Planting milkweed in cities could save monarch butterflies

An image to illustrate monarch butterflies
© iStock/David Osberg

A new study from Field Museum observed that milkweed plants in cities could save monarch butterflies.

The population of monarch butterflies has declined by over eighty percent in the last twenty years. Researchers have warned that if milkweed continues to decline in the United States the butterflies could die out, as it is the only plant they can lay their eggs on.

The new studies published in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution focus on planting milkweed in cities to save monarch butterflies.

Does nature need cities?

Abigail Derby Lewis, a senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum and lead author of the paper “Does Nature Need Cities?” said: “Metropolitan areas actually matter for wildlife conservation, and that’s especially true for pollinators like the monarch that can survive with very small patches of habitat.”

Derby Lewis added: “There’s an assumption that cities are not important places for plants and animals, but that’s because no one had looked at these landscapes in a systematic way, or at the collective impact from many small-scale plantings across large urban geographies.”

The milkweed necessary to save monarch butterflies

Mark Johnston, a conservation ecologist at the Field and lead author of the team’s second paper, commented: “This approach to examining metropolitan landscapes allows us to ‘see’ cities in a way we haven’t been able to before, and this enables us to get a better estimate of how much potential space there is to create habitat. We think that cities could support 15 to 30 percent of the milkweed that’s needed to save monarchs.”

Changing attitudes to urban gardening

According to Field Museum, Derby Lewis and Johnston are passionate about shifting societal norms of what is desirable in neighbourhood gardens. Johnston concludes: “I would encourage people to question the grassy lawns that dominate our urban landscape-could we plant something else that would provide habitat for Monarchs and other wildlife?”

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