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Local and cross‐seasonal associations of climate and land use with abundance of monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus

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Quantifying how climate and land use factors drive population dynamics at regional scales is complex because it depends on the extent of spatial and temporal synchrony among local populations, and the integration of population processes throughout a species’ annual cycle. We modeled weekly, site‐specific summer abundance (1994–2013) of monarch butterflies Danaus plexippus at sites across Illinois, USA to assess relative associations of monarch abundance with climate and land use variables during the winter, spring, and summer stages of their annual cycle. We developed negative binomial regression models to estimate monarch abundance during recruitment in Illinois as a function of local climate, site‐specific crop cover, and county‐level herbicide (glyphosate) application. We also incorporated cross‐seasonal covariates, including annual abundance of wintering monarchs in Mexico and climate conditions during spring migration and breeding in Texas, USA. We provide the first empirical evidence of a negative association between county‐level glyphosate application and local abundance of adult monarchs, particularly in areas of concentrated agriculture. However, this association was only evident during the initial years of the adoption of herbicide‐resistant crops (1994–2003). We also found that wetter and, to a lesser degree, cooler springs in Texas were associated with higher summer abundances in Illinois, as were relatively cool local summer temperatures in Illinois. Site‐specific abundance of monarchs averaged approximately one fewer per site from 2004–2013 than during the previous decade, suggesting a recent decline in local abundance of monarch butterflies on their summer breeding grounds in Illinois. Our results demonstrate that seasonal climate and land use are associated with trends in adult monarch abundance, and our approach highlights the value of considering fine‐resolution temporal fluctuations in population‐level responses to environmental conditions when inferring the dynamics of migratory species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2018

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