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Mixed-Species Gardens Increase Monarch Oviposition without Increasing Top-Down Predation

Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida, P.O. Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, 3215 Hull Rd., Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Insects 2020, 11(9), 648;
Received: 14 August 2020 / Revised: 5 September 2020 / Accepted: 19 September 2020 / Published: 22 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Pollinator Conservation)
The North American monarch butterfly is an iconic insect that has recently declined by over 80%, largely due to habitat loss. The primary approach to mitigate population declines is to plant milkweed, the primary host plant that monarch caterpillars feed and develop on. Recently, researchers have focused on optimizing monarch conservation habitats (i.e., milkweed plantings) in urban green spaces by studying habitat design and plant species selection. In many cases, as plant diversity increases, predatory and parasitic insect diversity increases and insect herbivore colonization and establishment decrease. We compared milkweed monocultures to a mixture of milkweed and other wildflower species to see what effects plant diversity have on monarchs and potential predators. We found that monarchs laid 22% more eggs on milkweed planted in mixed-species plots than milkweed in monoculture. We also found more predators in the mixed-species plantings, but this did not affect monarch disappearance rates. These results can be used to create evidence-based guidelines for monarch conservation habitats.
Monarch butterfly populations have declined by over 80% in the last 20 years. Conservation efforts focus on the creation of milkweed habitats to mitigate this decline. Previous research has found monarchs lay more eggs per milkweed stem in urban gardens than natural habitats and recent work identified specific garden designs that make urban gardens more attractive to monarchs. Increasing plant diversity can reduce specialist insect herbivore colonization via bottom-up (e.g., plant) and top-down (e.g., predation) regulatory factors. Although this is beneficial for pest management efforts, it contradicts conservation efforts. In this study, we explored if adding multiple flowering species to garden-sized milkweed plantings affected monarch oviposition or top-down regulation of larvae. We compared monarch egg abundance, natural enemy abundance and richness, and biological control of monarch larvae in milkweed monocultures and milkweed mixed with four additional wildflower species. We found that monarchs laid 22% more eggs on sentinel milkweed plants in mixed-species plots with no effect of plant diversity on monarch survival. We also found higher natural enemy richness, wasp, and predatory bug abundance in the mixed-species plots and this did not translate to higher biological control rates. Our results provide more evidence that plant selection and habitat design are important for monarch conservation. View Full-Text
Keywords: Danaus plexippus; urban conservation; biological control; milkweed; resource concentration; enemies hypothesis Danaus plexippus; urban conservation; biological control; milkweed; resource concentration; enemies hypothesis
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Nestle, R.; Daniels, J.C.; Dale, A.G. Mixed-Species Gardens Increase Monarch Oviposition without Increasing Top-Down Predation. Insects 2020, 11, 648.

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