Effort launched to enhance Iowa's monarch butterfly habitat

Effort launched to enhance Iowa's monarch butterfly habitat

New collaboration to protect monarch butterfly habitat in Iowa will take flight this summer.

Enhancing the monarch butterfly's habitat in rural and urban Iowa is the goal of a new, broad-based statewide effort. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, established through the efforts of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will take a science-based approach to enhancing monarch butterfly reproduction and assist community-led implementation efforts.

Initial partners in the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium include farmer and conservation organizations, state agencies, companies and Iowa State. The announcement was made last week.

MONARCH BUTTERFLY: A consortium led by Iowa State University has launched a collaborative effort to establish Monarch butterfly habitat on land in Iowa that is not used for farming. The larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on milkweed plants.

"The consortium will offer opportunities to connect rural and urban communities in a common goal to ensure monarchs remain part of Iowa's landscape," said Craig Hill, a farmer from Milo in Warren County and president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, said, "The consortium will build on Iowa's experience in related conservation efforts and can make great strides in benefiting monarchs. We look forward to getting the word out to all Iowans about how they can help increase monarch habitat."

Monarch butterfly depends on milkweed plants for survival
The monarch butterfly is an iconic species for the Midwest, and Iowa is the heart of the butterfly's breeding range. Nationally, declines in monarch butterflies have been attributed to loss of overwintering habitat, and the loss of milkweed habitat. Monarchs depend on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and for caterpillar nutrition. As adults, monarchs also rely on other plants for nutrition.

Iowa State University will lead research to develop cost-effective methods to establish and maintain milkweed plants in both rural and urban settings.

"The bottom line is that while we are proceeding with a sense of urgency, we also will use and develop sound scientific understanding to guide development of cost-effective, productive monarch habitat," said Sue Blodgett, chair of ISU's Department of Entomology. "Applying the best available science to improving the monarch's reproductive success is important for our state and nation. The new consortium may lead to collaborations with other Midwestern states in the monarch's breeding range."

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Research will evaluate criteria for optimal reproduction-promoting habitats, including the mix of milkweed species and companion plants, and the size and spacing of milkweed patches. Scientists also will refine surveying and monitoring methods to establish a baseline for monarch populations and habitat enhancements for assessing the performance of renewed conservation efforts.

Restore monarch breeding and habitat on farms and in rural areas
An effort to reach and connect with farmers on this will be led by ISU Extension and Outreach, state agencies and Iowa farm organizations. Extension programs will deliver practical, "how to" information for conserving and restoring monarch butterfly breeding habitat on farms and rural areas.

"Delivering science-based extension information for both farmers and the general public helps raise awareness and motivation, and ensure a higher likelihood of successfully supporting monarch butterfly populations," said Blodgett.

Educational programs for the general public will be delivered through consortium member organizations. The consortium also will reach out to youth groups such as 4-H clubs, FFA chapters and others. The first efforts of the consortium can be seen this spring, as ISU plants seedlings of milkweed on research farms around the state.

ISU will be helping plant milkweed seedlings around the state
Last month ISU planted 10,000 seeds of nine different milkweed species in greenhouses. Seedlings will be transplanted into small demonstration plots on 13 ISU research farms. Also, two of the milkweed species will be transplanted or direct seeded into larger research habitat plots to study how the plants grow, proliferate and adapt to local conditions. Researchers will formulate and plant a monarch seed mix that includes milkweed and nectar-producing prairie plants. Through the year, researchers will monitor butterflies in the plots from egg and larvae through adult stages.

The consortium's initial efforts complement a recently announced national campaign by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which plans to establish on-the-ground monarch conservation projects, including a goal of planting 200,000 acres of milkweed.

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Establishing milkweed as monarch habitat, but not in farm fields
Blodgett says the consortium will focus on enhancing monarch butterfly habitat on land that isn't in agricultural production, such as areas along fencerows or roadsides that aren't suitable for farming. "We're not talking about reintroducing a weed species into farmer's fields," she adds. "But that said, we have a lot of landowners and farmers who have an interest in this insect and they want to do these habitat restoration activities and provide for monarch butterfly conservation."

Funding and support for the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium will come from contributions of partnering organizations and other sources. Initial partners in the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium are: Iowa State University, Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Nature Conservancy, DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto and the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

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