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Scientists Call for Help to Restore Reign of Western Monarch Butterflies

Scientists hope to learn more about what the butterflies need

Monarch butterflies cluster at Lighthouse Field in Santa Cruz in January of 2020. Photo: Cheryl Schultz

Western monarch butterfly numbers have plummeted recently. But some scientists remain hopeful about the species and are calling for help from the public.

Researchers at UCSC, Washington State University, Tufts University and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation created the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge to learn more about what the iconic butterflies need after their time at overwintering sites. 

“At the end of the winter, the monarchs that are migratory are at their most vulnerable,” says Cheryl Schultz, a biological sciences professor at Washington State University who leads the initiative. “They’re often a bit worn and tattered, and their resource stores are low. We’re interested in knowing what it’s going to take to fuel the migration.” 

Join the challenge

The scientists ask that interested participants take a photo whenever they see a monarch and report it using iNaturalist, the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper or the [email protected] email address. As an extra incentive, they’re giving away a $50 REI gift card to one random participant each week from now until Earth Day on April 22.

The researchers welcome blurry or far-away photos.

“We just want to make it quick and accessible for everybody,” says Lilianne de la Espriella, the communications coordinator for the project. “Science sometimes feels really inaccessible to people who aren’t in that space, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

The challenge creators hope that extra eyes on the ground will help them determine what plants and environments monarchs depend on in the spring. They plan to use that information to guide conservation.

“Monarchs are resilient,” says Schultz. “If we can use the science to help figure out what steps are most pivotal to turn the population around, there’s a lot of reason to think we can recover the migration.”

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