With migration in mind, uOttawa study examines Monarch butterflies’ drinking habits

A monarch butterfly
Sonika Agarwal
Associate Professor Heather Kharouba from uOttawa’s Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, is leading a project with an eye to understanding the endangered insect’s eating habits within the Ottawa area, which will help better understand how local nectar sources aid with autumn migration.

Professor Kharouba provides some insight into the research.

What are you studying?
We have a greenhouse experiment underway looking at how monarch butterflies are using plants in the Ottawa area. We want to know how valuable different plant species are in terms of their nectar quality. We're looking at this last generation of monarchs to see how it'll affect their fat reserves, which affects their migration ability. We're looking at both native and non-native plants in old fields in the greenbelt.”

Why is it important to study this?
This research is being carried out to provide the Canadian Wildlife Service with recommendations regarding flower species that can be used in restoration activities (funded by the Habitat Stewardship Program), evaluating the benefits of native and non-native flower species in Canada. This is important because one recovery action currently being considered is the restoration of the monarch butterfly’s migratory staging habitat to help fuel its energetically expensive fall migration.

“This work will improve our understanding of the relative value of nectar flowers used by the monarch butterfly during fall migration. It is particularly important given that nectar availability during fall migration may be playing an important role in population limitation.”

“Ultimately this will allow for evidence-based restoration activities to help recover the monarch butterfly population.”

Who is involved?
“This is a collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada, who are partially funding the project. There is one research scientist from the ECCC who is co-supervising the Master of Science student's work alongside myself. And we have about 25 monarchs housed in individual enclosures, each with their own set of plants.”

Any other points of interest related to this study?
“In tandem with the experiment, we've also been following monarchs around in the field to see which plants they choose to feed on. We want to determine the usage of native and non-native flowers by monarchs given their availability in the NCC greenbelt around Ottawa.”

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