Recruitment, survival, and parasitism of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in milkweed gardens and conservation areas

Emily A. Geest, L. La Reesa Wolfenbarger, John P. McCarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are suffering from declining populations and conservationists have encouraged planting milkweed gardens in urban and suburban landscapes to help offset habitat loss across the breeding range. The effectiveness of gardens as a conservation strategy depends on their ability to attract ovipositing adults and the survival of monarch larvae in these gardens. Larvae are susceptible to a variety of predators as well as to parasitism by a tachinid fly (Lespesia archippivora) and a protozoan parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) which cause lethal or sublethal effects, yet the severity of these risks in gardens is not well understood. We compared egg abundance and larval survival in traditional conservation areas to gardens that incorporated milkweed to attract monarchs. Additionally, we collected late instar larvae and reared them in the lab to compare parasitism rates between monarch gardens and conservation areas. Both gardens and conservations sites varied widely in recruitment and survival of monarchs and there were no significant differences between the garden and conservation sites. Tachinid fly parasitism ranged from 30% of larvae from conservation sites in 2016 to 55% of larvae from gardens in 2017, but did not differ between the two categories of sites. Parasitism by O. elektroscirrha was detected in fewer than 2% of larvae. The density of milkweed had no effect on the number of monarch eggs in conservation areas or gardens in either year. Milkweed density had no effect on tachinid parasitism in conservation areas but had a significant effect in gardens with lower numbers of milkweed stems increasing tachinid parasitism in 2016. Gardeners planted a variety of species of milkweed and Asclepias syriaca was the most commonly used host plant for monarch larvae (85%). Overall, our results suggest that milkweed gardens have the potential to contribute to successful monarch reproduction. However, the variation among sites and the lack of recruitment from some gardens emphasizes that the realization of this potential contribution will depend on the quality of gardens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-224
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Insect Conservation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019


  • Conservation
  • Danaus plexippus
  • Lespesia archippivora
  • Milkweed gardens
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Parasitoids
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Insect Science


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