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  • Andy Davis

Are monarchs declining? Most people think so

This week I'm going to be talking about a small online survey I recently conducted, that some of my readers may have even participated in. I sent the link to it out on dplex, as well as a couple of facebook sites for monarch people, and I was happy to get a bunch of people to participate in it. It was a survey about people's opinions regarding the status of the eastern monarch population, and I was conducting it so that I could get some material for an upcoming presentation. Next month I will be speaking about the monarch population status, and the recent collection of monarch papers in the Annals of the Entomological Society, at a meeting in Morelia, MX, along with a number of other monarch scientists. For my talk, I wanted to get some sense of how the public (or at least the 'monarch public') has percieved the collection of papers and their results. I believe this survey has done this, and I'll explain here.

So I made this survey using a free survey-maker, and I created 7 simple questions for folks to answer. As of right now, a total of 59 people have taken the survey, which I think is a fair sample of 'monarch folks'.

So the survey started with a question about the level of knowlege of the participants (see graph below). The majority of people responded they have a knowledge about monarchs that is better than average, and some considered themselves experts. Collectively then, over 85% of the people taking the survey knew what they were doing when it came to monarchs. This was good because one of the things I wanted to know was where do people get their knowledge about monarchs, and you need 'knowledgeable' people for this.

So the next question was about where people get their information about monarchs. This question had multiple possible answers. Here I wanted to see how much influence the internet sources have on people's knowledge, as compared to the more acurrate scientific sources. For this I mean things like webpages, blogs (like this one!), email listservs, etc. The answer was not that surprising to me, but it may be to some people... It looks like the majority of information people use comes from the internet. I guess that means that blogs like this one carry just as much influence over people as do scientific studies! I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. To be fair, of all of the people who considered themselves 'experts', they tended to just use the scientific literature.

Next was the primary question in my survey, and the one I was most interested in (at least for my presentation). I wanted to know how many people have read some or all of the scientific articles in the recent monarch collection in the Annals. The answer here was interesting - the majority of people have not read the articles, although it was not as lopsided as I would have expected. Some folks actually did read the articles - yay.

Next was another biggie - it was a very simple question, but one that is very telling, which I'll explain later on. I asked, are monarchs in eastern North America declining? And the overwhelming majority of people said yes.

I'll skip a couple of questions here and just show one more. I asked people to list the top priorities for monarch conservation, and they could choose multiple answers here. Everyone believes that the top priorities for monarchs should be to enhance breeding and overwintering habitats.

So from the answers to these questions I can draw several conclusions.

Conclusion #1. People get a lot of information about monarchs from the internet, perhaps even too much - for some people, this was their ONLY source of information. To be fair, I solicited participants for the survey using the dplex and facebook (i.e. the internet), so the respondents were likely heavy 'internet-users' to begin with. In any case, as I said before, I'm not sure if this is such a good thing for the internet to be the main source of information about monarchs. This means that any old website someone makes (like Billy-Bob's Monarch Page) can have just as much influence over people as does the scientific literature on monarchs. I'm actually not that surprised at this, and in fact, it's one of the reasons I started this blog. After many years of conducting research on monarchs, it became clear to me that we scientists need to be doing a better job at reaching the people on the ground who are doing the actual conservation stuff. In other words, not everyone reads our scientific papers, even when those papers contain vital information that can guide those conservation efforts. So it looks like if we want to reach people, we need to put the information on the internet.

Conclusions # 2. While some people have read the new collection of papers on monarch populations, the majority have not. This might be related to the prior conclusion, but then again, it might not. The entire collection of papers is in fact freely downloadable, the last I checked, so this collection is at least 'on the internet'. So the only reasons people may not have read these papers is that they did not want to wade through the scientific mumbo-jumbo, or they were perhaps even unaware of the collection to begin with. This is a little unfortunate, because if there were ever papers that everyday people needed to read about monarchs, it it these. This collection of papers contains a wealth of information about the current status of monarchs, and this information should be of use to those folks who do monarch conservation.

Conclusion # 3. Most people believe the eastern monarch population is declining, and that enhancing the breeding habitat is what we should be doing about this. This is another interrelated issue with the prior questions. In the collection of new papers, there was a lot of information about monarch populations, but importantly, some of the papers showed that there have been declines in certain life stages, and some showed there have been no declines in other stages. The take-home message from this whole collection, therefore, should be that the monarch situation is complicated. This collection of studies certainly does not reinforce the narrative that 'monarchs are declining' by any means. So if people truly did read this collection, they should have taken that message away from it (it's complicated). But, it looks like this was not the case, since 90% of the respondents still believe that the answer is simple - monarchs are declining, period. Thus, either people did read the collection and did not accept the results of the studies (at least those that showed no declines), or they did not read it at all. Either way, this makes me think that this collection of papers did not have much of an influence over the monarch faithful. As the person who organized the collection, this is a little disapointing.

So as not to end on a low note, I will say that this survey was a bit of a success, in that it did provide me with lots to talk about at the upcoming meeting, and it did give me some insights into the minds of the monarch faithful. I just may do another one someday...


The science of monarch butterflies

A blog about monarchs, written by a monarch scientist, for people who love monarchs

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