Monarch butterflies listed as endangered, population dwindles

Conservationists say the monarch butterfly population in North America has declined between 22% and 72% over a 10-year period, depending on the measurement method.

WASHINGTON — The monarch butterfly came one step closer to extinction on Thursday when scientists put the iconic orange-and-black insect on the endangered animal list because of its rapidly dwindling numbers.

“It’s just a devastating drop,” said Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University who was not involved in the new listing. “This is one of the most famous butterflies in the world.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has placed the migratory monarch butterfly on its “Red List” of threatened species for the first time, classifying it as “Vulnerable” – two steps away from extinction.

The group estimates that the monarch butterfly population in North America has declined between 22% and 72% over 10 years, depending on the measurement method.

“What worries us is the rate of decline,” said Nick Haddad, a conservation biologist at Michigan State University. “One can very well imagine how quickly this butterfly could become even more endangered.”

Haddad, who was not directly involved in the listing, estimates that the monarch butterfly population he studies in the eastern United States has declined by 85% to 95% since the 1990s.

In North America, millions of monarch butterflies undertake the longest migration of any insect species known to science.

After wintering in the mountains of central Mexico, the butterflies migrate north, breeding several generations thousands of miles along the way. The offspring that reach southern Canada then begin the journey back to Mexico at the end of summer.

“It’s quite a spectacle and it inspires such awe,” said Anna Walker, a conservation biologist at the New Mexico BioPark Society, who helped establish the new listing.

A smaller group spends winters on the California coast, then disperses to several states west of the Rocky Mountains in spring and summer. This population has experienced an even steeper decline than the eastern monarchs, although there was a small rebound last winter.

Emma Pelton of the non-profit Xerces Society, which monitors western butterflies, said the butterflies are threatened by habitat loss and increasing use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture, as well as climate change.

“There are things people can do to help,” she said, including planting milkweed, a plant the caterpillars depend on.

Non-migratory monarch butterflies in Central and South America have not been listed as endangered.

The United States has not listed monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, but several environmental groups believe they should be listed.

The international union also announced new estimates for the global tiger population, which are 40% higher than the most recent estimate from 2015.

The new numbers of between 3,726 and 5,578 wild tigers worldwide reflect better methods of counting tigers and possibly an increase in their total numbers, said Dale Miquelle, tiger program coordinator for the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society.

Over the past decade, tiger populations in Nepal, northern China and perhaps India have increased, while tigers from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have disappeared entirely, Miquelle said. They remain classified as vulnerable.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/monarch-butterflies-endangered/507-86b1b22c-4de1-4de6-b165-4adfafb85769 Monarch butterflies listed as endangered, population dwindles

Alley Einstein

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