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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2019.00188

Host plants and climate structure habitat associations of the western monarch butterfly

 Tom Dilts1, Madeline Steele2,  Joseph D. Engler2,  Emma M. Pelton3,  Sarina J. Jepsen3, Stephanie McKnight3, Ashley R. Taylor3,  Candace E. Fallon3, Scott H. Black3, Elizabeth E. Cruz2, Dan R. Craver2 and  Matthew L. Forister1*
  • 1University of Nevada, Reno, United States
  • 2United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), United States
  • 3Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, United States

The monarch butterfly is one of the most easily recognized and frequently studied insects in the world, and has recently come into the spotlight of public attention and conservation concern because of declining numbers of individuals associated with both the eastern and western migrations. Historically, the larger eastern migration has received the most scientific attention, but this has been changing in recent years, and here we report the largest-ever attempt to map and characterize non-overwintering habitat for the western monarch butterfly. Across the environmentally and topographically-complex western landscape, we include 8,427 observations of adults and juvenile monarchs as well as 20,696 records from thirteen milkweed host plant species. We find high heterogeneity of suitable habitat across the geographic range, with extensive concentrations in the California floristic province in particular. We also find habitat suitability for the butterfly to be structured primarily by host plant habitat associations, which are in turn structured by a diverse suite of climatic variables. These results add to our knowledge of range and occupancy determinants for migratory species and provide a tool that can be used by conservation biologists and researchers interested in interactions among climate, hosts and host-specific animals, and by managers for prioritizing future conservation actions at regional to watershed scales.

Keywords: Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, Asclepias, habitat, Species distribution model, western United States, Maxent, citizen science

Received: 05 Dec 2018; Accepted: 08 May 2019.

Edited by:

Jay E. Diffendorfer, United States Geological Survey, United States

Reviewed by:

Attila D. Sándor, University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Vijay Barve, Florida Museum of Natural History, United States
Xiao Feng, University of Arizona, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Dilts, Steele, Engler, Pelton, Jepsen, McKnight, Taylor, Fallon, Black, Cruz, Craver and Forister. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Matthew L. Forister, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, 89557, Nevada, United States,