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Evidence for a growing population of eastern migratory monarch butterflies is currently insufficient

February 26, 2020

The eastern migratory population of monarch butterflies has experienced a multi-decadal decline, but a recent increase in abundance (to 6.05 ha in winter 2018) has led some observers to question whether the population has reversed its long-standing decline and embarked on a trajectory of increasing abundance. We examined this possibility through changepoint analyses, first assessing whether a change in trajectory existed and whether that change was sufficient to alter our estimated risk for the population. We found evidence of a change in trajectory in 2014, but insufficient statistical support for a significantly increasing population since that time (β = 0.285, 95% CI = -0.127, 0.697). If the population estimate for winter 2019 is ≥4.0 ha, we will then be able to credibly assert the population has been increasing since 2014. However, given estimated levels of time series variability, presumed habitat capacity and no recent change in status or trend, there was a 13.5% probability of observing a population estimate as large or larger than was reported for winter 2018. Despite insufficient evidence for an increasing population, near-term risk of quasi-extinction by 2023 has declined (mean risk declining from 43% to 20%) because of higher abundance estimates since 2014. Our analyses highlight the incredible difficulty in drawing robust conclusions from annual changes in abundance over a short time series, especially for an insect that commonly exhibits considerable year-to-year variation. Thus, we urge caution when drawing conclusions regarding species status and trends for any species for which limited data are available.

Publication Year 2020
Title Evidence for a growing population of eastern migratory monarch butterflies is currently insufficient
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2020.00043
Authors Wayne E. Thogmartin, Jennifer A Szymanski, Emily L. Weiser
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70208725
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center