Restoring monarch butterfly habitat in the Midwestern US: 'All hands on deck'

Wayne E. Thogmartin, Laura López-Hoffman, Jason Rohweder, Jay Diffendorfer, Ryan Drum, Darius Semmens, Scott Black, Iris Caldwell, Donita Cotter, Pauline Drobney, Laura L. Jackson, Michael Gale, Doug Helmers, Steve Hilburger, Elizabeth Howard, Karen Oberhauser, John Pleasants, Brice Semmens, Orley Taylor, Patrick WardJake F. Weltzin, Ruscena Wiederholt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


The eastern migratory population of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) has declined by >80% within the last two decades. One possible cause of this decline is the loss of ≥1.3 billion stems of milkweed (Asclepias spp.), which monarchs require for reproduction. In an effort to restore monarchs to a population goal established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and adopted by Mexico, Canada, and the US, we developed scenarios for amending the Midwestern US landscape with milkweed. Scenarios for milkweed restoration were developed for protected area grasslands, Conservation Reserve Program land, powerline, rail and roadside rights of way, urban/suburban lands, and land in agricultural production. Agricultural land was further divided into productive and marginal cropland. We elicited expert opinion as to the biological potential (in stems per acre) for lands in these individual sectors to support milkweed restoration and the likely adoption (probability) of management practices necessary for affecting restoration. Sixteen of 218 scenarios we developed for restoring milkweed to the Midwestern US were at levels (>1.3 billion new stems) necessary to reach the monarch population goal. One of these scenarios would convert all marginal agriculture to conserved status. The other 15 scenarios converted half of marginal agriculture (730 million stems), with remaining stems contributed by other societal sectors. Scenarios without substantive agricultural participation were insufficient for attaining the population goal. Agricultural lands are essential to reaching restoration targets because they occupy 77% of all potential monarch habitat. Barring fundamental changes to policy, innovative application of economic tools such as habitat exchanges may provide sufficient resources to tip the balance of the agro-ecological landscape toward a setting conducive to both robust agricultural production and reduced imperilment of the migratory monarch butterfly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number074005
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 29 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • Asclepias syriaca
  • Danaus plexippus
  • agriculture
  • conservation design
  • glyphosate
  • milkweed
  • strategic habitat conservation


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