Long-term trends in midwestern milkweed abundances and their relevance to monarch butterfly declines

David N. Zaya, Ian S. Pearse, Greg Spyreas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Declines in monarch butterfly populations have prompted investigation into the sensitivity of their milkweed host plants to land-use change. Documented declines in milkweed abundance in croplands have spurred efforts to promote milkweeds in other habitats. Nevertheless, our current understanding of milkweed populations is poor. We used a long-term plant survey from Illinois to evaluate whether trends in milkweed abundance have caused monarch decline and to highlight the habitat-management practices that promote milkweeds. Milkweed abundance in natural areas has not declined precipitously, although when croplands are considered, changes in agricultural weed management have led to a 68% loss of milkweed available for monarchs across the region. Midsuccessional plant communities with few invasive species provide optimal milkweed habitat. The augmentation of natural areas and the management of existing grasslands, such as less frequent mowing and woody- and exotic-species control, may replace some of the milkweed that has been lost from croplands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-356
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Asclepias
  • Danaus plexippus
  • herbivory
  • host breadth
  • migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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