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Trends in Deforestation and Forest Degradation after a Decade of Monitoring in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico: Monarch Butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve


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We used aerial photographs, satellite images, and field surveys to monitor forest cover in the core zones of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico from 2001 to 2012. We used our data to assess the effectiveness of conservation actions that involved local, state, and federal authorities and community members (e.g., local landowners and private and civil organizations) in one of the world's most iconic protected areas. From 2001 through 2012, 1254 ha were deforested (i.e., cleared areas had <10% canopy cover), 925 ha were degraded (i.e., areas for which canopy forest decreased), and 122 ha were affected by climatic conditions. Of the total 2179 ha of affected area, 2057 ha were affected by illegal logging: 1503 ha by large-scale logging and 554 ha by small-scale logging. Mexican authorities effectively enforced efforts to protect the monarch reserve, particularly from 2007 to 2012. Those efforts, together with the decade-long financial support from Mexican and international philanthropists and businesses to create local alternative-income generation and employment, resulted in the decrease of large-scale illegal logging from 731 ha affected in 2005-2007 to none affected in 2012, although small-scale logging is of growing concern. However, dire regional social and economic problems remain, and they must be addressed to ensure the reserve's long-term conservation. The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) overwintering colonies in Mexico-which engage in one of the longest known insect migrations-are threatened by deforestation, and a multistakeholder, regional, sustainable-development strategy is needed to protect the reserve. Tendencias en la Deforestación y la Degradación de Forestal después de una Década de Monitoreo en la Reserva de la Biósfera de la Mariposa Monarca en México.
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Contributed Paper
Trends in Deforestation and Forest Degradation after
a Decade of Monitoring in the Monarch Butterfly
Biosphere Reserve in Mexico
World Wildlife Fund – Mexico, Av. Mexico No. 51, Col. Hip´
odromo, Mexico, DF 06110, Mexico, email
†Instituto de Geograf´
ıa, Universidad Nacional Aut´
onoma de Mexico, Mexico, DF 06170, Mexico
‡World Wildlife Fund – Mexico, Programa Mariposa Monarca, Jaime Torres Bodet No. 22, Fraccionamiento Poetas Zit´
an 61450, Mexico
Abstract: We used aerial photographs, satellite images, and field surveys to monitor forest cover in the core
zones of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico from 2001 to 2012. We used our data to assess
the effectiveness of conservation actions that involved local, state, and federal authorities and community
members (e.g., local landowners and private and civil organizations) in one of the world’s most iconic
protected areas. From 2001 through 2012, 1254 ha were deforested (i.e., cleared areas had <10% canopy
cover), 925 ha were degraded (i.e., areas for which canopy forest decreased), and 122 ha were affected by
climatic conditions. Of the total 2179 ha of affected area, 2057 ha were affected by illegal logging: 1503
ha by large-scale logging and 554 ha by small-scale logging. Mexican authorities effectively enforced efforts
to protect the monarch reserve, particularly from 2007 to 2012. Those efforts, together with the decade-long
financial support from Mexican and international philanthropists and businesses to create local alternative-
income generation and employment, resulted in the decrease of large-scale illegal logging from 731 ha affected
in 2005–2007 to none affected in 2012, although small-scale logging is of growing concern. However, dire
regional social and economic problems remain, and they must be addressed to ensure the reserve’s long-term
conservation. The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) overwintering colonies in Mexico—which engage
in one of the longest known insect migrations—are threatened by deforestation, and a multistakeholder,
regional, sustainable-development strategy is needed to protect the reserve.
Keywords: federal government, habitat loss, illegal logging, payment for ecosystem services
Tendencias en la Deforestaci´
on y la Degradaci´
on de Forestal despu´
es de una D´
ecada de Monitoreo en la Reserva
de la Bi´
osfera de la Mariposa Monarca en M´
Resumen: Usamos fotograf´
ıas a´
ereas, im´
agenes satelitales y muestreos de campo para monitorear la cober-
tura forestal en las zonas n´
ucleo de la Reserva de la Bi´
osfera de la Mariposa Monarca en M´
exico de 2001 a
2012. Usamos nuestros datos para estudiar la efectividad de las acciones de conservaci´
on que involucran a
autoridades locales, estatales y federales, as´
ı como a miembros de la comunidad (p. ej.: propietarios locales
de tierras y organizaciones privadas y civiles), en una de las ´
areas protegidas m´
as ic´
onicas del mundo. Desde
2001 y hasta 2012, 1254 hect´
areas fueron deforestadas (es decir, ´
areas en las cuales el dosel del bosque
ıa <10%), 925 hect´
areas fueron degradadas (es decir, ´
areas en las cuales el dosel del bosque disminuy´
y 122 hect´
areas fueron afectadas por condiciones clim´
aticas. Del total de 2179 hect´
areas afectadas, 2057
areas fueron afectadas por tala ilegal: 1503 hect´
areas por tala a gran escala y 554 hect´
areas por tala
na escala. Las autoridades mexicanas efectivamente hicieron cumplir los esfuerzos para proteger
la reserva monarca, particularmente de 2007 a 2012. Esos esfuerzos, junto con el apoyo econ´
omico de una
ecada por parte de fil´
antropos y empresarios mexicanos e internacionales para generar ingresos alternativos
y empleos locales, resultaron en la disminuci´
on de la tala ilegal a gran escala de 731 hect´
areas afectadas en
el per´
ıodo 2005–2007 a ninguna en el 2012, aunque la tala a peque˜
na escala es una preocupaci´
on creciente.
Paper submitted November 16, 2012; revised manuscript accepted April 28, 2013.
Conservation Biology, Volume 28, No. 1, 177–186
2013 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12138
178 Monarch Butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve
on persisten problemas sociales y econ´
omicos severos que deben ser atendidos para
asegurar la conservaci´
on a largo plazo de la reserva. Las colonias de mariposa monarca (Danaus plexippus)
que pasan el invierno en M´
exico, que participan en una de las migraciones m´
as extensas conocidas de insectos,
an amenazadas por la deforestaci´
on y se requiere una estrategia regional de desarrollo sustentable y con
la participaci´
on de todos los interesados para proteger la reserva.
Palabras Clave: gobierno federal, pago por servicios ambientales, p´
erdida de h´
abitat, tala ilegal
For decades, scientists and conservationists have advo-
cated the establishment of protected areas that conserve
ecosystems and biological diversity as a primary goal but
that also benefit local inhabitants. However, few long-
term examples are available with which to assess the
effectiveness of conservation actions within these areas
and, in particular, those that document the complex in-
teractions among local people, authorities, civil-society
organizations, and private donors. The Monarch Butterfly
Biosphere Reserve in Mexico offers a useful case study
on the local socioeconomic conditions and the political
realities leading to an impressive decline in deforestation
in an iconic protected area.
Traveling over 4000 km from the Great Lakes re-
gion east of the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the
United States to central Mexico (Urquhart 1976; Calvert &
Brower 1986; Alonso-Mej´
ıa et al. 1997), the eastern North
American population of the monarch butterfly (Danaus
plexippus) performs one of the longest migrations of
all known insects (Pence 1998; Anderson 2009). The
overwintering sites of this butterfly were discovered by
scientists in Mexico in 1975 (Urquhart 1976).
