Monarch butterfly populations arriving at their overwintering locales in Mexico have declined by 59 percent this year, according to the Associated Press. What is even more alarming is that this is the lowest level that has been documented since scientists first started records on monarch populations about two decades ago.
In fact, this is the third straight year in a row that has seen a drop in the number of monarch butterflies that have migrated from Canada and the US to the Mexican forests.
Speculation of reasons for the decline have centered around the illegal logging of Mexican fir forests.
But it is also believed that construction and expansion of humans development have destroyed many of the habitats of monarchs, whose migration between Canada and Mexico usually takes several generations of monarchs to complete.
Moreover, genetically modified foods (GMOs) and herbicides are also possible culprits in the diminishing populations of migrating monarchs. Some have even affirmed that herbicides have drastically reduced milkweeds, which are a source of food for monarch butterfly larvae in their critical feeding grounds, especially in the United States Midwest. In addition, many of the pesticides in use have been hazardous to monarch butterflies.
In a New York Times interview, Chip Taylor, director of the University of Kansas conservation group Monarch Watch has cited, "That habitat is virtually gone. We've lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres.
What's more, Texas last year, 2012, had its hottest year on record, which means that the drought there has detrimentally affected the monarchs. Texas A&M University's senior research associate and butterfly tracker, Craig Wilson, even shared with USA Today his concerns about this: "The severe drought in Texas and much of the Southwest continues to wreak havoc with the number of monarchs."
Activists promoting practices that can help the monarchs bounce back have been encouraging folks to plant milkweeds along the monarch migration path. Monarch Watch has also provided on its website resources to help build waystations and gardens that are butterfly-friendly and monarch-friendly. Some recommendations include certain wildflowers, cultivated annuals, shrubs, and perennials. Mud puddles can help provide essential minerals for male butterflies. Constructing butterfly pavilions in one's yard can also promote gatherings for butterflies, especially during the growing season. Schools have also been enlisted in the preservation and restoration movement to bring better education and information to the community at large so that yards and other natural areas can be made to be more amenable to the life-cycles of wildlife and especially of monarch butterflies.
Awareness and education about the importance of butterflies, and monarchs in particular, is vital to conservation efforts. In similar vein to honeybees (who are also in decline), and bats (likewise in decline because of a white fungal disease that is devastating their populations), monarch butterflies and all other butterflies are rather crucial to the ecosystem because of their roles in pollination. For this sobering reason, it is imperative that measures are taken to help the monarch butterflies recover their former robust numbers.