Whats causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations?

March 27, 2020 by  
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Monarch butterflies  are amongst North America’s majestic wildlife. They fascinate with their vibrant allure and migratory prowess. Yet these beauties are under serious threat, as evidenced by drastic population reduction throughout North America. What factors are causing monarch butterfly numbers to dwindle? Habitat loss For monarchs,  habitat  entails food, water and shelter, says the  National Wildlife Federation (NWF)  and the  World Wildlife Fund (WWF) . Specific to monarchs is their habitat corridor, a trek of thousands of miles from Central America’s warm regions, where they overwinter, to areas across the United States and southern Canada, where they stay for spring and summer.  In recent decades, population surveys reveal monarchs declining because of  deforestation  in Mexico, loss of grasslands in the Great Plains’ Corn Belt — which the  Center for Biological Diversity  calls “the heart of the monarch’s range” — and loss of native milkweed plants in the U.S. Such habitat losses negatively impact monarch populations as they breed, migrate and overwinter.   Habitat loss  stems mainly from the deforestation of overwintering areas,  climate change ‘s fluctuating weather patterns, developmental sprawl, plus the conversion of U.S. grasslands into ranches and farmlands. This conversion to farmland for corn and soy has spurred the Center for Biological Diversity’s admonishment against the overuse of  herbicides . These harmful chemicals poison a key player in monarch habitats, their host plant, the milkweed.  Problems with milkweed Milkweed is vital to monarchs. They are host plants, upon which females lay eggs. Once hatched, caterpillars enjoy milkweed as a food source while they grow and develop into adulthood, a process that happens in the first month of a monarch’s lifespan. And, as adults, the  butterflies  feed on milkweed nectar. Several generations of offspring spawn on milkweed during spring and summer months before migration to overwintering sites even begins. According to the NWF, “Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their  populations  decline.” Interestingly, milkweed has the toxin cardenolide, which accumulates in caterpillars feeding on milkweed . When these caterpillars become adults, the cardenolides remain, protecting them from predation. Birds and predators veer away, signaled off by the toxin’s presence in the monarchs’ bright wings. Unfortunately, milkweed loss is increasing in the destabilized landscape. Milkweed has lost considerable ground to urbanization, shifting land management practices, climate change and even herbicide misuse, like that of Roundup.  Alarming still are reports by  Science  magazine and  Entomology Today  that well-meaning gardeners have been planting the wrong species of milkweed. There are over 100 milkweed species, and not all are good for monarchs. Sadly, the tropical milkweed species  Asclepias curassavica  is heavily marketed because it is easier to obtain. But this invasive species is not well-suited for monarchs, yet remains the species good-intentioned gardeners are planting rather than the native milkweed species the monarchs are better adapted to. This invasive milkweed is now recognized by the  Ecological Society of America  as an ecological trap for monarch butterflies.     What dangers do these “wrong” species of milkweed pose for monarchs? For one, they harbor parasites, such as the protozoan parasite  Ophryocystis elektroscirrha  (OE), that are harmful to the monarch butterfly. These parasites debilitate monarchs, weakening them via “wing deformities, smaller body size, reduced flight performance, and shorter adult lifespans,” Entomology Today explained. Should these issues with milkweed persist unmitigated, their repercussions would continue to exacerbate the monarch butterfly population crisis.    Pesticide, insecticide and fungicide misuse While media attention has spotlighted herbicides as a culprit, equally important is the fact that monarch butterflies are also vulnerable to  pesticides ,  neonicotinoid  insecticides and fungicides. For instance, a Purdue University Department of Entomology  study , published last summer 2019 in  Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution , revealed that non-target pesticides, insecticides and fungicides have wreaked havoc on monarch butterflies, even at their larval stage. As the study elucidated, “agricultural intensification and a corresponding rise in pesticide use has been an  environmental  concern” that adversely affects beneficial  pollinators , like the monarch butterfly. Exposure to these pesticides, insecticides and fungicides, can be from “direct contact with contaminated surfaces or spray droplets, residues remaining on the soil, and consumption via food resources such as leaves, nectar or pollen.” Just as vexing are pesticides, insecticides and fungicides “applied by aircraft.” The study emphasized the “evidence of lower abundance and/or diversity of butterflies.” Climate change The  WWF  affirms that “monarchs are highly sensitive to  weather  and climate. They depend on environmental cues (temperature in particular) to trigger reproduction, migration, and hibernation.” Their decline is also attributed to “the effects of an increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as drought and severe storms, and extremes in hot and cold temperatures.” No wonder then that the  Environmental Defense Fund ‘s Director of Conservation Studies, David Wolfe, has lamented that “The iconic and beloved North American monarch butterfly is one of the species that has difficulty adjusting to our new climate-stressed world. Its population has declined 95 percent in the last 20 years Yet another way  climate  change adversely affects monarch butterflies is by disrupting their migration. These butterflies can travel between 50 and 100 miles a day, but when extreme weather sets in during  migration , the entire cluster or roost is vulnerable.  “Every year, a new generation of these butterflies follows the same path forged by generations before them. The only thing guiding them on this migration is temperature telling them when they need to travel – like a biological trigger setting them in flight,” Wolfe explained. “But in recent years, the monarch’s fall south migration from Canada has been delayed by as much as six weeks due to warmer-than-normal temperatures that failed to trigger the butterflies’ instincts to move south. By the time the temperature cooled enough to trigger the migration, it’s been too cold in the Midwest and many monarchs died on their trip south.” Even more worrisome, the  Xerces Society , a nonprofit environmental group focused on invertebrates, has reported that warmer temperatures from climate change increase the toxicity of tropical milkweed by increasing cardenolide concentrations. Monarch caterpillars are only tolerant up to a threshold.  EcoWatch  explained, “warmer temperatures increase the cardenolides in  A. curassavica  [the tropical milkweed species] to the point where they poison monarch larvae, delaying larval growth and stunting adult forewings. Native milkweed is not similarly impacted.” Hence, as  invasive  milkweed persists, they further harm monarch populations as temperatures rise in our current  climate crisis .  Diseases, parasites and fungal pathogens Emory University  emphasizes that climate change affects pathogen development, parasite survival rates, disease transmission processes. What would monarch populations be susceptible to? Bacterial and viral infections — like bacillus thuringiensis (BT), pseudomonas, the nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV) — are not unheard of, often turning an infected caterpillar or chrysalis into a darkened or black hue. Parasite attacks can come from tachinid flies or wasps (chalcid, trichogramma). Plus, fungal pathogens in the genus  Cordyceps  also attack. Each of these factors cause harm to monarch butterfly populations.