The monarch’s overwintering concentrations have
passed through 3 different protection schemes and fed-
eral decrees of the Mexican government (Galindo-Leal
on-Salinas 2005). First, in 1980, a reserve and
wildlife refuge zone was established to protect the over-
wintering sites, but exact locations were not specified
and logging was restricted only during monarch hiberna-
tion season (November–March) (Diario Oficial de la Fed-
on 1980). Second, in 1986, 5 isolated protected areas
were established, and jointly called Special Monarch But-
terfly Biosphere Reserve, in Sierra Chincua, Sierra El Cam-
panario, Cerros Huacal, Chivat´
ı, Pel´
on, and Altamirano
located in the municipalities of Ocampo, Angangueo,
acuaro, Contepec (Michoac´
an state), Donato Guerra,
Villa de Allende, and Temascalcingo (Mexico state). The
total area protected was 16,110 ha. Within this area were
4491 ha of core zone (all extractive activities prohibited,
only conservation and scientific research allowed) and
11,619 ha of buffer zone (sustainable extractive activi-
ties permitted) (Diario Oficial de la Federaci´
on 1986).
Indigenous communities protested this decree by set-
ting forest fires (Galindo-Leal & Rend´
on-Salinas 2005).
Third, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, as it is
known today, was established in 2000 to protect 56,259
ha of temperate forest along the mountains of the Trans-
Mexican Volcanic Belt between the states of Michoac´
and Mexico state (42,707 ha in 2 buffer zones and 13,552
ha in 3 core zones) (Fig. 1) (Calvert 1994; Rend´
Salinas 1997; Diario Oficial de la Federaci´
on 2000; Brower
et al. 2002; Galindo-Leal & Rend´
on-Salinas 2005). Forest
cover was mostly oyamel fir (Abies religiosa), pine (Pi-
nus spp.), pine-oak (Pinus and Quercus), oak, and white
cedar (Cuppressus).Thenewreserveunitedall5areas
from the previous decree to ensure better protection of
the reserve’s ecological processes. In 2008, the monarch
reserve became a World Heritage site (UNESCO 2008).
The reserve’s core zone (composed of 3 core zones)
contains the majority of the monarch’s sanctuaries
(Galindo-Leal & Rend´
on-Salinas 2005): a northern zone
(558 ha) includes Cerro Altamirano; a central zone (9671
ha) includes Sierra de Chincua, Sierra El Campanario,
and Cerro Chivat´
ı-Huacal; and a southern zone (3339 ha)
includes Cerro Pel´
on (Fig. 1). One of us, (E.R.-S, unpub-
lished) recorded 16 overwintering colonies in Mexico
between 2004 and 2012, 11 inside the reserve and 5
outside the reserve. The 3 core zones include parts of the
land of 38 communities and are surrounded by 2 buffer
zones that provide connectivity. In the core zone, log-
ging permits on 17 properties were rescinded when the
reserve was established (Galindo-Leal & Rend´
There are 3 primary threats to the monarch butterfly
in its range in North America (Brower et al. 2011a): de-
forestation and degradation of forest by illegal logging
of overwintering sites in Mexico; widespread reduction
of breeding habitat in the United States due to land-
use changes and the decrease of this butterfly’s main
larval food plant (common milkweed [Asclepias syri-
aca]) associated with the use of glyphosate herbicide to
kill weeds growing in genetically engineered, herbicide-
resistant crops; and periodic extreme weather conditions
throughout its range during the year, such as severe cold
combined are responsible for the dramatic decline over
the last decade in the number of monarch butterflies
in the hibernation colonies in Mexico, which reached a
20-year low during the 2012–2013 season (E.R.-S., unpub-
lished). From 1971 through 1999, 44% of the high-quality
overwintering forest in the monarch reserve (in 1986 the
reserve protected 16,110 ha) was estimated to have been
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
Vidal et al. 179
Figure 1. Overwintering sites
(sanctuaries) of the monarch butterfly in
degraded by illegal logging (Brower et al. 2002). As a
result, several colonies either disappeared completely or
the number of butterflies in them decreased substantially,
including colonies near Cerro Pel´
on (Ram´
ırez et al. 2008),
Sierra Campanario (Brower et al. 2008), Cerro Altami-
rano, Rosario, and Sierra Chincua (Brower et al. 2011a).
After 1999, increased production of genetically modified
glyphosate-resistant soy and maize resulted in a signif-
icant reduction of milkweed and the loss of monarch
breeding habitat in its eastern North American breeding
range (Pleasants & Oberhauser 2012). Extreme weather
conditions, which kill large numbers of butterflies and
have become much more frequent and intense over the
last few years, have severely reduced the number of
butterflies migrating to Mexico in the autumn (E.R.-S.,
Following the reserve’s establishment in 2000, the
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Mexican Fund
for Nature Conservation (FMCN)—with financial sup-
port from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the
then Mexican Secretariat of the Environment, Natural
Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP), and the states of
an and Estado de M´
exico—established the 6.5
million monarch butterfly conservation trust fund to pro-
vide economic incentives to the landowners who lost
their rights to log the forests (all monetary units are
U.S. dollars unless otherwise specified). Currently, this
fund has a capital of nearly 8 million, and the interest
provides the money for payments to those communities
that protect their forests. As trustors of the monarch
fund, WWF is responsible for monitoring forest cover
as the basis for providing economic incentives to the
communities, and FMCN manages the trust’s capital and
ensures transparent and efficient disbursement. As of
2012, 34 of 38 agrarian communities participate in the
monarch fund and have thus agreed to conserve their
forests in exchange for economic incentives. Owners of
17 properties have wood-exploitation permits (i.e., they
were legally logging their forests before the reserve was
established in 2000) and received $18/m3of wood not
logged from 2001 to 2009. In 2009, these payments were
discontinued as specified in the monarch fund when it
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
180 Monarch Butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve
was established, and since 2001 all agrarian properties
received $12/ha owned for conducting conservation ac-
tivities such as fire control, soil restoration, and reforesta-
tion (Honey-Ros´
es 2009). As of 2012, the monarch fund
has paid about 4.5 million directly to landowners (FMCN
We documented changes in forest cover in the re-
serve’s core zones from 2001 to 2012 and provide rec-
ommendations for conserving the habitat of this butterfly
in Mexico to ensure this unique migratory phenomenon
In general, we followed the methods of Brower et al.
