Grassland disturbance increases monarch butterfly oviposition and decreases arthropod predator abundance

Nathan L. Haan, Douglas A. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Many species of conservation concern depend on disturbance to create or maintain suitable habitat. We evaluated effects of disturbance on the eastern migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus L.), which has declined markedly in recent decades, primarily attributed to the loss of milkweed host plants from annual crop fields in the US Midwest. Currently, remaining milkweeds in this region primarily occur in perennial grasslands, where disturbance is infrequent, predatory arthropods are abundant, and seasonal patterns of plant phenology differ from crop fields. In a two-year study in Michigan, USA, we applied three treatments to 23 patches of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.); one-third of each patch was left undisturbed, while the remaining thirds were mowed in either mid-June or mid-July, respectively, and allowed to regenerate. We subsequently measured effects on monarch oviposition, predator abundance, survival of sentinel eggs and larvae, and tested how milkweed phenology and aphid colonization—both of which are reset by disturbance—structure predation risk for immature monarchs. Monarchs laid more eggs on regenerating versus undisturbed stems under both mowing regimes. Predators were strongly suppressed by mowing treatments, requiring 2–4 weeks to recolonize milkweed after disturbance, and were more abundant on flowering or aphid-infested stems. We found no significant differences in monarch egg/larval survival, although it tended to be higher in mowed plots. Overall, monarchs laid more eggs on regenerating stems where their offspring may also experience enemy-free space. Future work should focus on testing grassland disturbance as a management tool to improve productivity of existing monarch breeding habitat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-192
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Butterfly conservation
  • Disturbance
  • Grasslands
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Predation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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