Iconic western monarch butterfly nearing extinction

Photo courtesy of WSU-Vancouver.

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- The western monarch butterfly is all but gone.

WSU researchers say their numbers have declined 97% in the last few decades, driving them dangerously close to extinction. But util now, data on their number has been limited, so the species isn't even listed as "endangered."

Biologist Cheryl Schultz says, "if [the numbers] continue going down at the rate we're going down now, we could lose these populations of migratory monarchs in the next few decades."

Distinct from the eastern monarch, the species breeds in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah then migrates to coastal California for the winter. Schultz suspects the loss of that wintering habitat and a decline in breeding grounds as potential causes, though more research is needed.

But she says the western monarch can still be saved. Schultz says a similar species was nearing extinction in Oregon back in the 1990s, but conservation efforts were able to save it.

Schultz' research appears in the journal Biological Conservation.

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