(2002) for taking and analyzing aerial photographs and
specialized digital satellite images, for geographical in-
formation system (GIS) data comparisons, and for the
analyses of changes in forest cover in the reserve’s core
zones. We conducted biennial analyses of photographs
and images obtained from 2001 to 2012, which we
used to determine large (abrupt) changes in forest cover
caused by large-scale illegal logging (i.e., massive log-
ging carried out by organized groups). We compared
photographs and images obtained in 2001 with pho-
tographs taken in 2011 to determine small-scale (i.e.,
logging of a few trees by individuals from local commu-
nities) changes that could not be detected in the biennial
analyses due to the small number of trees taken each
year. For example, if one hectare of mature oyamel forest
has on average 500 trees and if every year 25 trees are
cut, the absence of those trees cannot be detected by
the biennial analyses, but this absence can be detected
in a comparison of photographs taken at longer time
Aerial photographs and satellite images of the core
zone were taken mostly in January or February 2001,
2003, and 2005–2012 (Supporting Information). No pho-
tographs were available for 2002, 2004, or 2007. Data
for 2001 came from a limited series of photographs that
covered most of the central core zone (9671 ha; Sierra
de Chincua, Sierra El Campanario, and Cerro Chivat´
Huacal), and the remaining data came from a panchro-
matic Landsat satellite image. For the comparative anal-
yses of 2005–2007 and 2007–2009, we used a 2007
SPOT5 satellite image that combined the multispectral
image with the panchromatic image to produce a 3
m/pixel image, which we visually compared with the
aerial photographs from 2005 (0.4 m/pixel) and 2009
(0.3 m/pixel). We used 2003 as our baseline for the com-
parative biennial analyses, which ended with the 2009–
2011 comparison. We analyzed the 2012 photographs to
determine whether any additional logging had occurred
since the 2009–2011 period. Each year we took 200–
250 photographs with small digital cameras from small
airplanes at 5332 m above sea level (Supporting Infor-
mation) along the same transects (i.e., 11 paths cover-
ing all the core zones). All photographs were printed
at a scale of 1:10,000 and were analyzed with a stere-
oscope to determine the category of forest stands (i.e.,
percentage of canopy). The comparative analyses were
conducted visually in digital format and with a stereo-
scope to determine changes in forest cover (2001–2003,
2003–2005, and 2009–2011) and only visually in digi-
tal format for the analyses of photographs plus satellite
images (partial in 2001–2003, total in 2005–2007 and
Once the stands for each year were delimited, we dig-
italized them on the basis of an orthophoto corrected
mosaic (prepared with Erdas Imagine geospatial data-
authoring system) with aerial photographs for 2003. We
then represented the orthophoto corrected mosaic in
a GIS for the biennial analyses. To estimate the bien-
nial forest changes, we overlapped the maps of for-
est stands with ArcGis (version 9.2). Then we superim-
posed a map of the agrarian properties (including ejidos
[common land, which in Mexico is land expropriated
from owners of large tracts and redistributed for use
as communal farmland, especially to poor populations],
indigenous community property, and private property)
on the maps of forest stands to show forest changes
per property. Results from aerial photographs and satel-
lite images were validated each year in the field by a
team of the local forest owners and scientific person-
nel from WWF, the National Commission on Protected
Areas (CONANP) of the Secretariat of the Environment
and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), and the monarch
For the purposes of this paper, deforestation refers
to areas with <10% of canopy cover in a forest stand
and degradation refers to areas for which the category
of canopy forest cover changed to a category with less
cover. Deforested and degraded areas are referred to
collectively as affected. The 5 canopy-cover categories
were closed (75–100% of forest cover), semiclosed (50–
74.9%), semiopen (25–49.9%), open (10.1–24.9%), and
deforested (0–10%).
A total of 2179 ha of forest of the core zones was affected
between 2001 and 2012: 1254 ha were deforested and
925 ha were degraded (Tables 1 & 2; Fig. 2). Of this,
2057 ha were affected by illegal logging (1503 ha by
large-scale logging and 554 ha by small-scale logging)
and 122 ha by floods, strong winds, drought, and fire
(Fig. 3 & Supporting Information). In 2012, for the first
time since we began monitoring the reserve in 2001, our
aerial surveys detected no degradation or deforestation by
large-scale illegal logging. During field visits from 2011 to
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
Vidal et al. 181
Table 1. Deforestation and degradationaby agrarian property in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve 2001–2012.
Large-scale Small-scale Climate
logging logging -related
State Municipality Agrarian propertybdeforestation degradation subtotal deforestation degradation subtotal deforestation degradation subtotal Total
Estado de
San Jos´
e del
Ejido El Dep´
osito 6.59 14.48 21.07 4.15 2.05 6.20 27.27
Ejido La Mesa 45.34 33.64 78.98 19.61 11.75 31.35 21.07 2.91 23.99 134.32
P.P. Catingo III 1.32 1.32 1.32
P.P. Catingo I y II 0.12 0.12 0.12
P.P. Catingo IV 0.23 0.23 0.23
P.P. Rancho Verde 1.11 2.59 3.71 0.39 0.97 1.36 5.06
Villa de
In dispute 1 22.02 10.85 32.87 57.30 5.42 62.72 95.59
C. I. San Pablo Malacatepec 4.16 0.91 5.07 0.86 0.86 5.93
Donato Guerra P.P. Ca˜
nada Seca 0.07 0.07 0.07
Ejido El Capul´
ın 0.31 0.31 0.55 0.55 0.41 0.41 1.27
P.P. Los Saucos 1.38 1.04 2.42 0.31 0.31 0.14 1.87 2.00 4.74
C. I. San Juan Xoconusco 0.12 2.29 2.41 0.50 0.50 2.91
de M´
exico 81.02 65.81 146.83 83.42 20.51 103.93 23.06 5.01 28.06 278.83
an Angangueo Federal property 22.53 51.73 74.27 2.70 4.98 7.68 1.62 5.15 6.77 88.71
Ejido Hervidero y Plancha 9.17 0.42 9.59 0.60 9.04 9.64 0.68 0.05 0.74 19.96
Ejido Santa Ana 0.39 1.28 1.66 3.44 0.49 3.94 4.74 7.45 12.18 17.79
State property 6.87 6.87 0.96 0.32 1.29 3.07 3.07 11.22
Ejido Jes´
us de Nazareno 0.31 0.31 3.51 2.14 5.66 2.97 2.97 8.93
Ejido Angangueo 1.02 1.02 1.02
Ocampo Ejido Los Remedios 1.21 1.49 2.70 1.78 4.13 5.91 8.61
Ejido El Asoleadero 5.40 3.96 9.37 0.00 9.36
In dispute RRV 1.10 2.94 4.04 10.61 5.05 15.67 19.71
Ejido El Rosario 0.95 0.36 1.31 1.01 2.29 3.30 17.13 27.56 44.69 49.30
C. I. San Crist´
obal 0.00 4.97 4.97 4.97
Ejido Cerro Prieto 1.76 4.29 6.04 1.06 0.64 1.70 7.75
Senguio Ejido Senguio 2.73 1.96 4.69 0.45 3.76 4.21 1.67 1.67 10.57
Ejido Chincua 0.29 0.29 0.00 0.29
Ejido El Calabozo II 1.17 1.17 0.27 2.36 2.63 3.23 3.23 7.03
Ejido El Calabozo I 0.63 0.38 1.00 0.14 2.41 2.55 0.57 4.03 4.60 8.16
acuaro C. I. Crescencio Morales 449.27 366.31 815.58 75.55 40.78 116.33 1.03 1.03 932.94
C. I. Francisco Serrato 32.69 58.21 90.90 4.92 1.66 6.58 97.48
C. I. Nicol´
as Romero 255.11 53.24 308.36 126.33 111.48 237.81 5.75 5.75 551.91
Ejido Nicol´
as Romero 7.45 7.22 14.67 14.67
C. I. Donaciano Ojeda 2.08 3.63 5.71 1.38 11.50 12.88 18.59
C. I. Curungueo 2.26 0.62 2.88 2.88
C. I. San Felipe los Alzati 0.44 7.43 7.87 7.87
791.85 563.99 1355.84 236.86 213.40 450.26 37.29 56.34 96.63 1899.73
Total core
872.87 629.80 1502.67 320.28 233.91 554.19 60.35 61.35 121.7 2178.56
aAreas for which the category of canopy forest cover changed to a category with less cover.
bAbbreviations: P.P., private property; C.I., indigenous community.
