A citizen army for science: Quantifying the contributions of citizen scientists to our understanding of monarch butterfly biology

Leslie Ries, Karen Oberhauser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The first monarch citizen science program was launched in the 1950s and, since then, thousands of volunteers have made fundamental contributions to our accumulating knowledge of monarch biology. We quantified these efforts and the degree to which citizen science has contributed to monarch scholarship. We estimate that, in 2011, volunteers spent over 72,000 hours collecting data useful for monarch research. Of 503 monarch-focused research publications in which new results were presented from 1940 to 2014, 17% used citizen science data. We address persistent gaps in the use and coverage of these data and show that, despite a typical view of volunteers as mere data collectors for scientists, many citizens are deeply engaged in all aspects of monarch research and data use. Finally, we argue that monarchs provide a model system for understanding the impacts of citizen science on scholarship, public engagement, and conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-430
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 30 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the thousands of citizen science volunteers who have contributed to our understanding of monarch biology and the coordinators who provided their 2011 records and estimates of time contributions: Elizabeth Howard (Journey North), Chip Taylor and Jim Lovett (Monarch Watch), Sonia Altizer (Monarch Health), Rocio Trevino (Correo Real), Sarina Jepsen (Western Thanksgiving Monarch Counts), Frances Villablanca (Monarch Alert), Gail Morris (Southwest Monarch Study), Dick Walton and Mark Garland (Cape May Monitoring Progam), David Cook and Richard RuBino (St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge), Jeff Glassberg (NABA), Doug Taron (Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network), Jerry Weidmann and Rick Ruggles (Ohio Butterfly Monitoring Network), Ashley Wick (Michigan Butterfly Monitoring Network), Nathan Brockman (Iowa Butterfly Monitoring Network), Jaret Daniels (Florida Butterfly Monitoring Network), Maxim Larrivee (eButterfly), Kelly Lotts and Thomas Naberhaus (Butterflies and Moths of North America), Sharon Stichter (Monarch Count), Jim Waggoner (OCC-BMS), and Ann and Scott Swengel. Several monarch researchers reviewed our literature library and helped fill in gaps, including Myron Zalucki, Sonia Altizer, Jaap de Rood, and David James. Elise Larsen and Carrie Seltzer helped compile appendix S1. Rick Bonney, Andy Davis, and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by the US Geological Survey’s Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. KSO was supported in part by a grant from the US Forest Service International Programs during the writing of this paper. LR was supported by National Science Foundation grants no. DBI-1147049 and no. DBI-1052875 awarded to National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center.


  • citizen science
  • monarch butterfly
  • monitoring
  • public participation in scientific research

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A citizen army for science: Quantifying the contributions of citizen scientists to our understanding of monarch butterfly biology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this