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Monarchs Reared in Winter in California Are Not Large Enough to Be Migrants. Comment on James et al. First Population Study on Winter Breeding Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in the Urban South Bay of San Francisco, California. Insects 2021, 12, 946
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Comment published on 6 January 2022, see Insects 2022, 13(1), 63.
Article

First Population Study on Winter Breeding Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in the Urban South Bay of San Francisco, California

1
Department of Entomology, Washington State University, 24106 North Bunn Road, Prosser, WA 99350, USA
2
2558 Mardell Way, Mountain View, CA 94043, USA
3
435 Marion Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA
4
2661 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Valerio Sbordoni
Insects 2021, 12(10), 946; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100946
Received: 13 September 2021 / Revised: 14 October 2021 / Accepted: 15 October 2021 / Published: 18 October 2021
(This article belongs to the Collection Butterfly Biodiversity and Conservation)
Populations of western monarch butterflies, which formerly populated coastal overwintering sites in California in numbers exceeding one million, dwindled to less than 2000 in 2020/21. In the same winter, breeding populations of monarchs occurred commonly in the San Francisco Bay urban area for the first time. The urgent conservation need to understand this possible shift in overwintering strategy prompted this first study of the viability and ecology of monarch breeding populations in the South Bay urban area of San Francisco during January–June 2021. Adult monarchs along with eggs and larvae were common during winter and most of spring, utilizing non-native ornamental milkweed and multiple nectar sources from native and ornamental plants. Evidence from weekly counts and tagged butterflies indicated increased dispersal to the north and east during late April-mid-May, possibly representing spring migration to the Pacific Northwest and eastern California. Infection of reared adult monarchs with a protozoan parasite was high. Winter breeding of monarchs in the San Francisco urban area as an alternative and sustainable overwintering strategy for the western US population will likely depend on the continued presence of ornamental milkweeds, sustainable co-existence of monarchs and protozoan parasites, and successful migration to the greater western US during spring.
The western North American monarch butterfly population assessed by counts of non-reproductive overwintering butterflies at coastal sites in California declined to less than 2000 in 2020/21. Simultaneously, reports of reproductive monarchs increased in San Francisco urban areas, perhaps representing a shift in overwintering strategy. To better understand monarch winter breeding in the Bay area, we studied adult and immature populations in Santa Clara County during January–June 2021. Adult monarchs were common with numbers ranging from 0.23–1.54/min during ~30 min weekly surveys at one site, with lowest numbers late April to mid-May. Eggs and larvae, primarily on ornamental milkweeds, were found on nearly all survey dates with lowest numbers mid-late April to mid-May. Levels of infection of adults by the parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha were consistently high during the study (69.3–77.5%). From 499 monarchs tagged post-eclosion, recovery rates of 19.2–23.6% occurred from releases in January-February and May-June but only 11.9–13.0% from March-April releases. Although distances were small, butterflies tagged in April were recovered from greater distances than other months. Tagged monarchs flew primarily north or east. There were reduced numbers of adult monarchs during late April-mid-May with some evidence of northerly and easterly emigration at the same time from tagged butterflies, suggesting some movement out of the South Bay area, perhaps representing spring migration. We conclude that monarchs can successfully breed and maintain populations on ornamental milkweeds during winter at urban sites in the South Bay of San Francisco and may still migrate during spring to remain part of the wider western population. View Full-Text
Keywords: overwintering strategy; reproduction; non-reproductive; migration; parasite overwintering strategy; reproduction; non-reproductive; migration; parasite
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MDPI and ACS Style

James, D.G.; Schaefer, M.C.; Krimmer Easton, K.; Carl, A. First Population Study on Winter Breeding Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in the Urban South Bay of San Francisco, California. Insects 2021, 12, 946. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100946

AMA Style

James DG, Schaefer MC, Krimmer Easton K, Carl A. First Population Study on Winter Breeding Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in the Urban South Bay of San Francisco, California. Insects. 2021; 12(10):946. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100946

Chicago/Turabian Style

James, David G., Maria C. Schaefer, Karen Krimmer Easton, and Annie Carl. 2021. "First Population Study on Winter Breeding Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in the Urban South Bay of San Francisco, California" Insects 12, no. 10: 946. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100946

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