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
182 Monarch Butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve
Table 2. Changes in canopy cover in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve 2001–2012.
Affected forest area (ha)
Type of forest effect and canopy cover
2001–2003 2003–2005 2005–2007 2007–2009 2009–2011 2011–2012
closed to semiclosed 36 62 33 18 5 0
closed to semiopen 28 69 71 25 8 2
closed to open 2 32 107 23 6 1
semiclosed to semiopen 20 39 45 14 20 3
semiclosed to open 29 23 53 11 12 0
semiopen to open 21 23 44 21 6 1
Subtotal 136 248 354 112 58 7
closed to deforested 23 43 153 32 21 0
semiclosed to deforested 18 19 57 17 14 0
semiopen to deforested 63 62 93 40 23 0
open to deforested 49 93 75 36 4 0
Subtotal 153 216 378 125 62 0
Total 289 464 731 237 120 7
Figure 2. Areas of forest
affected biennially in the core
zones of the Monarch Butterfly
Reserve (2001–2012). We used
data for 2003 as our baseline,
and hectares shown as affected
in subsequent periods include
areas from previous periods
that were further degraded
plus those additionally
affected in a particular period
(numbers above bars, total
hectares affected by large-scale
illegal logging; 115 and 21 are
hectares affected by
climate-related events and tree
removal for disease control).
2012, we detected 21 ha affected by drought and parasitic
plants (Arceuthobium spp. and Psittacanthus calycu-
latus) (14 ha) and by tree removal for disease control
(7 ha).
Most (88%) forests affected by illegal logging were in
an state (1356 ha by large-scale logging and 450
ha by small-scale logging), primarily on the agrarian prop-
erties of Crescencio Morales (816 and 116 ha, respec-
tively), Nicol´
as Romero (323 and 238 ha), and Francisco
Serrato (91 and 6 ha) indigenous communities and on fed-
eral land (74 and 8 ha) (Table 1, Fig. 3). In Mexico state,
251 ha (12% of total) were affected by illegal logging,
mainly at ejido La Mesa (79 and 31 ha) and an agrarian
property with internal land conflicts in San Jose de Villa
Allende (33 and 63 ha) (Table 1 & Fig. 3). Deforestation
and degradation of forest have been extensive in some
locations such as Crescencio Morales, Nicol´
as Romero,
Francisco Serrato, La Mesa, In dispute 1, and the federal
land, as documented by aerial photographs (Supporting
One hundred fifteen hectares of forest were affected by
floods, strong winds, droughts, and fires from 2009 to
2011, and 21 ha more were affected by drought and para-
sitic plants in 2012. From 2008 to 2011, the monarch
reserve was affected by extreme drought (Comisi´
Nacional del Agua 2013) and, as a result, trees were prob-
ably subjected to stress, which renders them more sus-
ceptible to disease. Whether these anomalous weather
conditions are the result of human-induced global climate
change is unknown, but they represent a major threat to
this butterfly throughout its range (Harvell et al. 2002;
Oberhauser & Peterson 2003; Batalden et al. 2007).
Illegal logging substantially affected the core zones up
to 2009, the major cause being large-scale logging to
which the majority of law enforcement and surveillance
efforts by both federal and state authorities have been
devoted. This type of logging is probably the main cause
of the disappearance of the small monarch colony on
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
Vidal et al. 183
Figure 3. Large-scale and small-scale logging and climate-related events that decreased forest cover 2001–2012 in
the core zone of the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
the property of Crescencio Morales, where during the
2004–2005, 2005–2006, and 2006–2007 overwintering
seasons we documented overwintering butterflies. None
have been recorded in this area since 2007–2008 because
the forests where they used to hibernate are gone (E.R.-
S., unpublished). However, unchecked small-scale illegal
logging for subsistence represents over one-fourth of the
total forest affected and has thus severely affected the
core zones.
We believe that the trend of reduced large-scale illegal
logging that began in 2007 (Fig. 2) is a direct result of the
stringent law enforcement by federal authorities, the gov-
ernment’s payment for environmental services, and the
financial support from Mexican and international philan-
thropists and businesses that helped to create alternative
incomes and employment for local communities. We fur-
ther believe that the monarch fund, in particular, played
a key role by providing incentives for the communities
to protect their forests.
Tackling large-scale illegal logging is challenging. As
demonstrated by records from Mexico’s Federal Attorney
for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), illegal logging
in the monarch reserve is a profitable activity (e.g., PRO-
FEPA 2002, 2003, 2006-2010; Presidencia de la Rep´
2011) (Table 3). For example, in just 2 d PROFEPA re-
ported having seized 6000 m3(5 December 2007) and
9475 m3(4 December 2008) of wood.
Large-scale illegal logging was concentrated in a few
indigenous communities, primarily Crescencio Morales,
as Romero (both the ejido and the indigenous com-
munity), and Francisco Serrato in Michoac´
an and ejido
La Mesa in Estado de M´
exico. Crescencio Morales alone
had 45% of the total deforestation and degradation in the
entire core zones between 2001 and 2009. When the
monarch fund was originally designed in 2000, this com-
munity refused to participate and thus did not receive any
economic incentives to protect its forests. Logging was
large scale and its effects were exacerbated by internal
agrarian conflicts (Rend´
on-Salinas 2012). In 2007, WWF
engaged Crescencio Morales’s authorities to convince
them that protecting their forest could return better and
longer economic benefits than logging them. In 2009,
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
184 Monarch Butterflies in the Biosphere Reserve
Table 3. Illegal wood seized by Mexican authorities in the monarch
region 2002–2011 (PROFEPA 2002, 2003, 2006–2010; Presidencia de
la Rep´
ublica 2011).a
Year Volume (m3) Monetary value (US$)b
2002 5428 626,300
2003 6402 738,700
2004–2006 4765 550,000
2007 17,000 1,960,000
2008 9475c108,460
2009 1614 186,230
2010 3995 460,960
2011 1798 207,460
Total 41,942 4,838,000
aFigures for volume and monetary value are minimums because
large amounts of illegal wood are likely not detected or seized by
authorities before entering the local market or being transported
outside the region.
bEstimated by the authors on the basis of local market price
(Mex$1500 or US$115) per cubic meter of wood processed into
wooden planks.
cThis number was not found in the PROFEPA reports we examined,
but PROFEPA officials told Mexican newspaper La Jornada (4 Decem-
ber 2008) that this wood was seized from 12 sawmills that same day
estados&article =037n1est).
this community finally decided to join the monarch fund,
and also received economic support for economic alter-
natives and employment (e.g., establishment of commu-
nal nurseries trees) from WWF and its partners, which
promptly resulted in a sharp and steady decline in illegal
logging in the core zones (Table 1, Fig. 2). A similar sit-
uation in Nicol´
as Romero contributed to illegal logging
there, which accounted for 27% of total deforestation and
degradation in the core zones between 2001 and 2009.
