Recognizing that sound science is key to effective conservation, we support scientific research, including habitat and species assessments, with direct relevance to conservation in the overwintering sites. Our research funding supports scientists studying ecology and the conservation of monarchs in México.

Scientific Research and Monitoring 2016

Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saénz & Team Continue Their Research

During 2016, Dr. Saénz (MBF advisor) and his team of researchers discovered that oyamel seedlings originated from seed collected at an altitudinal difference of 350m, resulted in genetic variations in growth potential and frost resistance. This highlights the importance of considering the altitudinal origin of the seed source used to produce seedlings in the nurseries for reforestation programs, and the importance of carefully considering the altitudinal difference between the site of seed collection and that of reforestation.  They also discovered that after one year of planting on a reforestation site, survival under open fields is 77%, while under the shade of local shrubs it rises to 95%. Based on these results, in 2017, the researchers will conduct additional tests and experiments to assess the differences in survival and growth of trees relative to the seeds source and the planting site based on climate and altitudinal changes.

Don Pancho from Ejido La Mesa showing a device installed to measure temperature
Don Pancho from Ejido La Mesa showing a device installed to measure temperature

Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saénz (MBF adviser), Dr. Arnulfo Blanco and their students are working on their ongoing project to demonstrate the feasibility of conducting the assisted migration of natural populations of oyamel to compensate for climatic change in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR). To date, common garden provenance tests indicate that seedlings originating from lower altitudes elongate more and stop their growth later than those that originate from higher altitudes.

The altitudinal upward shift assisted migration provenance field test (with and without local bushes as nurse plants), that was planted

Nursery tests of seedlings that were collected along an altitudinal gradient (2950 to 3450 m) at the MBBR. In this new experiment different colored spoons were used to indicate provenance
Nursery tests of seedlings that were collected along an altitudinal gradient (2950 to 3450 m) at the MBBR. In this new experiment different colored spoons were used to indicate provenance

last July 2015 inside the core of the MBBR, continues to be maintained. Measurement devices were installed in January, 2016, to monitor temperatures, especially to measure the extreme temperatures that would happen under the coverage of bushes serving as nurse plants compared to those without coverage. Survival assessments indicate a survivorship of 98.8 % by December 2015. So far, there are no significant differences in seedling height between blocks with bushes as nurse plants when compared with blocks without bushes, probably because growth occurred during the previous nurse stage and seedlings have not elongated yet in the field. However, during the first growing season of the tested seedlings in the field of spring of 2016 some differences are expected. This research will help determine altitudinal zones as guidelines for oyamel planting by indicating seedling movements and will serve as a useful tool for reforestation programs within the MBBR.

Doctoral student Miramanni Mishkin continued her research evaluating the success of community-based resource management, this time interviewing people from the San Juan Zitácuaro and Nicolas Romero communities. These communities were chosen because they have done a good job conserving their forests maintaining more than 80% of the dense forest cover over the last decade. Miramanni observed that the struggle to protect the forest is still a significant challenge since Nicolas Romero still faces illegal “ant logging” and San Juan Zitácuaro suffers damage to the fences they use to keep intruders out. However, the success of both communities in protecting their forests is due to the support they get from external institutions, their small size and well defined boundaries. In the case of San Juan Zitácuaro they have appropriate leadership and constant monitoring which adds to their success. It is important to identify these variables to be able to make recommendations to other communities so that they too become successful forest managers.

Scientific Research and Monitoring 2015

Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saénz, Dr. Arnulfo Blanco and their students continued their project to demonstrate the feasibility of conducting assisted migration of oyamel natural populations to compensate for climatic change in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Abies religiosa altitudinal upward shift assisted migration field test
Abies religiosa altitudinal upward shift assisted migration field test

To test the altitudinal upward shift assisted migration, the team initiated a field experiment in July, 2015. They planted 2-year old seedlings at an altitude of 3440 m to anticipate the climatic change expected for the year 2030. Additionally, this field experiment includes two treatments: seedlings planted with and without coverage of local bushes to test the feasibility of using nurse plants to protect young Abies religiosa seedlings from extreme temperatures. The research is ongoing and will provide valuable information to decide when it is viable to allow the forest to naturally regenerate and when to reforest.

This year MBF gave a grant to doctoral student Miramanni Mishkin to evaluate the success of community based resource management in the indigenous community of Carpinteros with regards to forest conservation in the Monarch Reserve. Carpinteros has a history of sound forest management and Miramanni wanted to discover what contributes to their efficiency.

