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Prairie Restorations & Monarch Butterflies

Jan 20, 2017


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Post written by Kyle Kasten and Laura Lukens, University of Minnesota Monarch Lab.

During the past few decades North American monarch populations have exhibited large declines in numbers. While many factors could be contributing to this decline, habitat loss and changing agricultural practices in the Upper Midwestern U.S. appear to be driving factors. Landowners and government agencies are working together to provide monarch habitat, which must include milkweed plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants for the adult butterflies. Because the need is so great, it’s important to ensure that habitat restoration is based on a good understanding of how seeds in the ground translate to plants on the landscape.

In order to improve this understanding, the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab, supported by the Monarch Joint Venture, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), conducted a research project to study past restorations. The Monarch Lab partnered with Prairie Restorations Inc., the Wisconsin DNR, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and NRCS to locate prairies throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin in order to identify features of restorations that promote excellent monarch habitat.

In the summer of 2016, Monarch Lab field crews visited 30 different restored prairies in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They measured three characteristics: the abundance and diversity of nectar plants, the abundance and diversity of milkweed plants, and monarch use of the site (both caterpillars and adults). This information will help us compile a profile of the site’s current habitat characteristics. To understand what practices led to these characteristics, the team also collected information on how the restoration was conducted. This includes information on when the site was planted, what seeds were planted, and how the site has been managed via burning, mowing, or other methods.

Each site has been planted or managed differently. By linking current site characteristics to planting and management practices, we can predict what practices lead to specific habitat outcomes. For example, planting certain species and maintaining a particular burn regimen may lead to a higher monarch abundance. We hope that this information can be used to help future restoration efforts address monarch conservation goals.

Project coordinators Kyle Kasten and Laura Lukens are currently working on analyzing these data to understand how these various management practices influence current site characteristics. They are gearing up to continue this study in the summer of 2017, while adding some additional sites to increase the sample pool.

This research would not be possible without dedicated citizens interested in restoring native prairie habitat to the landscape. Many of these people have done excellent jobs restoring and managing small patches of prairie that collectively make a difference on the landscape scale. We hope that this research will compel more people to engage in prairie restorations, and provide current participants with more information when making management decisions. If you are interested in getting involved, please check out the MJV Downloads and Links page for more information about restorations. If you have any questions about this research, please do not hesitate to contact Kyle Kasten or Laura Lukens.


Monarch Lab field crews monitoring restored prairies

Monarch Lab field crews monitoring restored prairies. Photo by Laura Lukens, Monarch Lab.


Restored prairie monarch butterfly habitat in Brandon, MN

Restored prairie in Brandon, MN - July 2016. Photo by Laura Lukens, Monarch Lab.

The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by Laura Lukens.