Federal land (which is uninhabited) was also heavily af-
fected by illegal logging.
Small-scale logging is a serious and growing concern
for the conservation of the monarch sanctuaries and the
reserve. Its dynamics need to be better understood so as
to devise a strategy to curtail it. It was not until 2012,
when we compared photographs from 2001 with those
from 2011, that the considerable effect of this activity be-
came evident, mainly in Crescencio Morales and Nicol´
Romero indigenous communities. Primarily pine and oy-
amel fir are logged, and their wood is used mainly for
local housing construction and firewood. The wood is
sold locally.
In 2010 about 27,000 people lived in 93 agrarian
communities within the reserve’s buffer zones, 40 (38
agrarian communities, one federal property, one state
property) of which were located primarily in 10 mu-
nicipalities, including Angangeo, Contepec, Ocampo,
acuaro, Donato Guerra, San Jose del Rinc´
on, and Villa
de Allende. More than 1 million people live around the
reserve, many of them are from the Mazahua and Otom´
ethnic groups. Formerly based on mining and forestry,
the economy of the monarch butterfly region faces seri-
ous economic challenges, mostly in the form of scarce
and poorly paid jobs that encourage many to migrate
seasonally to neighboring Mexican states and the United
States (Galindo-Leal & Rend´
on-Salinas 2005) or even to
pursue illegal logging as a short-term option to cope with
the dire economic conditions, particularly in Michoac´
Basic services are concentrated in town centers and many
villages lack electricity and water and use firewood as
their main source of fuel. Local people work in agricul-
ture, livestock production, and forestry sectors. Many also
benefit from monarch-associated tourism: 87,335 people
visited (November to March) the different colonies in
2002–2003, 133,263 in 2003–2004, 126,896 in 2004–
2005, 54,515 in 2011–2012, and 72,591 in 2012–2013
(F. Mart´
ınez, personal communication).
Mexican federal and state authorities are to be com-
mended for the important enforcement, as well as finan-
cial (through payment for environmental services by the
National Commission on Forests of SEMARNAT) efforts
to protect the monarch reserve, in particular from 2007
to 2012. Their efforts and the strategic, uninterrupted,
decade-long financial support for generation of alterna-
tive income and employment (e.g., communal tree nurs-
eries, ecotourism, community-based surveillance, and
making and selling of handicrafts) by committed Mexi-
can and international philanthropists and businesses have
dramatically reduced large-scale illegal logging in recent
years. In 2012 we found no forest changes caused by
large-scale logging. However, more needs to be done
to address the region’s social and economic problems
and to ensure the long-term conservation of the reserve.
The forests in the buffer zones have been, and continue
to be, degraded significantly by unsustainable forest ex-
ploitation, fires, grazing, and agricultural expansion (J.L.-
G., unpublished), all of which would eventually play a
key role in further degrading the already degraded and
particularly vulnerable core zones.
Selective logging, such as both large-scale and small-
scale illegal logging within the monarch reserve, usually
removes only the larger and most valuable trees (Lawson
& McFaul 2010). Even small openings in the forest canopy
may cause a lessening in the temperature buffering pro-
vided by the oyamels at mid-heights of the forest, which
are the heights where monarch butterflies form their
clusters (Brower et al. 2011b). Selective logging also in-
creases edge effects through which forest fragmentation
and disturbance increase the ratio of edge-to-forest area.
The long-term risks associated with this effect include in-
creased susceptibility to wildfire, tree mortality, changes
in plant and animal species, and increased human use of
the land (Broadbent et al. 2008).
We believe the best conservation strategies to augment
the capacity of the monarch butterfly to respond to un-
predictable and changing climate-related conditions are
to protect its habitat from direct human disturbances,
such as illegal logging in Mexico and habitat loss and
Conservation Biology
Volume 28, No. 1, 2014
Vidal et al. 185
degradation in the United States and Canada, and to re-
store its habitat in the 3 countries. We think a strategy
needs to be devised and implemented as a matter of ur-
gency to address the socioeconomic and environmental
problems and opportunities of both the monarch reserve
and the region as a whole. We suggest a substantive in-
crease and more focused and coordinated action with
regards to the payments for environmental services to the
local communities and ejidos by the federal and state au-
thorities as part of a long-term investment in sustainable
economic activities, such as ecotourism and production
of trees. Those investments should be better coordinated
with the financial support provided by private donors and
the monarch fund. Simultaneously, federal, state, and mu-
nicipal authorities should implement a year-round and ef-
fective on-the-ground surveillance and law-enforcement
strategy to avoid the resurgence of large-scale logging and
to stop small-scale logging. Finally, we suggest implemen-
tation of a comprehensive, regional plan to create (and
maintain) new and better job opportunities, improve and
expand basic education for children and youth, improve
basic services (e.g., sanitation, electricity, and water), all
of which should be in partnership with the people living
in the region and take full account of their needs and
Municipal, state, and federal governments need to
work together to ensure this region follows a path to-
ward sustainable development. The role of the private
sector and national and international organizations is also
crucial. These entities need to augment their efforts and
investments and strengthen their collaboration with the
authorities and the local communities. Although the con-
centrated nature of monarch use of wintering habitat
makes it easy to quantify the loss of this habitat, it is
important to remember that the majority of monarchs
that winter in Mexico depend on habitat in the United
States and Canada for breeding and migrating. Concomi-
tant with overwintering habitat loss, there have been
large losses of breeding and migrating habitat. The di-
rect relation between the loss of milkweed host plants in
agricultural areas in the United States and the number of
monarchs wintering in Mexico was recently documented
by Pleasants and Oberhauser (2012). Thus, it is impor-
tant that citizens; local, state, and federal government
agencies; nonprofit organizations; and private donors in
the United States and Canada restore and protect habitat
within their own territories.
We dedicate this paper to C. Slim Hel´
u, who constantly
challenged us to look carefully at the socioeconomic di-
mensions of nature conservation. His engagement and
support to protect the monarch reserve over the last
decade is deeply appreciated. We also thank the indige-
nous communities and ejidos of the monarch reserve, H.
Slim, D. Hajj, M. Velasco, J. Rocher, J. Franco, C. Galindo,
C. Roberts, J. Elvira, E. Pe˜
na-Nieto, L. C´
ardenas-Batel, L.
Fueyo, J. P´
erez, J. Rickards, P. Cend´
on, M. A. ´
on General de Asuntos del
Personal Acad´
emico at Mexico’s National Autonomous
University, and FMCN. The WWF’s work in the reserve
was possible thanks to the generous financial support
of Telcel, Telmex, Carlos Slim Foundation, Yves Rocher
exico/France, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation,
WWF-UK, WWF-US, and Altos Hornos de M´
exico. Fig-
ures 1 and 3 were prepared by A. Mart´
This paper greatly benefited from the critical review and
comments of E. (Eddy Joe) Pfeiler, V. Radeloff, K. Ober-
hauser, E. Main, and an anonymous reviewer.
