New Monarch Numbers Encouraging, But Sustained Conservation Efforts Must Continue in Iowa


AMES, Iowa — Although the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico has sharply rebounded, leaders of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, say that sustained efforts of Iowa crop and livestock farmers, landowners, conservationists and others are critical to ensuring continued improvements to monarch conservation.

Last Friday, the World Wildlife Fund, announced that this winter’s survey reported that adult butterflies covered approximately 10 acres of forest in Mexico. During the last three winters, overwintering butterflies occupied three or fewer acres. This past year, the U.S. set a conservation goal for a sustained monarch population of about 15 acres, or 225 million butterflies through domestic and international efforts and public-private partnerships.

“These monarch butterfly population numbers are encouraging,” said Sue Blodgett, chair of the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. “The overwintering numbers for 2015-16 provide us time to develop and implement long-term habitat conservation strategies that will provide the foundation for a resilient monarch population.”

Blodgett added that the ongoing, collaborative conservation efforts of the Monarch Consortium’s members in Iowa will play a key role in helping to ensure the population response noted this winter can become part of a positive trend for the future.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium was established in 2015, through the efforts of Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Its mission is to enhance monarch reproduction and survival in Iowa through collaborative and coordinated efforts of farmers, private citizens and their organizations.

The consortium has more than 25 members that include agricultural organizations, conservation organizations, agriculture technology providers, energy industry, universities and state and federal agencies. The consortium also partners with national conservation groups such as Monarch Watch, Pheasants Forever and Sand County Foundation.

Partners of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium are working together to develop a science-based approach, that fosters habitat improvements in rural landscapes that do not conflict with agricultural production, are sufficient in scale to support improved monarch breeding success and strive to complement other conservation programs.

In 2016, CALS researchers will continue to work with farmers and livestock producers to incorporate monarch habitat into a variety of Iowa landscapes, through the support of consortium members and grants provided by USDA, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

“We will refine methods for establishing and maintaining habitat, determine the benefits of different habitat patch sizes and continue our evaluation of milkweed species and companion plants at ISU Research and Demonstration Farms,” Blodgett said.

Continuing in 2016 will be monitoring monarch caterpillars’ preferences for milkweed species in their growth and development, and adult monarchs’ preferences for egg laying, she said. Extension and outreach efforts will include field days at the statewide ISU Research and Demonstration Farms and an interactive exhibit at the 2016 Farm Progress Show in August.

Nationally, declines in monarch butterflies have been attributed to various factors, including loss of overwintering and spring and summer milkweed habitat. Monarchs depend on milkweed plants for laying their eggs and for caterpillar nutrition. As adults, monarchs also rely on other flowering plants for nutrition. Consortium research will guide the development of cost-effective methods to establish and maintain monarch habitat. Extension programs will deliver practical, “how to” information for conserving breeding habitat on farms and rural areas.

To learn more about the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, visit