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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Saving the Monarch Migration

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 11, 2013

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Here’s my latest blog item at TakePart:

It’s been a dismal year for North America’s favorite migratory species, the monarch butterfly, beginning with the report that populations at overwintering sites in Mexico were down 59 percent from the previous winter. When researchers there measured the total area of trees occupied by monarchs—the stock for most of the continent—it added up to less three acres, an all-time low.

Nothing about the spring migration, which recently ended, gave new cause for hope. Monarch numbers are now so low that any catastrophic event could “send the population spinning downward even more,” says University of Kansas insect ecologist Chip Taylor, whose advocacy group Monarch Watch works to protect and rebuild monarch butterfly populations. The thin population could weaken conservation efforts, he says, “because if you don’t see them, you don’t have the motivation to do something about it.” He expects that the numbers will probably go even lower this coming winter.

The tendency is to blame the problem on Mexico, where logging of critical forests has been a perennial issue. Taylor says Mexico has made “a terrific effort to control illegal logging” and has largely put a stop to “the organized mafia-like groups that go in there with guns and cut down a hectare of forest in one night.” But serious incidents still sometimes occur.

A far larger problem, though, is the increasing intensity and efficiency of agriculture in the United States. Taylor dates the dramatic decline in monarch butterflies to the introduction of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans by the Monsanto Co. in the late 1990s. Until then … to read the rest of this post, click here.

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