(Rapid Response to Emerging Issue Activity)

Status: Active


Duration: 04/01/2015 to 04/03/2017

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Declines in monarch butterfly populations over the past decade in North America has been documented in the scientific literature. Based on these trends, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was petitioned in the summer of 2014 to list the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS determined a status review for a potential listing was warranted and recently completed a public comment period.

Current research indicates that expanded breeding habitat in rural landscapes in the United States will have the greatest positive impact on stabilizing and enhancing monarch butterfly populations. To date engagement by the agricultural community has been limited. Accelerated research and extension efforts with the agricultural community can support a proactive, science-based conservation program that would significantly enhance North American recovery of the monarch and perhaps preclude the need for listing. If listing is required, a scientifically robust, proactive pre-listing conservation program could mitigate future land management requirements for farmers, ranchers and other non-Federal landowners.

A NC rapid response program developed and launched by the North Central Land Grant Institutions over the next two years will establish the needed research and extension/outreach framework to enhance monarch populations through habitat management in rural landscapes and in concert with productive agricultural practices. A conservation consortium for the monarch butterfly has been launched in Iowa (Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, 2015) and could be expanded across other North Central states. This NC effort will ensure that the initial stages of conservation efforts across agricultural landscapes in the monarch’s summer breeding range will result in science-based, cost-effective, land management practices that lead to population recovery across the region and North American. The effort will be instrumental to establishing a coordinated research and extension effort tailored to local farming and ranching conditions that complement citizen-led efforts in urban and suburban landscapes.

Types of Activities

Habitat improvements in rural landscapes will target underutilized areas that are sufficient in scale to support improved monarch breeding success, and strive to complement other conservation programs. A coordinated NC500 rapid response program will serve as an efficient focal point for collaboration with national conservation efforts being undertaken by the USGS monarch population and habitat research program, the USFWS monarch conservation campaign and anticipated NRCS conservation initiatives.


  1. Cost-effective methods to establish and maintain milkweeds and companion plants in rural, suburban and urban landscapes
  2. Optimal milkweed species and companion plants patch characteristics and spatial arrangements to maintain and promote larval productivity and population viability
  3. Survey and sampling protocols to monitor milkweed and larval and adult monarch populations. The extension program will ensure the distribution of practical, science-based information on conservation approaches in agricultural landscapes.

Expected Outputs, Outcomes and/or Impacts

During the two years of this rapid response project the research and extension/outreach efforts to support the conservation program will be initiated. It is anticipated that this rapid response project will subsequently be converted to a multi-state research or research activity project (e.g., NC or NCCC type project).

Research outcomes will include: proposed milkweed (Asclepias) species and monarch seed mixes for monarch population enhancement and adaptation for North Central states’ environments; a framework for developing optimum monarch breeding, forage and roosting habitat characteristics and spatial arrangement of patches for the North Central states; pilot survey sampling designs and protocols to support annual surveys of milkweed species occurrence, plant density, and monarch larval and adult populations and seasonal occurrence. Extension outcomes will include: an outreach framework and delivery system for rural landscapes and communities in the North Central states and demonstration plots and initial guidance for establishing milkweed habitat available for selected agro ecosystems across the North Central states. This mission-driven collaboration across the North Central states and with the related Federal programs will leverage and optimize collective resources and expertise and ensure conservation efforts tailored to local landscapes can be aggregated to state, region and national scales to achieve a scientifically-robust approach for achieving monarch population recovery.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Literature Cited

Asbjornsen H. et al. 2012. Targeting perennial vegetation in agricultural landscapes for enhancing ecosystem services. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 29:101-125.

Brower, L. P., Taylor, O. R., Williams, E. H., Slayback, D. A., Zubieta, R. R., & Ramirez, M. I. 2012. Decline of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico: is the migratory phenomenon at risk? Insect Conservation and Diversity. 5(2): 95-100.

Des Moines Register. 2014. Monarch butterflies dying — and Roundup is a suspect. August 29, 2014.

Entomological Society of America. 2014.

Flockhart D.T. T. et al. 2014. Unravelling the annual cycle in a migratory animal: breeding-season habitat loss drives population decline of monarch butterflies. J. Animal Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12253.

Hartzler R.G. 2010. Reduction in common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) occurrence in Iowa cropland from 1999 to 2009. Crop Production. 29:1542-1544.

Hartzler R.G. and Buhler D.D. 2000. Occurrence of common milkweed (Asclepiaa syriaca) in cropland and adjacent areas. Crop Production. 19: 363-366.

Hirsh S.M. et al. 2013. Diversifying agricultural catchments by incorporating tallgrass prairie buffer strips. Ecological Restoration. 31:201-211.

Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium. 2015.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Multiple Species Inventory and Monitoring Program. 2015.

Monarch Watch. 2015.

Monarch Joint Venture. 2015.

NY Times. 2013. Monarch migration plunges to lowest level in decades. March 13, 2013.

NY Times. 2014. Migration of monarch butterflies shrinks again under inhospitable conditions. Jan. 29, 2014.

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.

Prasifka, J. R., Schmidt, N. P., Kohler, K. A., O'neal, M. E., Hellmich, R. L., & Singer, J. W. 2006. Effects of living mulches on predator abundance and sentinel prey in a corn-soybean-forage rotation. Environmental Entomology. 35(5): 1423-1431.

Sohl T.L. et al. 2012. Spatially explicit land-use and land-cover scenarios for the Great Plains of the United States. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 153:1-15.


Tomer, M. D., Dosskey, M. G., Burkart, M. R., James, D. E., Helmers, M. J., & Eisenhauer, D. E. 2009. Methods to prioritize placement of riparian buffers for improved water quality. Agroforestry Systems. 75(1): 17-25.

USFWS. 2014a. Monarch Butterfly Listing Petition.

USFWS. 2014b. Monarch Butterfly, Status Review.!documentDetail;D=FWS-R3-ES-2014-0056-0001

USFWS. 2015. Save the Monarch Campaign.

USGS. 2014. Monarch Population and Habitat Science

U.S. Government Pollinator Protection Initiative. 2014.

Vickerman, D. B., and Boer, G. 2002. Maintenance of narrow diet breadth in the monarch butterfly caterpillar: response to various plant species and chemicals. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. 104(2?3): 255-269.

Zalucki, M. P., Malcolm, S. B., Paine, T. D., Hanlon, C. C., Brower, L. P., and Clarke, A. R. 2001. It’s the first bites that count: Survival of first?instar monarchs on milkweeds. Austral Ecology. 26(5): 547-555.

Zalucki M.P. and Lammers J.H. 2010. Dispersal and egg shortfall in Monarch butterflies: what happens when the matrix is cleaned up? Ecological Entomology. 35:84-91.
Zipkin E.F. et al. 2012. Tracking climate impacts on the migratory monarch butterfly. Global Change Biology. 18:3039-3049.


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

University of Illinois - Chicago, University of Kansas, USDA-ARS/Iowa
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