Through interviews with the community and using a method called Bayesian Network Analysis she identified several characteristics that are influential for efficient forest management in Carpinteros. Among the most relevant features she found were small community size, well defined boundaries, appropriate leadership, shared norms facilitating social pressure and rule enforcement, fair resources allocation (thus discouraging clandestine use), locally devised and easily enforced access and management rules. The community also relies on low-cost exclusionary technology (fences), which aids in the physical protection of their forest boundaries and helps enforce the general rules of conservation established by the Reserve.

We are very pleased with the results of this research as it will allow us to identify the ideal attributes of communities that are successfully conserving their forest so we can support and encourage other communities to do the same.

Scientific Research 2014

This year MBF funded a research project by Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saénz Romero and his students to discover whether there are significant  genetic differences among oyamel trees in different altitudes to determine what the best seed and seedling distribution for reforestation programs.

Branches and cones of oyamel populations along different altitudinal zones in an area close to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve were collected and analyzed considering their form and structure. Results indicate that low altitude populations have shorter needles and longer cones than those at high altitudes. Consequently, the research team suggests reforesting in three provisional altitudinal zones using seedlings orginated from each particular zone. If climate change is considered, sites should be reforested in the zone immediately above the zone where the seeds were colelcted to assist the migration of seeds. The results of his research were published in the Revista Chapingo, the University of Chapingo’s scientific journal and is available here in both English and Spanish. This research will be very useful to MBF and will help us improve our reforestation strategy.

The biosolids experiment set up in 2012 to determine how applying organic fertilizer (Bokashi) affects survival rates of reforested seedlings continues expanding. This year, Dr. Pablo Jaramillo will set aside 10 hectares in one community as an unfertilized control plot and 10 hectares in two communities where he will apply the Bokashi.  In his field observations, Dr. Jaramillo has noticed that natural regeneration in specific areas results in less damage to the landscape and improved recovery of the forest. This year his research proposal includes signing agreements with two communities to set up a protection scheme in selected areas that will be left alone to promote natural regeneration of the forest. This will provide an initial baseline for future natural regeneration experiments.

Scientific Research 2012-2013

During the summer 2012 season we set up two experiments to determine the optimal soil conditions for seedlings to thrive. Biosolids (organic byproducts) from dry latrines were obtained from Alternare´s Training Centre and transported to the field site.

One experiment includes biosolids, local soil and locally-produced seedlings, while the other experiment includes biosolids, bokashi (organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment), local soil and two sources of seedlings (locally and commercially produced). We have collected baseline data on seedling size and also soil samples for further analysis. We expect to collect seedling size data during the month of November after seedlings have endured transplant shock and the rainy season has ended.

The experiments were setup with communities that are ready and agreed to convert their agricultural plots into forest.

Scientific Research 2011

In 2011 we established a research plot to determine the factors that contribute towards reforestation success. In this plot we will evaluate survival rates of seedlings under different soil conditions and compare seedlings from community-managed nurseries versus commercial ones. The plot is being monitored to determine transplant shock and the correlation between the organic amendment and tree survival rates.

We have already found evidence that trees produced in community-managed nurseries are adapted to local environmental conditions and show less transplant shock than their commercially produced counterparts. We will continue collecting data along with survival rates in other reforested sites to compare and establish correlations and be able to determine the importance of soil management and site selection in the reforestation process. Results from this experiment will help us improve our understanding of reforestation dynamics and improve the survival rate of future reforestation projects.

Community members were involved in soil sampling activities and conducted the reforestation activities witnessing what will happen to plants they produced themselves and that will be planted in their land.

Scientific Research 2010

In a series of small grants to Mexican students, we supported research projects on monarch genetics, forest structure, oyamel regrowth, the effectiveness of direct payment programs in conservation reserves, and the relationship between forest structure and butterfly performance.

We supported Geographic Information System mapping, ground-truthing, microclimatic studies and forest and butterfly monitoring in a series of grants to Sweet Briar College and Mexican and US colleagues of Dr. Lincoln Brower. This work allowed researchers to put together unlimited layers of different sets of information that can be easily accessed and examined from multiple points of view, including ecology, land ownership, monarch colony location, and logging history.

Scientific Research, How We Started…

Our efforts in monarch conservation in México started by providing financial support and scientific expertise as part of the advisory group convened by WWF-Mexico to design a new protected area for the butterflies. Advising the Mexican government, the group determined the habitat required for the long-term protection of migratory phenomenon and proposed new reserve boundaries congruent with the needs with the conservation of the overwintering colonies. From 1998 through 2001, we provided $26,000 to WWF-Mexico to support their research on optimal Reserve design.