The eastern migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus L.) population in North America hit record low numbers during the 2013–2014 overwintering season, prompting pleas by scientists and conservation groups to plant the butterfly's milkweed host plants (Asclepias spp.) in residential areas. While planting butterfly gardens with host plants seems like an intuitive action, no previous study has directly compared larval survival in gardens and natural areas to demonstrate that gardens are suitable habitats for Lepidoptera. In this study, milkweed was planted in residential gardens and natural areas. In 2009 and 2010, plants were monitored for oviposition by monarch butterflies and survival of monarch eggs and caterpillars. Monarchs oviposited significantly more frequently in gardens than in natural sites, with 2.0 and 6.2 times more eggs per plant per observation in 2009 and 2010, respectively. There were no significant differences in overall subadult survival between gardens and natural areas. Significant differences in survival were measured for egg and larval cohorts when analyzed separately, but these were not consistent between years. These results suggest that planting gardens with suitable larval host plants can be an effective tool for restoring habitat for monarch butterflies. If planted over a large area, garden plantings may be useful as a partial mitigation for dramatic loss of monarch habitat in agricultural settings.
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Vol. 44 • No. 5