Missouri Botanical Garden Open Conference Systems, TDWG 2014 ANNUAL CONFERENCE

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Butterfly monitoring in North America: impacts on science and opportunities for the future
Leslie Ries

Building: Elmia Congress Centre, Jönköping
Room: Rydbergsalen
Date: 2014-10-30 11:15 AM – 11:30 AM
Last modified: 2014-10-03


Butterfly monitoring has a long and unique history in North America.  One of the first large-scale citizen science program in existence was started by Fred Urquhart in the 1950s to find the location where monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) go during the winter.  After 25 years of this first-of-its-kind tagging program, the sites were found in Mexico in 1976.  At the same time, the first continental-scale butterfly monitoring program was launched and continues to run under the management of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).  This program currently surveys up to 500 sites per year and NABA has also launched two other programs to allow its members to report opportunistic data.  After these pioneer programs, there has been a surge in the establishment of butterfly monitoring programs over the last 20 years, with significant acceleration in the past five.  These programs include those focused on general butterfly communities as well as those focused solely on the monarch.  Here, we offer a broad overview of all butterfly monitoring in North America and a new effort to link the various programs through a network of practitioners, one focused on general butterfly programs (www.nab-net.org) and one focused solely on monarchs (www.monarchnet.org).  We will review the current state of data capture, management, storage, and sharing across the different groups.  Finally, we present the results of a recent review of the contributions of all butterfly monitoring to the accumulating knowledge of monarch biology. In what we believe is a first for a single organism, we quantified the amount of time volunteers spend collecting data and the degree to which citizen science has contributed to monarch scholarship. In 2011, we estimate that volunteers spent almost 72,000 hours collecting data on monarch distribution, abundance, behavior, and health. Of 503 monarch-focused research publications that presented new findings from 1940-2014, 17% utilized citizen science data. For papers using field-based data and published after 2000, when several large-scale programs were well established,  this value increased to 66% (when papers focused on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, where citizen participation is limited, are excluded). We also find that, in contrast to recent reviews, programs that are largely organized and run by citizens also contribute substantially to scholarship suggesting scientists do not need to be the primary force behind a program for it to be successful.  However, there are persistent gaps in the use and coverage of citizen science data, and we discuss how data management and sharing policies are one factor that is most likely to result in use, especially for publications. We also show that citizen science volunteers are deeply engaged in all aspects of monarch research, data use, and conservation.  This means that we should continue to expand our efforts to mobilize this “citizen army”, not just to further research, but to further our efforts towards conservation and action.