Feb. 24, 2004 | KU Radio News Line

Audio





Contact: Frank Barthell, University Relations, (785) 864-8869.

Radio News Line text:
Storms in Mexico have crippled the monarch population, says KU researcher

IT APPEARS THAT TWO MAJOR RAINSTORMS HAVE KILLED MILLIONS OF MONARCH BUTTERFLIES AT THEIR WINTER HOME IN MEXICO. ORLEY "'CHIP' TAYLOR, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS PROFESSOR OF ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, SAYS SEVERE RAINSTORMS COMBINED WITH FREEZING TEMPERATURES IN LATE JANUARY IN THEIR OVERWINTERING SITE, 100 MILES WEST OF MEXICO CITY.

TAYLOR DIRECTS MONARCH WATCH, A LARGELY VOLUNTEER EFFORT DEDICATED TO THE STUDY AND CONSERVATION OF THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY. EACH FALL, MONARCH WATCH DISTRIBUTES THOUSANDS OF SMALL TAGS AND ENCOURAGES PEOPLE IN THE PATH OF THE MONARCHS' MIGRATION TO CAPTURE, TAG AND RELEASE THE MONARCHS DURING THEIR FALL FLIGHT TO MEXICO.

IN JANUARY, 2002, SEVERE STORMS IN MEXICO WIPED OUT 75 TO 80 PERCENT OF THE MONARCH POPULATION. SINCE THAT TIME, TAYLOR NOTES, THE INSECT HAS MADE A REMARKABLE RECOVERY. SO THIS YEAR'S STORMS DON'T CONCERN HIM AS MUCH AS THE LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS. TAYLOR SAYS WINTER STORMS HAVE HIT THE AREA IN THREE OF THE LAST FOUR YEARS. THAT'S AN AREA NORMALLY DRY IN JANUARY. HE WORRIES THIS UNSEASONABLE WEATHER IS THE RESULT OF GLOBAL WARMING.

TAYLOR: "And what the consequence seems to be of increasing global warming is that you're getting more winter rainfall . With this winter rainfall, you often get cold weather. And the result is that you get big butterfly kills." (15 sec.)

TAYLOR SAYS THE TWO MAJOR WINTER HOMES FOR THE MONARCHS ARE NEAR THE TOWN OF ANGANGUEO (ahn-gahn-GAY-oh) , 100 MILES WEST OF MEXICO CITY.

250-THOUSAND ACRES OF LAND HOLD ABOUT 90 PERCENT OF THE OVERWINTERING POPULATION. MUCH OF THIS LAND IS PROTECTED BY THE MEXICAN GOVERNMENT. TAYLOR SAYS CONSERVATION OF THE FORESTS IS CRITICAL TO PROTECT THE MONARCH POPULATION.

TAYLOR: "In spite of these storms, the butterflies in the center of the most protected areas-- some of them will survive, even if you lose 80 percent of them. Some will survive because they're in the center of these massive clusters or under canopies where they don't get enough rainfall to really soak the butterflies." (16 sec.)

TAYLOR IS CONCERNED ABOUT ILLEGAL LOGGING AT THESE PROTECTED WILDLIFE SITES.

TAYLOR: "And these forests are really quite dense, fir forests in most places, but they've been logged over a lot of places so the integrity of the forests is very rapidly being compromised." (12 sec.)

TAYLOR SAYS DEFORESTATION ALSO IMPACTS THE LOCAL POPULATION.

TAYLOR:TAYLOR: the forests to retain the water, and the effect of this is you have less water for the communities because it runs off too fast and it isn't retained in the soil." (12 sec.)

TAYLOR LEAVES FOR MEXICO ON FRIDAY, FEB. 27 FOR TEN DAYS OF RESEARCH. AMONG THE MILLIONS OF DEAD MONARCHS HE EXPECTS 15-HUNDRED TO 2-THOUSAND TAGGED BUTTERFLIES KILLED BY THE STORM WILL BE RECOVERED. MONARCH WATCH PAYS LOCAL RESIDENTS THE EQUIVALENT OF FIVE DOLLARS FOR EVERY TAGGED BUTTERFLY THEY RECOVER. THAT MONEY COMES FROM DONATIONS BUT ONLY 24-HUNDRED DOLLARS HAS BEEN RAISED. TAYLOR SAYS THEY'LL NEED MUCH MORE THIS YEAR.

TAYLOR: "From what we're hearing about the mortality, we're going to have to spend probably about 10-thousand dollars in order to cover all of the tags that will be available when we go down there on this next trip." (10 sec.)

TAYLOR WON'T ESTIMATE THE TOTAL NUMBER OF MONARCHS OVERWINTERING IN MEXICO. HE SAYS TWO ESTIMATES MADE IN 2002, BOTH BASED ON A SAMPLING OF MONARCHS IN SMALL LAND AREAS, WERE VASTLY DIFFERENT. ONE TASK ON HIS UPCOMING TRIP IS TO ESTIMATE THE NUMBERS BASED ON HOW MANY TAGGED MONARCHS ARE FOUND.

TAYLOR: "If we go into these colonies and we sample the dead butterflies we can determine the ratio of untagged to tagged,. And then, because we know the number of butterflies that were tagged, and we can make some reasonable estimates in terms of tag loss and how many butterflies are lost, during migration, we can come up with an estimate for the size of the whole population." ( 21 sec.)

The Monarch Watch Web site is www.monarchwatch.org.

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