Every fall millions of monarch butterflies begin their long spectacular migration to the mountains of Mexico or coastal California. Through tagging monarchs in the fall we are learning their migration destinations and, very broadly, the routes that they take to reach these destinations. However, we do not know details of the routes they take or perils they face en route. Conservation is a hallmark of the Monarch Butterfly Fund’s (MBF) mission, but advocacy for suitable habitat along their migration route is a challenge because we just don’t know enough. Through tagging programs, starting with a program led by Dr. Fred Urquhart from the University of Toronto, and continuing to day with Monarch Watch, we know that most monarchs from east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico, but we still lack information about their destinations on the eastern seaboard and Florida. In the west, tagging data through the Southwest Monarch Study reveal that some monarchs in Arizona and New Mexico migrate to Mexico but others fly to California. There is so much more to learn!
Dr. Karen Oberhauser, MBF Treasurer and Director of the UW-Madison Arboretum, explains why MBF is engaging in research focused on understanding more about monarchs’ migratory pathways. “Habitat conservation in the breeding, migratory, and wintering areas is the most important focus of what we do, and will always be the main focus of MBF’s efforts. However, learning several things about their migratory path can have key conservation outcomes. For example, knowing the time taken on the flight, the degree to which individual monarchs diverge from ‘straight line’ pathways, and the kinds of habitat that lead to those divergences will help us to understand the best way to focus migration habitat conservation and restoration. We don’t have the tools to learn these things now.”
The goals of the Flight Challenge are to answer remaining mysteries about monarch migration, and finding the answers to these questions engages everyone from budding scientists in elementary schools to graduate students and more established scientists.
Habitat conservation will always be key to MBF, but pushing the science forward so that we can ensure that our habitat conservation work is based on the best available science will always be important. The purpose of the “Flight Challenge” is to encourage development of new, exciting leading edge technology and the MBF is excited to support this effort! None MBF’s “general” funds will go to the Flight Challenge. This is completely separate effort, so you can be assured that your donations to MBF will continue to be used as for monarch habitat conservation.
To learn more about how the Flight Challenge will accomplish its goals, see https://www.generosity.com/animal-pet-fundraising/the-monarch-butterfly-flight-challenge