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Investigating Long-Term Changes in the Spring Migration of Monarch Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) Using 18 Years of Data From Journey North, a Citizen Science Program

Howard, Elizabeth, Davis, Andrew K.
Annals of the Entomological Society of America 2015 v.108 no.5 pp. 664-669
Asclepias, Danaus plexippus, adults, breeding, databases, overwintering, people, regression analysis, spring, Canada, Mexico, United States
Declines in overwintering colonies of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexxipus) in Mexico raise questions about other life cycle phases, such as spring migration, where monarchs recolonize their breeding range in the United States and Canada with sequential generations. We used data from a long-term citizen science program, “Journey North” (now with 18 yr), to identify possible changes to the recolonization. This program asks people to report the date and location when they see the first adult monarch annually, and this database now contains >11,000 records. We examined sighting dates and migration range size, the latter based on the number of 2-degree latitude—longitude grid squares with monarch sightings, to look for evidence of change in either of these two parameters over the 18 yr. Our analyses used regression models that accounted for increasing volunteer participation over the years. We found monarchs are being sighted later at a rate of 1 d later every 4 yr. This does not appear to be related to later emergence of milkweed, based on examination of milkweed reports. Later sightings could be interpreted as a sign of reductions in monarch abundance (it takes longer to see the first monarch of the year). We also found a potential decline in the geographic range of the initial spring migration wave (a decline of 9% over 18 yr). However we detected no change in the continental area encompassed at the end of recolonization, indicating monarchs are still successfully filling their traditional breeding range in eastern North America.