Engaging Citizens with Monarch Butterfly Research and Conservation

In my last blog post, I introduced myself and the resource monitoring work I will be doing at Dinosaur National Monument later this summer. I will be lucky to spend time in the field collecting data on Monarch Butterflies, as well as working on projects to educate visitors about the butterflies. I expect that there will be lots of families visiting Dinosaur to see the fossils – young kids are notorious for loving dinosaurs and wanting to be paleontologists! I hope that I can teach these visitors a little something about (living) biodiversity at Dinosaur too.

In my science communication role, I will be working to develop new interpretive programs that educate the public about butterfly research at Dinosaur National Monument. I will also help with existing interpretive programs related to the fossils and other attractions at the monument. Most of my experiences prior to this internship have been focused solely on research, so I am very excited to interact with everyday people visiting Dinosaur to teach them about what I do. I also am interested in science and nature writing, so I look forward to writing about my experiences for the LHIP blog and other media supported by Dinosaur NM or its partners in Monarch conservation/research. 

Along with educating people about research, I will also be promoting citizen science so that people themselves can get involved in monarch research. Citizen science is already a huge part of Monarch Butterfly research. Communities across the country keep an eye out for Monarch Butterflies during migration seasons. When Monarchs arrive at a location, the public enters their observations online. With information coming in from all sorts of people across the country, scientists can create maps that show when and where Monarch populations appear. Meanwhile, when citizens or biologists put small identification tags on individual butterflies and record when they see a tagged individual, we can track the fate of individuals to see their exact migration routes. Monarchs are a famously charismatic and beautiful species, which makes people excited to be citizen scientists of Monarchs.

We think that Western Monarchs migrate to coastal California (as opposed to Mexico for eastern populations), however we need more data from citizen scientists and biologists to have a better understanding of the migration patterns. During my internship, I will be teaching people how to collect data on butterflies. I also may have the chance to be involved in some big citizen programs to get many citizens to Dinosaur to catch adult Monarchs and then apply tags. With the help of citizens, biologists can get so much more data than if they were working alone.

Finally, it is important for the public to engage with butterfly research and conservation so that they can learn the easy things they can do to help conserve Monarchs. People can plant and protect milkweed to provide breeding habitat for butterflies. People also should understand the negative impacts of chemical herbicides or insecticides on butterflies. Monarch migrations in the West have been declining over the years, and it’s vital for individual citizens to do what they can to maintain this amazing species and its incredible migrations. This summer, I hope that by teaching people about Monarchs and getting them involved in citizen science, I will encourage them to become protectors of Monarchs. I start my internship about one month from now and am very excited to begin my work.

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