A team from Chicago’s famed Field Museum of Natural History was in Lincoln June 11-12 working with Lincoln College’s Conservation Biology program on a collaborative project aimed at reversing the decline of monarch butterflies.
On Monday, a training session was held for students in the Conservation Biology Major who will be surveying the area to assess and document current pollinator habitat. The students, Kelli Allison, Alex Anderson and Dalton Presswood, all of Lincoln, will also be conducting focus groups and meeting with local stakeholders to identify opportunities to create more habitats for pollinators in general with an emphasis on Monarchs.
“This is a great opportunity for our students to work with professionals from one of the nation’s premier institutions, conducting field research and developing practical solutions to a serious environmental concern,” said Dr. Julia Ossler, Lead Faculty for Lincoln College’s Conservation Biology Program.
On Tuesday, the Field Museum team kicked off the day with a brief signing ceremony with Ossler, Lincoln College President David Gerlach and Dr. Abigail Derby Lewis, director of the monarch project for the Field Museum’s Keller Science Action Center. The Science Action Center works to translate museum science into lasting results for conservation and cultural understanding.
The signing ceremony was followed by a workshop and listening session with city planners, business owners, elected officials, engineers and other interested persons from across Logan county to better understand the landscape in Logan County, identify potential sites of existing monarch habitat and offer practical training in ecological data collection.
Every fall millions of monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles to Mexico for a safe place to spend the coming winter months. Following winter, they migrate back part way, to areas like Texas, where they mate and lay their eggs on milkweed plants. After a few days, caterpillars hatch and consume the milkweed as a food source to help them complete their life cycle by creating a chrysalis and transforming into their iconic butterfly form. The new butterflies fly another few hundred miles north before finding another patch of milkweed and repeating the process. It can take the butterflies upwards of five generations to complete the journey to Illinois.
Monarch butterflies play a crucial role in the ecosystem as pollinators for countless vital plants. As the adults seek out nutrient rich nectar from the milkweed flowers, and inadvertently transfer pollen from one plant to another and assist in those species’ reproduction.
Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops evaluated are dependent on animal pollinators such as monarch butterflies, contributing 35% of global food production. A decline in their population could have negative ramifications on farmers. Even in their own ecosystem, monarch butterflies are an important food source for serval common birds such as orioles and grosbeaks
According to information from the Field Museum, monarch populations have declined by 80 percent over the past two decades, stemming in part from the loss of milkweed that serves as their food source for both the juvenile and adult life stage.
Ossler explained that while the monarch butterfly and other important pollinators are in decline, there are ways that people in rural areas, cities, towns and suburbs can help. The project will refine mapping tools and strategies for creating monarch habitat in different contexts along the monarch’s migration path in Logan County.
Those monarch habitats, Ossler added, can have benefits far beyond a single species, as bees and other natural pollinators have also seen declines in recent years and a shortage of pollinators impacts the entire ecosystem, including agriculture.