Posted: June 4, 2018

Dr. Jared Ali (PI) and Dr. Ruud Schilder(Co-PI) were awarded nearly $900k to study the chemical effects of different milkweed species on Monarch migration. The decline in North American populations of the Monarch butterfly has been linked to the loss of their milkweed host plant along US and Mexican migration routes.

This has resulted in significant milkweed replanting efforts by national initiatives and local enthusiasts. While meritorious in its conception, these replanting efforts tend to use a variety of milkweed species that can vary dramatically in their level of toxicity to Monarch larvae. Moreover, it is unknown how exposure to such varying levels of toxicity as larvae may affect the ability of surviving adult Monarch butterflies to establish viable populations and migrate to Mexican overwintering sites. Using NSF funding and leveraging a large-scale collaborative network of Monarch scientists, the researchers will quantify such effects by examining milkweed-Monarch interactions throughout their life history, under both controlled laboratory- and natural settings. In addition to Monarchs, this project will generally inform habitat restoration efforts aimed at offsetting population declines in other beneficial insects, as consequences of larval dietary history for adult traits important to population health are poorly understood in most insects.

Consequences of host plant toxicity across monarch butterfly ontogeny: milkweed challenges from feeding to flying