Global Warming May Poison Monarch Butterflies, Study Finds


Published:

A monarch butterfly feeds on tropical milkweed.

Photo by Korall via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed and its poisonous compounds that are deadly to most other insects. But a new study finds global warming may be making the very plant monarch butterflies need to survive too toxic even for them.

Their vibrant red-orange wings with contrasting black veins and white dots make monarchs (Danaus plexippus) easy to recognize not only to humans but also to birds on the lookout for a snack. It’s a warning that tells would-be predators an important message: Poisonous – do not eat.

Monarchs get their protective poison from the milkweed plant, which is actually a group of species nested under the genus Asclepias. The great Swedish botanist and founder of modern taxonomy Carl Linneaus named this group after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the plant’s use in traditional medicine. But milkweed plants also have a deadly side. They produce compounds called cardenolides that are steroids capable of stopping the heart.

A monarch caterpillar feasts on a milkweed leaf. Photo by USFWS Mountain-PrairieScientists believe milkweed plants produce cardenolides as a defense against plant-eating insects and other animals. But some species have coevolved around this defense. And some, like monarch butterflies, don’t just cope with these toxins – they’re able to sequester them in their tissue to make themselves poisonous and bad tasting to their own predators.

Because of their unique defense, monarch butterflies are obligate feeders on milkweed, and their caterpillars cannot eat anything else. This relationship is a risky one, and monarchs seem to be paying a price; their numbers have plummeted in recent decades and scientists think it’s due in large part to the reduction of milkweed in the U.S. and Canada from increased herbicide use. (Other factors, like deforestation of monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico, may also be contributing to their decline.)

But now, scientists say they have discovered another threat to monarchs. In a study recently published in the journal Ecology, researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) put forth findings that indicate global warming may be making remaining milkweed plants more toxic.

A monarch caterpillar tastes the flower of a tropical milkweed plant. Photo by Judy Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)The study found that one of the monarch’s favorite milkweed species, Asclepias curassavica, commonly called tropical milkweed, responds to warmer temperatures by producing more cardenolides. The researchers say that monarchs prefer this species because it tends to have more cardenolides than milkweed native to North America, but that they can withstand these toxins only up to a certain point.

“It’s a Goldilocks situation for monarch butterflies. Too few of these chemicals in the milkweed, and the plant won’t protect monarch caterpillars from being eaten,” said Bret Elderd, associate professor in the LSU Department of Biological Sciences. “But too high of a concentration of these chemicals can also hurt the monarchs, slowing caterpillar development and decreasing survival.”

Tropical milkweed is prized not only by monarchs but by humans as well. With its attractive, long-lasting orange flowers and leaves that don’t shed, gardeners often opt for this species over native species – planting it has even been touted as a way to help monarchs – and it is now widespread throughout the southern U.S. But at current warming trends, Elderd and his team found that tropical milkweed there may get too toxic for monarchs within the next 40 years. Or sooner, if heat waves hit the region.

“If I’m a monarch butterfly, and I’m responding to past environmental conditions, I’ll lay my eggs on A. curassavica,” Elderd said. “But under conditions of global warming, I’ll be doing my offspring a disservice without knowing it.”

This isn’t the first strike for tropical milkweed when it comes to monarch butterflies. Previous research found monarchs that were raised on tropical milkweed tended to change their migration behavior and have higher rates of disease and parasitic infection.

Unlike tropical milkweed, swamp milkweed (Ascelpias incarnata) is native to North America and produces fewer toxic cardenolides. The researchers say this is a better choice for monarchs in a warming world. Image from the public domain.Elderd and his team hope their study will help further understanding of the complex impacts climate change may have on wildlife, and inform better decision-making on the part of conservationists.

“Overall, we have shown the importance of examining how species interactions may respond to abiotic changes due to climatic drivers,” the authors write in their study. “This is particularly true for specialists and their response to global warming.

“Without gaining proper insight into how these interactions shift as the planet warms, we may be unwittingly setting ecological traps.”

Citation: Faldyn, M. J., Hunter, M. D., & Elderd, B. D. (2018). Climate change and an invasive, tropical milkweed: an ecological trap for monarch butterflies. Ecology.

This article was republished from Mongabay.

See also:
How We Can All Help Save Monarch Butterflies
Pesticide Reduction: A Goal For American Agriculture

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 15, 2018

The working week begins under promising skies. Mental faculties are sharp and morning traffic flows smoothly. The industrious Capricorn Moon is favorably aligned with Mercury and Venus in Scorpio, a celestial “whistle while you work” signature…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2018

October 14 - 18 Join the acclaimed Grandmaster William C. C. Chen for an intensive five-day Tai Chi Chuan Fall Retreat. Knowledge of the Yang-style short form is a requirement for participation....

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

October 14 - November 19 60 PDAs A 36 day retreat in which acclaimed Qigong master, Junfeng Li, will meditate and practice not only Sheng Zhen Gong daily, but will also share traditions that...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

Lunare is open to magickal vendors and holistic practitioners wishing to offer their spiritual goods and services to an audience interested in all things mystical. General admission to...

