One of our favorite things to do with our smartphones, taking pictures of nature and the beautiful wildlife that we encounter every day, can now contribute to research on the travel habits of monarch butterflies.
Monarch butterflies, known for their bright orange wing patterns, have some of the most impressive migration patterns in the natural world. The petite insects, which each weigh less than a quarter of an ounce, migrate from northern latitudes during the late summer and fall months and fly thousands of miles to winter destinations in southern California and Mexico. Their migration route takes them through Maine, and researchers at the University of Maine Graduate School are hoping to collect data on monarch migration to be able to anticipate which areas along the eastern coastline are most suitable for monarchs during their southern migration.
The app is called the Monarch Model Validator and was created by Drew Rosebush, a former UMaine master’s student. After Rosebush took a class that focused on graphic information system data with Dr. Kate Beard-Tisdale, the graduate coordinator for the masters and doctorate programs on spatial information science, he worked closely with other UMaine graduates to hone the app’s abilities.
Rosebush, along with two other UMaine postgraduates, worked with Brandon Boxler and Cynthia Loftin to perfect the app’s capabilities. Boxler is currently pursuing a master’s degree in ecology and environmental science, and works closely with Loftin, who is an associate professor of wildlife ecology at UMaine. Loftin is also the leader of the United States Geological Survey Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
The research project, while tracking migration patterns and rest sites for monarch butterflies, is also attempting to learn more about monarch butterflies in order to address the decline in populations which has been noted in past years.
According to Boxler, the monarch population has seen a steep drop and researchers have noted that the number of monarchs that successfully complete their 3,000-mile migration has dropped nearly 90% in the past two decades.
“The monarch migration is declining because the overall number of monarchs is declining,” Boxler told the Maine Edge. “There are many causes for the decline, including loss of overwintering habitat due to logging, loss of breeding habitat — native milkweed — to herbicides, as well as exposure to pesticides, disease and parasites/parasitoids.”
The app, by gathering data collected over a large area of land by citizen scientists, can help determine which areas monarchs are choosing as their rest areas during their long flight. The program seeks to gather data on areas of migration from Maine to Georgia, which means that citizen scientists’ feedback through the app can help the research team collect more thorough information.
Through the app, anyone can visit areas where there is a high likelihood of monarchs resting during their migration. You can take pictures of monarchs that you see in the area and report information that you notice. Using this method of data-gathering, the research team will then be able to compare projected data to actual data on monarch migration habits, population size and environmental factors.
Instructions on how to download the app, which is supported on both android and iOS systems, can be found at https://umaine.edu/mainecoopunit/monarch-model-validator/. More information on the Monarch Model Validator can be found on the USGS Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit page on the UMaine website.