Note Added in Proof
Analyses completed by the authors in July 2013 showed
that 16.6 ha of forest (5.3 ha in Mexico state and 11.3 ha
in Michoac´
an state) were degraded in the reserve’s core
zones in 2013: 5.02 ha by large-scale logging, 3.96 ha by
small-scale logging, 3.95 ha by drought, and 3.69 ha by
tree removal for disease control.
Supporting Information
Information on techniques used to monitor forest cover
(Appendix S1) and aerial photographs of illegal logging
in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve (Appendix S2) are avail-
able online. The authors are responsible for the content
and functionality of these materials. Queries (other than
absence of the material) should be directed to the corre-
sponding author.
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Supplementary resource (1)

... The MBBR has been internationally recognized as an essential component of strategies for the conservation of the monarch butterfly migratory phenomenon due to the importance of its forests in which monarch overwintering colonies perch [9][10][11][12]. However, the MBBR has faced continuous forest cover losses [9,[13][14][15]. Specifically, illegal logging, forest fires, and diseases causing damage to trees in the reserve are severe problems directly affecting forest cover that have negative impacts on monarch overwintering colonies. ...
... Specifically, illegal logging, forest fires, and diseases causing damage to trees in the reserve are severe problems directly affecting forest cover that have negative impacts on monarch overwintering colonies. Further, the high demand for legal logging by local communities is also affected by these factors and has created social tensions between stakeholders from local communities and external agents participating in illegal activities [9,14,16,17]. ...
... Specifically, we quantified recent forest cover losses in the core zones of the MBBR from 2012 to 2018 using satellite images and aerial ortho-photographs complemented with field validation for temporal comparisons. Our goals were to (1) compare recent forest cover loss due to climate-related factors (wind and rain), and large-scale and small-scale illegal logging between years, and (2) analyze long-term forest cover losses in the core zones of the MBBR by comparing a previous study (2001-2012, Vidal et al., [14]) with our study (2012-2018). ...
... In the Ayuquila River Basin, where tropical dry forest dominates, a poverty index and the population size of settlements near the forests were positively correlated to the occurrence of forest degradation (Morales- Barquero et al., 2015;Borrego and Skutsch 2019), although this does not necessarily imply causation. In the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, illegal logging and social conflicts within and between communities were identified as the main factors behind forest degradation (Vidal et al., 2014). At the same time, the use of economic support policies for communities, as well as projects supporting alternative income sources, resulted in less illegal logging (Vidal et al., 2014). ...
... In the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, illegal logging and social conflicts within and between communities were identified as the main factors behind forest degradation (Vidal et al., 2014). At the same time, the use of economic support policies for communities, as well as projects supporting alternative income sources, resulted in less illegal logging (Vidal et al., 2014). In Oaxaca state, biophysical factors such as altitude, slope, distance to forest, settlements and roads, and social economic factors such as population pressure, economically active population, migration, illiteracy, access to health care services and social marginalization have also been related to both deforestation and degradation in the tropical dry forest (Guerra-Martínez et al., 2019), however, a clear distinction was not made between these two processes. ...
Full-text available
Forest degradation reduces biomass density, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and affects biodiversity and natural resources available for local communities. Previous studies have reported that gross emissions from forest degradation might be higher than from deforestation, due to the larger area affected by the first process. The quantification of forest degradation with remote sensing has large uncertainty, mainly because the subtle and gradual changes in forest are challenging to detect, and sometimes these changes happen below the canopy cover which the optical sensors cannot see. The objective of this work is to map the degraded forests and the most relevant biophysical and socio-economic factors contributing to such degradation in the dry tropics. We mapped the degraded forests by modeling forest biophysical parameters with multi-temporal optical data of Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 and identified the most relevant biophysical and socio-economic factors that can be associated with forest degradation. We included three biophysical variables and 11 socio-economic variables including parceled land and land in ejido property and used multiple linear regression to relate those variables with identified degraded forests. We identified 62,878 ha of tropical dry forest in a degraded state, cover 49.91% of the forest area. The most relevant biophysical factor was distance to settlements and the most relevant socio-economic factor was percentage of parceled land property (private land). Both factors were negatively associated with the mapped degraded forests. Since parceled land and land in ejido property are strongly and positively correlated (Pearson’s r = 0.82, p < 0.001), it suggests that ejido property, as a form of land tenure, plays an important role in preventing forest degradation. This experiment presents a possible way to measure and understand degradation which may help finding solutions to slow down forest degradation and promote forest restoration.
... For example, some claim significant forest cover recovery and a complete cessation of illegal logging (WWF, 2010) while others state that poverty, illegal logging, degradation and deforestation are still significant inhibitors to the recovery of the forest (Vidal et al., 2013). Aerial photographs evidence the latter as well as the currently and significantly limited areas occupied by overwintering butterflies (Brower and Aridjis, 2013;, Rendón-Salinas et al., 2015). ...
... Images within the border coordinates for each AN during the wet season were then reviewed to ensure no cloud cover and to be of a high enough visibility to determine forest cover (Ramirez-Herrera and Navarette-Pacheco, 2012). Images from 2006, 2010, and 2015 that were chosen as this period provided a baseline after the initial period of adjustment and logging events that were significant to the forest cover story for the Reserve from 2006 to 2010 and then from 2010 to 2015 when different interventions were implemented (Vidal et al., 2013). ...
Full-text available
Monitoring with the use of remote sensing is an instrumental component of natural resource management and conservation. Forests are an important global resource that impact a broad spectrum of terrestrial functions influencing global health. Land use change and other augmented risk factors (ex. disease vectors) reduce the resilience of the human population as well as ecosystem resilience and recovery. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR), an important human-natural system, has a mixed history of success and failure in forest management. A rapid appraisal and monitoring tool is presented to compliment conservation efforts on the ground in the MBBR and to provide a baseline for monitoring, assessment and comparison. The results are sectioned into four parts, representing each of the four different agrarian nuclei (AN). Matrices and maps are provided for all four AN as resulted from the imaging analysis and mapping in ArcGIS for the period 2006 to 2015. The results showed that the reported trends of decreases in forest cover loss with increases in forest cover gains were supported. This approach provided a baseline for monitoring forest cover change over time to determine use-patterns and impacts of interventions. It is a potentially non-invasive method if field visits are not possible, since the forest cover assessment is completed with GIS. It is also a method that encourages collaboration and facilitation of outreach to open participation and dialogue with local managers as well as visual maps to encourage the acceptance of the information and interventions.
... From the point of view of sustainability, communities have managed forests that are held as common pool resources with varying degrees of success (Vidal et al., 2014;Berkes, 2006;Sowman and Vynberg, 2014;Brower et al., 2016). As a result, there have been calls for systematic research approaches and innovative methods so that lessons from the efficient common pool resource (CPR) management systems can be scaled up and used to inform more efficient and strategic interventions (Agrawal, 2013;Sowman and Vynberg, 2014). ...
