although no direct empirical link between declining overwintering habitat and monarch numbers exists. In addition, the growing use of glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified crops has reduced larval host plant (milkweed, Asclepias spp) abundances in farm fields across United States and Canada. Increasing acreage of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans are negatively correlated to monarch numbers, with the area of milkweed in farm fields in the United States declining from an estimated 213,000 to 40,300 ha."
Biologist Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is among those studying their migration. (Read his quotes in the National Geographic cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations," published in November 2010. Dingle is now working on a much-anticipated book on migration from his headquarters in the Sharon Lawler lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, monitors butterflies in Central California. Here's what he has to say about monarchs on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
Meanwhile, a day before Conservation Letters published the survey, a lone monarch butterfly fluttered into our backyard to sip nectar from lantana. It lingered for 10 minutes.
What a treat to see!
But how many people know about its migration?
Steve Reppert, chair and professor of the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will speak on "Monarch Butterfly Migration: Behavior to Genes" at the Department of Entomology seminar on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in Room 1022 of the Life Sciences Addition, corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drives.
"Studies of the iconic migration of the eastern North American monarch butterfly have revealed mechanisms behind its navigation using a time-compensated sun compass," Reppert says. "Skylight cues, such as the sun itself and polarized light, are processed through both eyes and integrated in the brain’s central complex, the presumed site of the sun compass. Circadian clocks that have a distinct molecular mechanism and that reside in the antennae provide time compensation. The draft sequence of the monarch genome has been presented, and gene-targeting approaches have been developed to manipulate putative migration genes. The monarch butterfly is an outstanding system to study the neural and molecular basis of long-distance migration." (See lab research.)
Hosts are Joanna Chiu, assistant professor of entomology, and Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, will host the talk. Dingle, an authority on animal migration, was featured in a National Geographic cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations" in November 2010.
Reppert received his bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, in pre-medicine, and his medical degree from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in neurobiology at the National Institutes of Child Health (NICHD), NIH, in 1979. He is a professor of pediatrics (neuroscience) at Harvard Medical School (2001 to the present) and since 2000, a pediatrician at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Reppert became the chair of the Department of Neurobiology, UMass Medical School in 2001, the same year he became the Higgins Family Professor of Neuroscience at UCMass Medical School. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Among his publications on monarchs:
Reppert SM, Gegear RJ, Merlin C (2010). Navigational mechanisms of migrating monarch butterflies. Trends in Neurosciences (TINS) 33:399-406.
Heinze S, Reppert SM (2011). Sun compass integration of skylight cues in migratory monarch butterflies. Neuron 69:345-358.
Zhan S, Merlin C, Boore JL, Reppert SM. The monarch genome yields insights into long-distance migration. Cell 2011; 147:1171-1185.
Reppert's talk will be video-recorded and posted on UCTV at a later date.
We're accustomed to seeing a solitary monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) flitting around a garden.
But millions of them?
It was interesting to read the National Public Radio piece (Oct. 4) on Flight: A Few Million Little Creatures That Could.
The feature news story traces how a "young boy in Canada wondered where butterflies go in the winter--and spend 40 years trying to answer that question."
"In 1973, Dr. Fred Urquhart--all grown up by then--placed an ad in a newspaper in Mexico looking for volunteers to tag and observe butterflies and find their destination."
A woman and her husband answered the ad, and in the course of two years, found "hundreds of millions of butterflies."
If you access the NPR website, you'll see clips of a documentary made by Mike Slee. It's called the "Flight of the Butterflies," which NPR describes as a "3-D IMAX film about the migration of the monarchs to sanctuaries."
"What you see, you can't imagine nature ever being like this," Slee tells NPR. "Trees that are draped — that are made, almost, of butterflies. It's got a surreal, supernatural feeling to it. It sends a sort of tingle up your spine when you see it in 3-D. And then they wake up and they all begin to fly."