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Whats causing the decline in monarch butterfly populations?

Tribute in Light endangers migrating birds

September 11, 2019 by  
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New York City’s annual September 11 Tribute in Light seeks to console a still-damaged city and commemorate those lost in the 2001 Twin Tower attacks. Unfortunately, the stunning beams of light also mesmerize birds , sometimes luring them to their deaths. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , the light event endangers nearly 160,000 birds each year. September is prime time for birds and other animals using the migration corridor that passes through New York City. Everything from warblers to bats to peregrine falcons flutter and swoop above the cityscape, as they have for thousands of years before there was even a single light to fly over. Related: Bird deaths from skyscrapers reaches into the hundreds of millions The Tribute in Light disrupts birds’ internal compasses. Birds rely on natural guideposts, such as light from the sun, stars and moon, and the pull of the earth’s magnetic field, to find their way to winter grounds. “When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths and vocalized frequently,” the study authors wrote . “Simulations revealed a high probability of disorientation and subsequent attraction for nearby birds.” This means that while the smaller birds paused, hypnotized by lights, larger birds swooped down and snatched them for supper. Those who elude predators waste precious energy flying in circles over the light show, making them vulnerable to exhaustion and starvation. “Birds do fly for extended periods of time,” said John Rowden of the National Audubon Society. “It’s not that they can’t do it. But they’re doing it to get south of here. If they spend all their time in that small area, they won’t get to good foraging habitat , and it will compromise them for later parts of their migration.” A few scientists and a group of volunteers from the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society are keeping track of the light-dazzled birds. When they count 1,000 trapped birds, the lights are shut off for 20 minutes, allowing the birds to disperse. Ornithologist Susan Elbin is the director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon Society. As she told the New York Times , “It’s my job to turn the lights out, and I’d rather not have lights on at all, because the artificial light interferes with birds’ natural cues to navigate.” Via EcoWatch and New York Times Image via Dennis Leung

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Tribute in Light endangers migrating birds

Genealogy company’s new headquarters was inspired the ideas of shared lineage and migration

October 7, 2016 by  
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The architects conceived the space as an open environment furnished with modern objects, classic design and common areas that encourage collaboration. Concepts of regional migration , genealogy, genetics , and data are embodied in the organization of the headquarters. Color is used as a symbol of diversity that references shared genetic heritage. It also acts as a signaling tool. Related: Adobe’s New LEED Gold-Designed Campus Connects with the Outdoors in Utah Specific parts of the space reference genealogy in a direct way. A large, colorful art installation in the lobby represents diverse historical backgrounds of different populations. Fifteen different colors on this graph indicate fifteen main ancestries, while each column represent a sampled population and shared lineage. + Rapt Studio