Full-text available
There have been calls for systematic research approaches and innovative methods so that lessons from efficient common pool resource (CPR) management systems be scaled up and used as models for more efficient and strategic interventions. As an example, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico has a varied history of management success and requires a new assessment approach to ensure long-term and consistent success, as threats from urban sprawl and climate change press in. The well-established critical list of variables for sustaining the commons, along with Bayesian causal networks were used as an integrative method to assess what variables were most relevant to current management conditions. The critical list is a list of qualified variables that are substantive in cases of successful common pool resource management. Bayesian causal networks show individual and conditional relationships in complex systems, easily integrating both qualitative and quantitative data. The aim of this study is to evaluate and contrast four sites that represent relatively successful sustainable forest management in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and determine whether full compliance with the critical list is necessary for management efficiency. Forest cover change was maintained above a threshold of > 0.03% forest cover loss inside the reserve in all cases, and was the proxy measure of overall forest management success. The BCNs signaled Small size and Well-defined boundaries (both in the resource system category and in the social group category), as the most influential both as single influence variables and with conditional influence, in all cases. Full compliance with the theoretical qualifications of the critical variables was not necessary for management success.
... Causes of monarch butterfly decline vary and their relative importance remains a topic of active research, with different threats more prominent in different areas (Inamine et al. 2016;Zaya et al. 2017); for example, overwintering sites in Mexico are especially vulnerable to logging and to range shifts caused by climate change (Sáenz-Romero et al. 2012;Vidal et al. 2014). Hazards along migratory pathways also contribute to population decline, as in some years floral resources are insufficient to fuel migration (Saunders et al. 2019). ...
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The long‐term health of pollinators is a critical issue for the functioning of natural habitats and for agricultural production. In response to widespread public concern about the future of these ecologically and economically important animals, in 2015 the US Government released a national strategy to support pollinators, including research priorities, directives for funding, and timelines for achieving three overarching goals. Five years after this strategic plan was released, we evaluate progress toward the national targets for improved honey bee (Apis mellifera) overwintering survival, expanded pollinator habitat, and larger monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) populations, and find that the three goals of the plan have not yet been reached. Our research and extension programs to improve the health of honey bees, wild bees, and monarch butterflies in the US state of Michigan are described, providing opportunities to contribute to the national pollinator goals.
Full-text available
How first‐time animal migrants find specific destinations remains an intriguing ecological question. Migratory marine species use geomagnetic map cues acquired as juveniles to aide long‐distance migration, but less is known for long‐distance migrants in other taxa. We test the hypothesis that naïve Eastern North American fall migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), a species that possesses a magnetic sense, locate their overwintering sites in Central Mexico using inherited geomagnetic map cues. We examined whether overwintering locations and the abundance of monarchs changed with the natural shift of Earth's magnetic field from 2004 to 2018. We found that migratory monarchs continued to overwinter at established sites in similar abundance despite significant shifts in the geomagnetic field, which is inconsistent with monarchs using fine‐scale geomagnetic map cues to find overwintering sites. It is more likely that monarchs use geomagnetic cues to assess migratory direction rather than location and use other cues to locate overwintering sites. Secular shifts in the Earth's geomagnetic field combined with a lack of change in abundance in the overwintering habitats of the migratory monarch butterfly indicate that it does not use an inherited geomagnetic map sense to locate overwintering sites.
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Introduction The steep population decline of the emblematic monarch butterfly is caused mainly by the reduction of food sources for caterpillars and adults, as well as disturbance in its overwintering forests. Although feeding at the overwintering sites in Mexico has long been considered unimportant, observations show that butterflies feed inside and outside of their forests on sunny days. Nectaring close to the hibernation colonies may be relevant for their conservation, as their reserves decline faster in disturbed forests. However, there are no systematic studies on nectar sources in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Michoacán, Mexico. Aims In this study, we identified and quantified the main plant species visited by butterflies for nectaring in the Reserve. Methods We collected systematic observational data on the flora and butterfly visits in three sanctuaries, around colonies formed between February and March of the 2019–2020 season. Results Butterflies fed on 29 plant species from 10 families. Most had white, yellow or blue flowers, were somewhat synanthropic and had their main flowering season in winter. The most visited species were Salvia mexicana and S. plurispicata, which were also the most abundant. By individual plant, Prunus serotina, Crataegus mexicana, Buddleja sessiliflora, Verbesina oncophora and Roldana albonervia were the most visited. Discussion/Implications for insect conservation The results point to possible interventions in support of the butterflies. The visited species are generally easy to encourage or cultivate and could be promoted in the surrounding agricultural areas.
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The hibernation sites of the monarch butterfly ( Danaus plexippus , L.) were discovered in central Mexico in 1975 and, following the decree of a protected area in 1986, processes of deforestation and forest degradation were triggered on the socially owned land in question. Further deterioration has occurred since the expansion and designation of the area as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in 2000. An innovative programme of economic incentives was established to compensate the affected properties in the core zone for curtailment of their forest use and to pay for environmental services; however, some of the agrarian communities were in disagreement with this programme. Orthophotographs from 1994 were compared with high-resolution satellite images from 2017 in order to determine forest-cover trends in the areas incentivized by Payment for Environmental Services to avoid deforestation and those areas that were not incentivized. The results show an overall recovery of 2% in forest area between 1994 and 2017, while a 5% increase in the deforested area is notable in the core zone. The findings indicate that, for the establishment of an effective protected area on social property lands, consensus must be achieved across all of the communities in order to avoid subsequent forest loss.
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One of Earth's foremost ecological challenges is the degradation of land habitats. This degradation is often caused by deforestation and desertification resulting from the unsustainable management of natural resources. Land restoration seeks to reverse this trend and repair ecosystems to better health. Indigenous peoples and local communities have a key role in realizing long-term, sustainable land restoration. Local and indigenous communities often have intimate knowledge of the local ecosystems and an interest in preserving ecosystem services. Areas managed by indigenous peoples and local communities especially overlap with remaining intact ecosystems and suffer from less deforestation than unprotected areas. Here, we discuss how the knowledge and engagement of local communities can improve the management, implementation, and monitoring of habitat restoration. However, there are also challenges to land restoration, and scientists and policymakers that can align restoration outcomes with community benefits gained from environmental stewardship and knowledge, are more likely to achieve long-term sustainable restoration success.
Eastern North American monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) embark on a yearly migration between summer breeding grounds in the northern United States and southern Canada and overwintering sites in central Mexico, traveling up to 4300 km. This annual multi‐generational migration cycle, like many seasonal natural phenomena, may be impacted by recent changes in climate and habitat. We investigated long‐term trends in monarch abundance and fall migration timing over a 29‐year period in Cape May, New Jersey, using data collected from daily population surveys designed to track patterns of occurrence during the fall migration period through Cape May (1 Sept – 31 Oct). Between 1992 and 2020, the migration midpoint, average peak migration date, and first peak migration date shifted between 16 and 19 days later in the season, an average of approximately six days per decade. This observed shift in migration timing is correlated with increasing temperatures in September and October in northeastern monarch breeding grounds over the study period. Our data do not demonstrate a significant directional trend in monarch abundance over the study period, yet population data collected at overwintering sites in Mexico indicate a substantial decline over the same period. Further postponement of fall migration may lead to lower migration success and exacerbate the overall decline of this iconic species.
