Monarch Survival Strategies Dependent on Climate-Controlled Chemical Connection

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 03 April 2018


Butterfly News
Monarch Survival Strategies

Dependent on Climate-Controlled Chemical Connection

It's an ecological trap,
Louisiana State University, April 3, 2018.


Deeply Intertwined Lives
"...a new relationship between climate change, monarch butterflies and milkweed plants."

"...we know that in reality, species interact, and they are often tightly linked together."

"The monarch is an obligate feeder on milkweed. Individuals always lay their eggs on a milkweed plant, and the larvae only develop on various species of this particular plant."


Monarch Butterfly Poison Protection Plan

"There are several different species of milkweed, but they all share a common trait. They produce toxic chemicals in their leaf tissue called cardenolides that deter most vertebrate predators."


Points of Diminishing Return

"...if a milkweed plant produces too much of this toxic chemical, caterpillars that feed on the plant's leaf tissue may inadvertently poison themselves."

"It's a Goldilocks situation for monarch butterflies. Too few of these chemicals in the milkweed, and the plant won't protect monarch caterpillars from being eating... But too high of a concentration of these chemicals can also hurt the monarchs, slowing caterpillar development and decreasing survival."


Climate Warming Firing Up the Milkweed Poisons

"As this plant senses rising temperatures, it produces more cardenolides, perhaps as a defense mechanism."

"Temperature-dependent increases in cardenolide concentrations in A. curassavica...push monarchs over a tipping point, poisoning their larvae, delaying larval growth and leading to butterflies with stunted forewing length."

"The native A. incarnata milkweed naturally produces fewer toxic chemicals than the tropical milkweed, but warmer conditions don't radically change these levels. Under conditions of global warming, monarchs feeding on the non-native milkweed fare much worse in terms of growth and survival than monarchs feeding on native milkweed."


"Unfortunately, invasive milkweed plants are everywhere throughout the southern U.S."



Bye Bye Butterfly: Monarch Decline


Monarch butterflies disappearing from western North America


Monarch butterflies fluttering back to Orange County, but populations struggle




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