Mexican reserves fail to protect monarch butterflies

Despite decades of legal protection, the billion or so monarch butterflies that overwinter in Mexico are losing the cloudbelt forests they depend on. New research shows that logging in these forests has actually increased and, if unchecked, will destroy most of the monarch's overwintering habitat within decades.

Up to a billion monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico's cloudbelt forests, and the government has legally protected them for decades. But new research shows that timber harvest in and around these reserves has actually increased and that, at the current rate, logging will destroy most of the monarch's overwintering habitat within decades.

"Our findings reflect the limitations of government-mandated protection decrees as deterrents to habitat degradation," say the researchers. "The grandeur of the monarch butterfly overwintering phenomenon in this tiny area of Mexico is too great a cultural and biological treasure for this rampantly destructive process to continue."

This work is presented in the April issue of Conservation Biology by Lincoln Brower, who was then at the University of Florida at Gainesville and is now at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, and seven Mexican co-authors.

Every fall, the eastern North American monarch butterflies migrate to mountain forests in central Mexico, where they overwinter in dense clusters on the boughs and trunks of oyamel firs. The 30 or so overwintering sites are in a cloudbelt that protects the butterflies from freezing on cold nights and from dessicating during the winter dry season. Since these overwintering sites were discovered in 1975, there have been three presidential decrees protecting them (in 1980, 1986 and 2000). But logging has still continued in and around the monarch butterfly reserves.

To assess the effects of this logging, Brower and his colleagues compared aerial images of a major overwintering area th

Contact: Lincoln Brower
Society for Conservation Biology

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