redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
US citizens love their monarch butterflies – so much so that they are apparently willing to contribute at least $4.78 billion dollars to conservation organizations working to protect the declining species, according to research published Monday in the journal Conservation Letters.
As part of the study, experts from the US Geological Survey (USGS), Colorado State University, the University of Minnesota, and others conducted a survey of American households. They found that, through a combination of payments and donations, they would be willing to contribute a one-time sum of up to $6.64 billion towards monarch conservation efforts – an amount close to what is contributed toward many endangered vertebrate species.
“Protecting migratory species is complex because they cross international borders and depend on multiple regions. Understanding how much, and where, humans place value on migratory species can facilitate market-based conservation approaches,” the study authors wrote. “We performed a contingent valuation study of monarchs to understand the potential for such approaches to fund monarch conservation.”
The survey asked US residents about the amount of money they would be willing to donate to animal protection groups working to help the butterfly, as well as the amount they would be willing to spend (or had already spent) growing plants that were monarch-friendly. If even a small percentage of those households made good on those promises, they said, it could generate considerable additional funding for monarch conservation efforts.
“The multigenerational migration of the monarch butterfly is considered one of the world’s most spectacular natural events,” lead author and USGS scientist Jay Diffendorfer said in a statement.
According to the USGS, monarch butterfly populations have been declining throughout much of the US, as well as Canada and Mexico, since 1999. A survey conducted last year of the wintering grounds of the butterfly species in Mexico showed the lowest colony size ever recorded, the researchers said. One factor believed to be playing a major role in the declining population numbers is the loss of milkweed, which monarch caterpillars feed upon.
“While many factors may be affecting monarch numbers, breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat loss are probably the main culprits,” said University of Minnesota monarch biologist Karen Oberhauser, one of the study’s co-authors. “In the US, the growing use of genetically-modified, herbicide-tolerant crops, such as corn and soybeans, has resulted in severe milkweed declines and thus loss of breeding habitat.”
“This is the first nation-wide, published, economic valuation survey of the general public for an insect. The study indicates that economic values of monarch butterflies are potentially large enough to mobilize people for conservation planting and funding habitat conservation,” added John Loomis of Colorado State University, who served as the lead economist on the study.
He and his colleagues suggest that their findings could lead to the emergence of a market for plants that are friendly to the monarch, which is the official insect or butterfly of seven different US states. After all, according to the National Gardening Association’s annual survey, households that identified themselves as “do-it-yourselfers” spent more than $29 billion in related retail sales last year.
“The life cycle of monarchs creates opportunities for untapped market-based conservation approaches. Ordinary households, conservation organizations, and natural resource agencies can all plant milkweed and flowering plants to offset ongoing losses in the species’ breeding habitat,” Diffendorfer said.
“By reallocating some of those purchases to monarch-friendly plants, people would be able to contribute to the conservation of the species as well as maintain a flower garden,” he added. “Helping restore the monarch’s natural habitat, and potentially the species’ abundance, is something that people can do at home by planting milkweed and other nectar plants.”