Cost: Free general admission, lecture tickets $15

Where:
Hunt Memorial Building
6 Main St
Nashua, NH  03064
View map »


Sponsor: Lunare Mystics
Telephone: 603-801-2113
Contact Name: Alyssa O'Mara
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Psychic Medium Diane Lewis for gallery style readings. Diane will be connecting to spirit delivering messages from those who have crossed over. Don't miss this free event sponsored by...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hopkinton Public Library
13 Main Street
Hopkinton, MA, MA  01748
View map »


Sponsor: Hopkinton Public Library
Telephone: 617-645-6415
Contact Name: Diane Lewis
Website »

More information

Break emotional patterns that keep you stuck in the pain of addictive habits. Heal mental trauma through physical practices involving movement, breath, and meditation.

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga At The Ashram
Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

With Carrie Rowan Wednesday evenings at 7pm, a 4-week introductory class that teaches quick energy medicine tools, mini meditations to help moms/dads and caregivers reduce stress and stay calm...

Where:
Fitzgerald Institute
Northboro, MA


Telephone: (508) 273-2610
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 18 - 21 Magnetic-harmonic vibrational therapist, Jay Emmanuel, A.K., N.S.,V.M. shares powerful energy techniques that use the forces of sounds produced by the human voice in combination...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

Course participant experiences:  “After this course, I learned how to recognize where I hold my tension and release it.”  “My favorite part of the program is the...

Cost: $650

Where:
CHA Center for Mindfulness & Compassion
26 Central Street
2nd Floor Community Room
Somerville, MA  02143
View map »


Sponsor: CHA Center for Mindfulness & Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Bridget Kiley
Website »

More information

The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation) is an innovative holistic curriculum addressing the current health crisis and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

14 CEU Credits for Massage/Bodywork Therapists! Oct 19-21: Chi Nei Tsang And...pre-weekend women only event: Oct 18: Women’s Sexual Ecstacy - 1-6pm/6CEUs Chi Nei...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

October 19 - 20 (Workshop runs 10-5 both days) When the phase of the Sixth Sun began with the eclipse of July 11, 2010 it was time, according to Sergio’s teacher, for the ancient...

Where:
Natick Mariott Courtyard
Natick, MA


Contact Name: Sandy Corcoran
Website »

More information

With Yogi Amandeep Adi Shakti represents all divine energies. When activated, she manifests herself as creativity, prosperity, wisdom. Rare workshop uniting ancient science of Kundalini...

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village St
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Connect with the ancient wisdom of yoga. Learn how yoga practices are designed to address life’s problems, such as work stress, relationship difficulties, and common mental health issues. Be...

Cost: $40

Where:
Yogalife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

No previous experience is required for this Friday evening event. It is essential for students who are unfamiliar with using the Pathway Prayer Process© and who plan to attend the 2-day...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom - New location late Summer '18
386 Merrimack Street
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Bee Kind Music Class with Carrie Rowan inspires a love to music in little ones. 10am on Fridays for 8 weeks at Playtown Express in Southboro. To register call (508) 480-0022 or...

Where:
Playtown Express
150 Cordaville Road
Southboro, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-273-2610
Website »

More information

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” — Sanskrit Proverb Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the healing...

Cost: $40 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Museum of Modern Renaissance
115 College Avenue
Somerville, MA  02144
View map »


Sponsor: HolotropicMA
Contact Name: Allen Howell M.Ed. LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Refresh, refocus, simplify. Discover easy tools and strategies to prepare for an incredible holiday season. 8:00–8:30 Registration open 8:30–8:35 Welcome 8:35–9:20 Circle...

Cost: $99

Where:
Women’s Health Resource Center
9 Hanover Street
Lebanon, NH  03766
View map »


Sponsor: Almstrom Financial, Green Mt. Hypnosis, Patti Friedman, Eva Loomis
Telephone: (603) 650-2600
Contact Name: Women’s Health Resource Center

More information

October 20 - 21 Early Bird Special! Register before September 30 and save $45! Prerequisite: Be familiar with accessing the Akashic Records through the Pathway Prayer Process© either...

Cost: $350 before September 30

Where:
Circles of Wisdom - New location late Summer '18
386 Merrimack Street
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

See all that is new at Dragonfly! Come and meet our new practitioners and teachers and learn about the innovative holistic modalities that are being offered. Participate in free classes, see...

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd.
Devens, MA  MA
View map »


Telephone: 978-487-7181
Website »

More information

October 20 & 21, 10:30am-6:30pm Practices and Approaches for PTSD, Depression and Anxiety with Erin Byron, MA, E-RYT500, C-IAYT, YACEP, Licensed Mental Health Professional Experiment with...

Cost: $325

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

The shamanic rattle is a sacred tool that can be used to shift into an altered state of consciousness, sense and track energy, and heal the energetic body, which contains the codes underlying...

Cost: $40

Where:
Akasha Studio
20 Birch Street
Roslindale, MA  02131
View map »


Sponsor: Miriam Katz, Shamanic Healer
Telephone: 617-545-5142
Contact Name: Miriam Katz
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags