Monarch butterflies join the Red List of endangered species, thanks to habitat loss, climate change and pesticides

On July 21, 2022, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature placed the migratory monarch butterfly on its Red List of threatened species and classified it as endangered. Monarchs migrate across North America each year and are one of the continent’s most widely recognized species. The Conversation asked Oklahoma State University biologist Kristen Baum, who has studied pollinators for more than 25 years, to explain the listing’s implications for the monarch butterfly in the U.S.

What is the IUCN, and what does its action mean?

The IUCN is a network of public, private and nonprofit organizations that work to conserve nature worldwide. The Red List, which was developed in 1964, provides a standardized approach for assessing the extinction risks of species. Listing the monarch butterfly draws attention to its status and to areas where more research is needed to understand factors contributing to its decline.

The IUCN listing applies to the migratory subspecies of the monarch butterfly, or Danaus plexippus plexippus. There are two migratory populations: one east and one west of the Rocky Mountains.

The eastern population migrates thousands of miles from overwintering sites in central Mexico to breeding grounds in the Upper Midwest and southern Canada. The western population migrates from overwintering sites along the Pacific Coast in California and Baja California in Mexico to breeding grounds west of the Rocky Mountains. Monarchs in other locations throughout the world, such as in Europe and many Pacific Islands, don’t migrate and are not part of the listing.

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