Teresa Blader, Department of Entomology Graduate Student; Strives to answer questions about monarch habitat restoration:
Researching monarchs this summer was an adventure. It started off with great success examining monarch egg laying preference on different milkweed plant density; my team and I found eggs in my experiment plots as the monarch returned to the north from their overwinter site. From there on out it was a battle between the heavy rains (once leaving me stuck in the mud) and keeping these new tender plants away from critters who were probably more curious about new plants then anything else (even after fencing went up and repellant was sprayed). Collaborating with several ISU Research Farms and River Ridge Farm, owned by Dean Biechler (a retired ISU professor in Biological Illustrations) meant I spent most of the summer out among rippling streams of riparian zones, in peaceful prairies, and on occasion near a farm animal or two.
The Monarch Workgroup planted over 400 new milkweed plants across 4 farms in Story and Boone County with this project alone!
As the spring weather warmed into summer, the eggs I’d been finding were soon accompanied by fresh adults stretching their wings and searching for plants to lay on. Observing them, it was clear to see the female butterflies were flying between milkweed patches of 1 plant, 5 plants, or 10 plants laying their eggs. I’m looking forward to evaluating the results once the data are analyzed. Will monarchs lay more eggs in larger patches of milkweed or in smaller patches and does that mean planting larger patches of milkweed will help the population succeed? These are the questions I want to answer and I’m confident these data will help give us some answers, for now, I can say there is an apparent difference between single plants and large patch sizes.
If I wasn’t collecting data in prairies, you might have found me along the roadsides outside of Ames counting eggs from milkweed of various plant densities or maybe you would have seen me handing out milkweed seed at the Portal to the Public Science Communication Fellows event at Reiman Gardens or at the Iowa State Fair with ISU Extension and Outreach, hoping to communicate the need and importance of joining the Iowa community together to restore monarch butterfly habitat and bring back the population to the heights it used to be 20 years ago. Things will slow down on data collection as the monarchs return to Mexico for the winter, but with plenty to do this winter, analyzing and interpreting our data, preparing for meetings and preparing for next year's butterfly return.