Dear Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Volunteers and Friends,
Greetings from the U of MN Monarch Lab! We are preparing our 2011 newsletter, which should arrive in your mailboxes (electronic or otherwise) sometime in the next month. But reports of the first monarchs trickling into the US prompted an earlier communication.
First, and most importantly, thanks for your contributions to our understanding of monarchs and their interactions with their habitats, milkweed host plants, and natural enemies. We welcome our new volunteers, and hope that you plan to join us for another season of monarch monitoring. As always, let us know if you have questions, comments, or exciting observations.
Our 15th year of MLMP monitoring is about to begin, and, not surprisingly, our protocols have undergone some modifications over this time. We hope that the changes aren’t confusing; they all reflect things we’ve learned as the program evolved. Here is a brief summary of MLMP activities, with hints to maximize the value of your data, and a description of things that have changed and why. Remember that you can pick and choose, doing just what you have the interest and time to do.
Activity 1. The heart and soul of the MLMP is measuring monarch per plant density. Every week, MLMP volunteers visit their monitoring site, search milkweed plants for monarch eggs and larvae, and record the number of plants they observe and the number of eggs and larvae they see on these plants. Over the 14 years, we have 15,280 (!) lines of data, each of which represents a visit by an MLMP volunteer to a monitoring site.
- We are VERY interested in an absence of monarchs.So, whenever you monitor your site, even if you don’t see any monarchs, report your data.As soon as your milkweed comes up, it’s time to start looking!
- Last year, we added a new twist to our monarch density data collection. Instead of simply recording the number of milkweed plants and monarchs you observe, you can now record more detail about how the monarchs are distributed among the plants, using data sheet 1C. Recent analyses of MLMP and Project MonarchHealth (www.monarchparasites.org) data showed a relationship between monarch density and infection by the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroschirrha. This detailed information will help us to better understand this density/disease relationship. For example, imagine that you observed 100 milkweed plants, two of which had monarch eggs on them. One plant had 3 eggs and one had 1 egg. The other 98 plants had zero eggs. In the old data collection method, you simply told us that you observed 100 plants and found 4 eggs. Now you can tell us that there were 3 eggs on one plant and 1 on another. However, we can still learn a lot about monarch density from the simple monarchs per plant data, so if you’d rather stick to the old methods, that’s fine. If you have questions about the new format, ask us!
- Our data analyses are set up for weekly monitoring, but please don’t decide not to monitor if that’s too much for you. Even if you only monitor once or twice during the season, your data are valuable. However, if you can monitor every week, we are better able to understand population dynamics on your site.
- Our new activity 1 data sheets ask whether you see the bright yellow Aphis nerii aphids at your site each week. Please remember to look for these interesting (and sometimes overly abundant!) herbivores.
Activity 2. Weather patterns. We used to collect daily temperature data, but now we only collect temperature data from the day that you monitor (on activity 1 datasheets). We are still collecting rainfall data. If you have a rain gauge at your site that you empty regularly, information on the precipitation at your site will be very valuable as we analyze detailed influences of precipitation on monarch populations.
Activity 3. Estimating parasitism rates. This year, we will make detailed identifications of the parasitoids from monarchs that you rear. The new activity 3 datasheet provides instructions for preserving the parasitoids and a Fed Ex shipping number.
In the past, it has been difficult to for us receive parasitoid data if you collected monarchs at a site other than your usual monitoring site. We are fixing that for this season. Data from any monarchs that you collect and rear will be combined with our large monarch rearing data base. You’ll collect the same information that you’ve been collecting on the activity 3 data sheet, and be able to enter this information online.
We’ve also added information on sampling for the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroschirrha to our Activity 3 protocol. This is optional, but your involvement in this activity will add a lot to our ability to understand monarch population dynamics.
Activity 4. Comparing occupied to unoccupied milkweed plant. This activity hasn’t changed much. It’s the most time-consuming of all of the MLMP activities, but also probably the best way for you to really get to know your milkweed plants and everything that’s on them. We are learning a great deal about the features that make some plants attractive to monarchs. If you do this activity, be sure to assess the condition of plants that do and do not have monarchs on them.
We have worked with Ba Rea, first author of the field guide Milkweed, Monarchs and More, to update and improve this handy guide to most of the insects that you’ll see on milkweed plants.
Activity 5. Monitoring milkweed for aphids. This activity is new, and still in the pilot phase. We don’t have the capacity to receive data online for aphid densities, but if you are interested in making detailed observations of the aphids you see on milkweed plants, please let us know. Data forms, pictures of aphids, and direction are available on our website.
Thanks for all that you do!
Karen Oberhauser and the U of MN MLMP Team