- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - This winter’s big rebound of Mexico’s monarch butterfly population is good news, University of Kansas’ resident butterfly expert says, but it hardly means we don’t need to worry about the monarchs anymore.

“We’re still dealing with loss of habitat that is quite significant, which means population is going to go down unless we do something,” said Orley “Chip” Taylor, professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the KU-based Monarch Watch program.

The Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1SNUeya ) reports that Mexico provides the official winter monarch count, but Taylor makes his own predictions based on monarch activity he sees in the United States during the preceding summer.

Taylor said as early as last May he predicted a resurgence but “backpedaled” in July because he didn’t see the number of butterflies he thought he should in June.

“When we got into August it was really very clear that my earlier prediction was going to be correct, that the population was going to double,” Taylor said. “And it really did more than double.”

Monarchs winter south of the border, and in December the area they covered in the mountains west of Mexico City was more than three and a half times greater than the same time last year, according to a recent Associated Press report.

The monarchs - which clump so densely in the forests that they’re counted by area instead of individual insects - covered 10 acres this winter, compared to 2.8 acres in 2014 and a record-low 1.7 acres in 2013, according to the Associated Press. At their peak in 1996, monarchs covered as much as 44 acres.

Scientists blame major habitat loss for the monarchs’ decline, particularly deforestation including illegal logging in Mexico.

Monarch Watch has an initiative to help restore the migratory butterflies’ habitat in the United States by planting milkweed, specifically milkweed that’s the right species for the region where it will be planted.

Taylor said Monarch Watch hopes to distribute 200,000 to 300,000 milkweed plants this year.

Since launching three years ago, Monarch Watch’s milkweed plant distribution program grew from 22,000 to 59,000 to 109,000 plants, he said.

Annual weather patterns also affect monarch population, and some years are more favorable for reproduction than others, Taylor said.

But of the two factors, habitat loss will result in loss of the monarch population long-term.

“We’re going to lose it unless we work really hard to save it,” Taylor said.

Rebound of Mexico’s monarch butterfly population is good news, University of Kansas Orley “Chip” Taylor, professor says, but it hardly means we don’t need to worry about the monarchs anymore

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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