Dibble, Bickerman-Martens interviewed for Press Herald article on raising monarch butterflies

The Portland Press Herald interviewed Alison Dibble, an assistant research professor in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine, and Kalyn Bickerman-Martens, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and environmental sciences at UMaine, in an article on raising monarch butterflies. This summer, Mainers have reported many more sightings of monarchs than usual. But whether this is a sign of recovery for the species is difficult to say. A petition to list monarchs as threatened was brought to the government’s attention in 2014, and a decision is expected by 2019. People could simply be noticing more of the butterflies as a result of heightened awareness, and population fluctuations are common for insects, the article states. The population trend is still negative — the species experienced an 84 percent decline between 2014–15. Many factors could contribute to this, from climate change-induced extreme weather to habitat loss, herbicides and insecticides, and even colliding with cars during migration, the Press Herald reports. Availability of milkweed also is key, since it is the only place monarchs can lay their eggs. Dibble has created 15 plans for pollinator gardens on Maine farms since 2010, and is currently working on four others, each one unique and adapted to the farm’s ecosystem. “It’s a matter of listening to the farmer to figure out what they want and what they hope to achieve,” Dibble told the Press Herald. Bickerman-Martens said Mainers encouraging growth of milkweed is helpful, but that the habitat in Mexico is what really matters for the monarchs. “The biggest issue is their overwintering grounds,” she said, which need to stay above 20 degrees to prevent die-offs. This temperature threshold has been affected by extreme storms, and logging also destroys their habitat. “I’m not sure how me bringing three larvae in to raise is helping the monarch population,” Bickerman-Martens said. But, she added, “It is nice to have them sitting on the dining room table to marvel at.” Bickerman-Martens also was quoted in a related Portland Press Herald article, “How to raise a monarch,” which included a step-by-step guide. “We are so well trained as a society that you are not supposed to interfere with wildlife,” she said, but in this case it can actually be helpful. “When they are instars (caterpillars), they are very vulnerable.” The Biddeford Journal Tribune carried the Press Herald article.