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Refugees Welcome is the sharing economy’s response to the crisis in Europe

September 17, 2015 by  
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The sharing economy has brought innovative responses to everything from reducing food waste to getting around town , so what could it do in the face of the unfolding European migrant crisis, now regularly described as the worst migration crisis since World War Two? Seeing the negativity facing migrants and feeling compassion for their plight, four young Germans have established Refugees Welcome , a service placing refugees into share accommodation with locals to help them integrate into their new environment. After successfully matching 134 refugees with housemates, Refugees Welcome have been overwhelmed with offers of support and accommodation, as well as inquiries about setting up similar systems in other countries. Read on for details about how it all works. Read the rest of Refugees Welcome is the sharing economy’s response to the crisis in Europe

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To protect migrating birds, it’s ‘lights out’ in New York

April 29, 2015 by  
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New York is stepping up and shutting off to protect migratory birds from light pollution. On Monday , Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all non-essential outdoor lights at state buildings will be shut off from 11PM local time until dawn. This order will be in effect during the peaks of seasonal migration, from April 15 through May 31 and August 15 through November 15. Why turn off the lights? Migrating birds often use the light of the stars to guide them on their epic journey. However, outdoor lighting can disorient birds and cause them to crash, particularly during inclement weather. Between 500 million and one billion birds die annually in the United States due to this “fatal light attraction.” After Minnesota , New York becomes the second state to join National Audubon Society’s Lights Out Campaign . Cities such as Boston , Baltimore and Washington DC also partner with Lights Out to keep birds safe along the East Coast. Via the Guardian Image via Lake Region Audubon Society Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: Audubon Society , Audubon Society Lights Out , Birds in New York , East Coast Birds , East Coast Migration , Eastern Flyway , Fatal Light Attraction , lights out , migrating birds , migration , National Audubon Society Lights Out , New England Birds , New York Birds , new york state , Wildlife in New York

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To protect migrating birds, it’s ‘lights out’ in New York

How a team of students transformed a group home into a haven through Habilitative Design

April 29, 2015 by  
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In the 1960s, with the rising momentum of the Civil Rights movement and heightened awareness of the marginalization of the elderly and disabled, a new movement arose in the design community: Universal Design . This movement attempted to create designs that were accessible and inclusive to marginalized communities, by raising design standards to meet “universal” human standards of simplicity, ease, comfort, safety, and flexibility. But despite the idealistic intentions of Universal Design, specialized design services for differing populations are a growing need in today’s world. Case in point: a group-home for developmentally-disabled seniors with Alzheimer’s disease in Boston needed some very specific considerations to deal with the unique challenges facing the individuals living in the home. Dr. Dak Kopec, Architectural Psychologist and Director of the Boston Architectural College ’s (BAC) Master of Design Studies (MDS) has been pioneering the concept of Habilitative Design – design that meets specific individual needs that allow users to function to their highest capacity. Read on to learn how a team of students from the Design for Human Health course at BAC used the principals of Habilitative Design to meet patients’ specific needs. Read the rest of How a team of students transformed a group home into a haven through Habilitative Design Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: accessible design , Alzheimer’s disease , Architectural Psychologists and Director , BAC , BAC student design , Boston Architectural College , design for disabilities , design for disability , design for disabled seniors , Design for Health , design for human health , Dr. Dak Kopec , group home design , habilitative design , master of design studies , retirement home design , universal design

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New Research Reaffirms the Grim Outlook for Polar Bears

November 25, 2010 by  
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Photo credit: Chi King / Creative Commons , laverrue / Creative Commons By now, it’s old news: Melting Arctic ice forces polar bears south, onto drier land and into warmer climates than they are accustomed. That the entire population will make this migration is inevitable, the question is: What will happen when they arrive? Many researchers have claimed that polar bears will simply adjust their diets to su…

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Ecomachines Use Plants and Animals for Low Impact Water Treatment (Video)

November 25, 2010 by  
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Image credit: John Todd Ecological Dr John Todd’s work creating living machines, or ecomachines, as a form of natural water treatment has long been of interest to TreeHugger. Back in 2005 Collin interviewed Dr Todd about his views on ecological design , and we celebrated when this pioneer of clean water won the Buckminster Fuller challenge award .

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How can I reuse or recycle plastic biscuit wrapping?

October 20, 2010 by  
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I am a fan of biscuits (aka cookies). I have written of my love of biscuits

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How can I reuse or recycle plastic biscuit wrapping?

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