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Ramírez Ramírez, M. Isabel, Ruth Miranda Guerrero, Raúl Zubieta Hernández (2008). Vegetación y Cubiertas del Suelo, 2006 (1:75000). Serie Cartográfica Monarca. Volumen I. Segunda Edición. MBSF-CIGA-UNAM-INE-SEMARNAT-UNESCO. 1000 ejemplares.
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Monarch butterflies form dense clusters in their overwintering colonies in the mountains of central Mexico, where forest cover provides protection from environmental extremes. We tested the hypothesis that the clustering behavior of the butterflies further moderates the microclimate they experience. We inserted hygrochrons (miniaturized digital hygrothermographs) into clusters for two-day periods during the 2006–07 and 2007–08 winters and compared temperature and relative humidity inside and outside the clusters. The inside of the clusters remained significantly warmer at night and significantly cooler during the day, with higher relative humidity during both day and night. Consequently, the butterflies inside the clusters may have gained some protection from freezing, reduced their rate of lipid burning, and lowered their rate of desiccation. The differences were small, but these studies were conducted during calm, moderate conditions, and the effects are likely to be more pronounced under more severe weather, including mid-winter storms and late season aridity. The microclimatic advantages of the monarchs' clustering behavior on fir boughs add to the known repertoire of the butterflies' overwintering adaptations to the high altitude environment that they occupy each year from November through March.
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During winter, monarch butterflies form dense colonies in oyamel fir forests on high mountains in central Mexico, where the forest canopy serves both as a blanket, moderating temperature, and an umbrella, shielding the butterflies from rain. In this study we investigated the vertical dimension of the butterflies' use of the oyamel forest: we predicted that clusters form at the heights above ground that provide the greatest protection from freezing. By suspending temperature recorders at eight heights, from ground level up to 22m, we established two vertical transects in the forest. We set one transect in a densely forested area and the other in a thinned area, and we recorded hourly temperatures from Jan 13 through Feb 5, 2006. Intermediate heights in the forest, from 10 to 15m above ground, remained the warmest during the cold night and early morning. We also determined that this temperature distribution matched available records of the vertical distribution of butterflies roosting in branch and trunk clusters. The vertical temperature profiles became uniform during mid-day. Temperature extremes were moderated more during clear than during cloudy periods and more in the denser than in the thinned forest. Our results illustrate how the monarch butterfly is behaviorally adapted to the three-dimensional complexity of microclimate in the oyamel forest. A denser forest provides better protection for the overwintering survival of monarch butterflies than a thinned forest. This research bolsters our other microclimatic studies, all of which point to the urgency of prohibiting logging within the oyamel forest used as wintering habitat by monarch butterflies.
Danaus plexippus overwintering in fir forests of Mexico's Transvolcanic Belt fall from their perches at once en masse in response to "disturbance' by people or other animals that traverse their colonies. Roosting butterflies were stimulated by movement, noise, wind and breath. Only breath is overwhelmingly effective in initiating the massive roost disintegrations observed. The response is temperature dependent; it begins c7°C and increases as temperature rises. This group behavior is likely an adaptation to confuse and disorient bird and possibly mouse predators, increase their reaction time thus allowing the escape of the prey. Advantage may accrue to an individual belonging to a group whose size enhances the startle-effect of roost disintegration. -from Author
1. The size of the Mexican overwintering population of monarch butterflies has decreased over the last decade. Approximately half of these butterflies come from the U.S. Midwest where larvae feed on common milkweed. There has been a large decline in milkweed in agricultural fields in the Midwest over the last decade. This loss is coincident with the increased use of glyphosate herbicide in conjunction with increased planting of genetically modified (GM) glyphosate-tolerant corn (maize) and soybeans (soya). 2. We investigate whether the decline in the size of the overwintering population can be attributed to a decline in monarch production owing to a loss of milkweeds in agricultural fields in the Midwest. We estimate Midwest annual monarch production using data on the number of monarch eggs per milkweed plant for milkweeds in different habitats, the density of milkweeds in different habitats, and the area occupied by those habitats on the landscape. 3. We estimate that there has been a 58% decline in milkweeds on the Midwest landscape and an 81% decline in monarch production in the Midwest from 1999 to 2010. Monarch production in the Midwest each year was positively correlated with the size of the subsequent overwintering population in Mexico. Taken together, these results strongly suggest that a loss of agricultural milkweeds is a major contributor to the decline in the monarch population. 4. The smaller monarch population size that has become the norm will make the species more vulnerable to other conservation threats.
During their 5-mo overwintering period in Mexico, tens of millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) form dense aggregations in forests dominated by oyamel fir trees (Abies religiosa). These forests provide a cool, moist environment that most monarchs use to maintain a state of reproductive diapause and to remain largely inactive until March, when they migrate back to the southern United States. In 1986, the Mexican government created the Monarch Butterfly Special Biosphere Reserve (MBSBR), but it is under pressure to allow forest extractions from core areas of the reserve. A recent argument to justify logging maintains that tree extraction would benefit monarchs by creating forest openings in which more plants would flower. The increased availability of nectar might mean that fewer monarchs would deplete their lipid contents, and therefore, more monarchs would survive the overwintering period. We investigated this hypothesis by comparing, throughout the overwintering period, lipid utilization and three other physical characteristics of monarch butterflies that were clustered on trees vs. monarchs that were collected while they visited flowers. Comparisons were also made with autumn migrants collected in Texas, successful spring migrants collected in the southern United States, and reproductively active summer generations collected in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We also examined changes in lipid mass during the annual cycle of eastern North American monarch populations. We found that clustered butterflies had significantly higher lipid mass, water content, lean mass, and larger wings than did monarchs collected from flowers. These differences were consistent throughout the overwintering period. Clustered monarchs consumed their lipid reserves passively in relation to the ambient temperature, as would be expected based on their resting metabolic rate. In contrast, a high proportion of flower-visiting monarchs had lipid masses close to zero; very few had medium or high lipid levels. This suggests that flower-visiting monarchs either maintained their lipid reserves at low levels by visiting flowers, but were unable to reach levels found in clustered monarchs, or that, as the flower visiting monarchs died, clustered monarchs with low lipid reserves departed from their roosting trees to visit flowers. Migrating monarchs collected in April in the southern United States had significantly higher lipid masses than did flower-visiting monarchs collected in March at the overwintering site. Furthermore, migrating monarchs arrived in the southern United States with <50% of the lipid mass found in clustered, overwintering monarchs in March. Due to this apparent cost of migration, we hypothesize that the cohorts of monarchs visiting flowers at the overwintering site may not be able to migrate successfully to breeding areas in the southern United States. Our data do not support the hypothesis that there is a need to create open areas in the core zones of the MBSBR to promote flower production for monarchs overwintering in Mexico. To the contrary, the pattern of lipid loss observed in monarchs clustered in shaded areas is consistent with the hypothesis that intact, closed forest is necessary for successful overwintering because it permits monarchs to conserve their lipid reserves for the spring migration.