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Climate change can profoundly alter species' distributions due to changes in temperature, precipitation, or seasonality. Migratory monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) may be particularly susceptible to climate-driven changes in host plant abundance or reduced overwintering habitat. For example, climate change may significantly reduce the availability of overwintering habitat by restricting the amount of area with suitable microclimate conditions. However, potential effects of climate change on monarch northward migrations remain largely unknown, particularly with respect to their milkweed (Asclepias spp.) host plants. Given that monarchs largely depend on the genus Asclepias as larval host plants, the effects of climate change on monarch northward migrations will most likely be mediated by climate change effects on Asclepias. Here, I used MaxEnt species distribution modeling to assess potential changes in Asclepias and monarch distributions under moderate and severe climate change scenarios. First, Asclepias distributions were projected to extend northward throughout much of Canada despite considerable variability in the environmental drivers of each individual species. Second, Asclepias distributions were an important predictor of current monarch distributions, indicating that monarchs may be constrained as much by the availability of Asclepias host plants as environmental variables per se. Accordingly, modeling future distributions of monarchs, and indeed any tightly coupled plant-insect system, should incorporate the effects of climate change on host plant distributions. Finally, MaxEnt predictions of Asclepias and monarch distributions were remarkably consistent among general circulation models. Nearly all models predicted that the current monarch summer breeding range will become slightly less suitable for Asclepias and monarchs in the future. Asclepias, and consequently monarchs, should therefore undergo expanded northern range limits in summer months while encountering reduced habitat suitability throughout the northern migration.
Lemoine NP (2015) Climate Change May Alter Breeding Ground Distributions of Eastern Migratory Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) via Range Expansion of Asclepias Host Plants. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0118614. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118614