Periodically, MBF poses a challenge to a particular problem and invites proposals to solve the challenge. Stay tuned for our next Challenge!
In 2017, MBF issued a challenge to help answer remaining mysteries about monarch migration. While habitat conservation in the breeding and wintering areas is crucial, learning about the monarchs’ migratory path is also important to their conservation. For example, we could better focus the conservation of monarch migratory habitats if we knew how the direction, distance, and turning angles of their daily flight is affected by topographic features such as rivers and mountains as well as temperature and precipitation. We don’t yet have the tools to learn these things.
The purpose of the MBF “Flight Challenge” was to encourage development of new, exciting leading edge technology to track monarch flight.
Rising to the challenge and with initial funding from MBF, Dr. André Green and a group of engineers and biologists from the University of Michigan developed a remarkable system for determining the daily flight path of migrating monarchs. The group made a tiny solar-powered sensor – so small that it was only one-tenth of the weight of an adult monarch and equal to the weight of a flake of uncooked oatmeal – and when the sensor was attached to the back (dorsal thorax) of the butterfly, it recorded time, temperature, dawn and dusk each day, wherever the butterfly was located. When a sensor-bearing monarch that survives the flight to the overwintering grounds comes into the range of a detector at the end of migration, data from the sensor was downloaded revealing the butterfly’s location and conditions each day.
Note: funding for Challenges comes from specific fundraising initiatives and Challenges are separate efforts from our traditional monarch habitat conservation efforts.