AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas is home to many types of pollinators that each play an important role in our ecosystem. Perhaps one of the most recognizable, the Monarch butterfly, populate our skies every spring and fall as they migrate to and from Mexico and Canada. But recent studies show a concerning decline in the number of Monarch butterflies, an insect that has been on the brink of being listed as endangered for years.

PHOTO: Thomas Dunkerton | United States Fish & Wildlife Service

Monarchs by the numbers

Eastern Monarch butterfly populations have been declining over the past 25 years. Of highest concern is the drop in numbers reported in 2022. A decline of ~25% was observed in Eastern Monarch butterfly populations from Winter 2021-2022 to Winter 2022-2023.

Primary threats

Some of the biggest threats Monarchs face include loss of habitat during migration, breeding and overwintering due to urban development. Pesticide use is also detrimental to Monarch butterflies and pollinators alike.

Interview: Dr. Adam Baker

Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with Dr. Adam Baker, a pollinator expert with the Davey Institute, to discuss ways the public can help keep these butterfly populations thriving. Below is a transcription of that interview. Edits have been made for clarification.

Kristen Currie, KXAN News: Here to discuss why we’re seeing a loss in Monarch butterflies and what we can do to help our winged friends is Dr. Adam Baker with the Davey Institute. Dr. Baker, why are we seeing this loss in the Monarch butterfly population?

Dr. Adam Baker, Davey Institute: The Monarch decline question is a pretty complex one. There’s no one particular thing that’s that’s affecting Monarch populations, it’s really a combination of many things. Things including pesticide use, as well as loss of habitat due to urbanization.

And when we’re talking about the loss of the Monarch butterfly, what we’re talking about is the Eastern migratory population. We’re concerned about that because this is the one that makes the huge annual journey all the way from from Mexico and all the way up into the United States.

Texas plays a vital role in Monarch migration because those overwintering Monarchs are going to wake up sometime in March or so and they’re going to make their way up into southern Texas where they’ll start breeding and depositing their eggs on a pretty important host plant called the Green Milkweed. That’s a big stepping stone for creating the progeny from those migratory butterflies and what’s going to colonize the rest of the United States. So Texas is a pretty important link in the chain when it comes to the monarch populations.

PHOTO: A monarch butterfly in Vista, California | AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Currie: You mentioned milkweed. Is that milkweed something we can plant in our gardens, in our yards and communities? Anything else that we can do as the public to help?

Dr. Baker: You can focus on nectar plants, they’re going to be attractive to butterflies. So things with cone type flower heads – Monarchs use their straw-like mouthparts to get into them. And then you want to plant things that are going to be available during the migration phase. So things early in the season, as Monarchs are passing through, and things late in the season as they need that fuel to fly all the way back down to their overwintering grounds.