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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access April 12, 2021

Western North American Monarchs: Spiraling into Oblivion or Adapting to a Changing Environment?

David G James
From the journal Animal Migration

Abstract

Monarch butterflies in western North America typically migrate each fall from the Pacific Northwest to overwintering sites in California. Winter 2020/21 saw the lowest number of overwintering western monarch butterflies ever recorded, but was also marked by a winter-breeding population in the San Francisco bay area that appeared to be the largest ever seen. Recoveries of monarchs with wing tags from the Pacific Northwest suggested that many non-reproductive migrants in fall 2020 became reproductive in the San Francisco bay area and did not reach coastal overwintering sites. Mean daily maximum temperatures for San Francisco during fall and winter increased by ~1 °C during the past decade and were 2.5 °C above the 30 year mean during September-October 2020. Warm fall and winter temperatures along with the availability of non-native milkweeds likely caused the increase in winter breeding in winter 2020/21. The outcome of continued winter-breeding in the San Francisco bay area is uncertain. Whether it becomes a sink or source will be dependent on whether winter-breeding monarchs can re-enter their migratory state during spring. However, endemic levels of infection by the protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), are often high in winter-breeding monarchs which can limit migration success. The eventual co-existence of winter-breeding and non-breeding monarch populations in northern and central California is probable, with an optimistic view suggesting that the adaptability of the monarch butterfly will allow it to persist in a changed environment.

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Received: 2021-03-03
Accepted: 2021-03-16
Published Online: 2021-04-12

© 2021 David G James, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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