NPR goes on to say that "the migration of the monarch butterfly is a staggering natural phenomenon. It takes two or three generations for the creatures to make their way north to Canada — but then one 'supergeneration' makes the 2,000-mile trip back to Mexico for the winter."
At UC Davis, emeritis professor Hugh Dingle is a noted authority on the migration of animals. He's been featured in National Geographic and other magazines. The good news is that he's writing the second edition of his popular textbook, Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press).
Dingle, who is headquartered in the Sharon Lawler lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, was featured in the National Geographic magazine's cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations."
He was quoted in a LiveScience news story on “Why Do Animals Migrate?”
Frankly, we don't see as many monarchs as we'd like to. Seeing even one monarch "sends a tingle up the spine."
Plant and insect enthusiast Gary Zamzow of Davis--and an excellent photographer--recently planted some milkweed (the monarch's host plant) in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a pollinator friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
Hopefully, the milkweeds will attract many of those mighty monarchs next year and send lots of "tingles up the spine."
Dingle, an emeritus professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, recently returned to Davis after living in Australia for seven years and doing research at the University of Brisbane, Australia.
One: He's writing the second edition of his popular textbook, Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press).
Two: He's delivering lectures at UC Davis.
Three: He's granted interviews for such publications as National Geographic and LiveScience.
And, four....he continues to chase soapberry bugs.
Next? Hugh Dingle will lecture on "Crossing Taxonomic Lines to Study of Migratory Patterns,” at 1:30 p.m., Friday, March 4 in 113 Hoagland Hall (note: this is a change from the initial location).
It's the last of a nine-part series on "Frontiers in Physiology" hosted by the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. It will be podcast and archived on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.
The underlying theme of Dingle's research is to understand relationships between migration and evolution of life histories. One of his many studies has focused on the rapid, contemporary evolution of the soapberry bug, Jadera hematoloma, and an introduced host plant, the golden raintree, Koelreuteria paniculata.
“Selection experiments were designed to determine genetic relationships across evolving traits (anatomical structures) required for feeding and flight, both necessary for migration,” according to a spokesperson for Frontiers in Physiology. “Dingle stands alone in his interests and academic pursuits of understanding the comparative biology of migration.”
Dingle's work drew international, national and regional attention last November.
He was featured in the National Geographic magazine's cover story, "Mysteries of Great Migrations."
He was quoted in a LiveScience news story on “Why Do Animals Migrate?”
And also in November, Dingle lectured on "And the Beak Shall Inherit: Contemporary Local and Reverse Evolution in Morphology and Life History in American and Australian Soapberry Bugs" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar. You can view his webcast linked on this page.
Seems that a portion of Dingle's book title, "...Life on the Move," fits him well, too.
"One generation of monarch butterflies flutters some 2000 miles between southern Canada and central Mexico," writes LiveScience senior writer Wynne Parry in her piece, "Life's Little Mysteries" posted Nov. 4 on the LiveScience website.
And some other animal migrations are even more incredible.
Parry explores the topic, "Why Do Animals Migrate?" in her excellent article, and quotes Hugh Dingle (right), emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis and a noted authority on animal migration.
Why don't migratory animals select a "shorter, simpler journey or stop altogether?" Parry asks.
"The simple answer is that the benefits of long-distance migration outweigh its costs and the benefits of shorter distances," replies Dingle.
Indeed, the monarch butterfly's migratory efforts pale in comparison to the humpback whale and the shorebird, the bar-tailed gotwit.
Humpback whales travel as much as 5000 miles one way, Parry says. But the bar-tailed godwit, "holds the record for the longest nonstop flight: 6,835 miles in eight days."
Parry points out animal migrations take their toll. "Their journeys aren't easy: migrants fast, swim upstream, fly nonstop, and face hungry predators and barriers built by humans. The journeys may be fatal to some; however, mortality data is difficult to obtain, according to Dingle."
"My own suspicion is that it's a lot less than people think," Dingle told her. "They just seem able to do it well."