Monarch butterfly. (Photo by Karl Schilling)

A new report from Iowa State University that details efforts to boost monarch butterfly habitats statewide essentially finds, so far, so good.

Steven Bradbury, a professor of natural resource ecology and management at ISU, says thousands of landowners, farmers and backyard gardeners are joining in the cause, working to reestablish the milkweed and other native wildflowers that are vital to the iconic butterfly’s survival.

“We’ve, over the last seven years or so, established about 430,000 acres of monarch habitat,” Bradbury says, “and that’s about halfway to our moderate target goal of 790,000 acres by 2038.” The state’s conservation plan calls for creating new monarch habitats wherever possible in order to boost the insects’ population by as much as 25% per generation.

The report details how the number of acres isn’t the only key factor, but also where those acres are located. In addition, creating habitat near corn and soybean fields helps the monarchs, even if those fields are treated with insecticides. “I think if we can stay on the trajectory that all the members of the Iowa Conservation Consortium and all the folks in Iowa,” he says, “if we can continue to make progress like we have over the last seven years, I think we’re on a great trajectory for 2038 and getting those acres in the landscape.”

The report offers an overview of at least 20 ISU studies on monarchs, as well as work by other researchers. The consortium was formed seven years ago, a diverse partnership of more than 45 local, state and federal agencies and organizations. Working together, he says the message is being delivered about the vital role monarchs serve as pollinators and what individual Iowans can do to preserve them.

“Every bit helps, right?” Bradbury says. “So a small plot, a garden plot in urban areas in Iowa helps, and in the agricultural landscapes, if we can get one, two, three, maybe up to six-acre patches across the landscape, that can really maximize monarch production.”

The orange-and-black insects are a key element in providing pollination services to agriculture, estimated to be worth three-billion dollars a year. Researchers are using tiny radio transmitters to track female monarchs for insight into their flight patterns, as they fly sometimes dozens of miles a day.

The ISU report is being published this month in BioScience.