Research from scientists at the Greenpeace International Science Unit , with its laboratories in University of Exeter in the UK have produced evidence that the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) crops such as the herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready corn and soy is having adverse effects on farmland plants. As the use of agro-giant Monsanto’s Roundup grows, and is coming much stronger formulas, researchers now believe that this is a major factor in the decline in monarch butterflies.
The biggest issue with the powerful Roundup herbicide is that it kills all plants in its path, except for the GE crop. Unfortunately, that also goes for milkweed, which is the only plant that monarch butterflies lay their eggs. After hatching, the monarch caterpillars use milkweed for food. Milkweed used to be able to sprout up in between rows, but use of powerful herbicides have all be eliminated it from farmland. This means that the monarchs must fly further just to find a place to lay their eggs. The extended search for milkweed leads to a depletion of body fat—this leads to fewer eggs. Some may die before ever laying eggs.
There things that can be done, such as planting native plants. The folks at Appleseed can give you the run down on how native plants co-evolved with the native wildlife and form the foundation of habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
If you have a garden, try to grow it in a natural, organic way. That means avoiding pesticides and herbicides. Pollinators like bees and butterflies are, of course insects, so insecticides meant to kill something else may also kill them. Herbicides may have the same residual effect; killing plants bees and butterflies need for food and to lay eggs. Rather than killing off milkweed, plant it instead. There are two milkweeds native the Shore – Swamp Milkweed and Common Milkweed. Using native plants like milkweed will help the butterflies, but they are also beautiful and will attract these colorful insects to your garden.
Also, try to avoid genetically engineered foods—using “Roundup Ready” GE seeds which are resistant to glyphosate, larger amounts are needed to restrict the growth of weeds. The excess glyphosate accounts for increased milkweed mortality.
Continuing to protect the Shore’s native open space grasslands is another thing we can do to protect bees and monarch butterflies. The Shore’s grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds as well as providing adequate space for milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Moving forward, there should be an effort to maintain as much open space, marsh and grassland as possible and less emphasis on converting it for cropland and development.