Mixed-Species Gardens Increase Monarch Oviposition without Increasing Top-Down Predation

Insects. 2020 Sep 22;11(9):648. doi: 10.3390/insects11090648.


Monarch butterfly populations have declined by over 80% in the last 20 years. Conservation efforts focus on the creation of milkweed habitats to mitigate this decline. Previous research has found monarchs lay more eggs per milkweed stem in urban gardens than natural habitats and recent work identified specific garden designs that make urban gardens more attractive to monarchs. Increasing plant diversity can reduce specialist insect herbivore colonization via bottom-up (e.g., plant) and top-down (e.g., predation) regulatory factors. Although this is beneficial for pest management efforts, it contradicts conservation efforts. In this study, we explored if adding multiple flowering species to garden-sized milkweed plantings affected monarch oviposition or top-down regulation of larvae. We compared monarch egg abundance, natural enemy abundance and richness, and biological control of monarch larvae in milkweed monocultures and milkweed mixed with four additional wildflower species. We found that monarchs laid 22% more eggs on sentinel milkweed plants in mixed-species plots with no effect of plant diversity on monarch survival. We also found higher natural enemy richness, wasp, and predatory bug abundance in the mixed-species plots and this did not translate to higher biological control rates. Our results provide more evidence that plant selection and habitat design are important for monarch conservation.

Keywords: Danaus plexippus; biological control; enemies hypothesis; milkweed; resource concentration; urban conservation.