Saturday, June 20, 2009

International group to discuss tracking monarch butterfly populations

An international panel of butterfly experts is landing at the University of Georgia next week to discuss the status of monarch butterfly populations in North America, and find ways to integrate and improve population monitoring programs.

The four-day workshop hopes to merge data from a number of groups monitoring the monarch butterfly in an ongoing effort to track the continent-wide population status of this iconic insect.

The meeting is being organized by Andy Davis, a monarch researcher and Ph.D. candidate in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Sonia Altizer, who also studies monarchs and is an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology. The workshop is being funded by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which has been spearheading efforts to devise an international conservation plan for the monarch butterfly in part by fostering communication between the governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada.

There are many organizations in North America that collect data on the monarch butterfly, said Davis. The purpose of next week’s meeting, he explained, is to create a plan for integrating existing data, some of which spans the last three decades, into a larger framework. A unified data resource will allow scientists to better track monarch population size and investigate the biology of this fascinating insect, according to Davis.

“The monarch butterfly is one of the best-known insects in the world, and a flagship species for conservation,” he said. “Their spectacular migration in eastern North America—which spans more than 2,000 miles—is in danger, partially because of a loss of winter habitat in Mexico, as well as anthropogenic pressures in breeding areas. While the species itself is globally-distributed, there’s a fear that the monarch butterfly in North America will suffer population declines because of these dual pressures.”

The all-day meetings are scheduled from June 22 through June 25. Meeting space and resources are being provided by the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Odum School of Ecology. About a dozen international butterfly experts are scheduled to attend the meetings, including Eduardo Rendon of WWF Mexico, Tara Crewe of Bird Studies Canada and Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota. Warnell Professor Nate Nibbelink and Odum School postdoctoral student Becky Bartel also are on the panel.

“There have been several international meetings and reports targeted towards monarch conservation, but nothing quite like this before,” said Altizer. “To have all of the experts who collect long-term data on monarch abundance and migration in one room will be a big step forward in helping us predict the future status of monarch populations.”

“Improving access to monitoring data on the monarch will improve how we target research and conservation efforts for this species, and contribute to improving how we access and manage biodiversity data more broadly in North America,” said Thomas Hammond, who is with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. “Improving access and use of biodiversity data will also assist in advancing our understanding of ecosystem response to stresses such as climate change, and how best to adapt to these stresses.”

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