Conference 2003

Conference 2003
Greening the City:
Bringing Biodiversity Back
into the Urban Environment


Monarchs in the City: Ambassadors for Invertebrate Biodiversity

Steve Pawson (University of Canterbury, Forest Research) and Lisa Berndt (Forest Research)

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a quintessential part of the New Zealand urban summer, as it is in many parts of the world. The monarch was first observed in New Zealand in the 1870s. Monarchs rely on milkweeds (Family: Asclepiadaceae), which are not native to New Zealand, but often cultivated by home gardeners. As such, throughout their range monarchs are one of the most common butterflies seen by the general public. Monarch butterflies are known to overwinter in New Zealand in large clusters in areas where the average winter temperature drops below 10C. Little is known about monarch overwintering behaviour in New Zealand, so the authors were keen to find out more. A small article in the Christchurch provincial newspaper (31st May, 2003, The Press) elicited a huge response. Over 100 reports of monarch clustering behaviour came in via phone and email, and at present over 40 possible overwintering sites have been recorded in Christchurch alone. Public interest was such that five other articles were published in various media including newspapers, local television and web sites.

The main aim of this project is to use the high-profile monarch butterfly to enhance public awareness and appreciation for invertebrate biodiversity in the Christchurch region. Christchurch has several rare endemic species, however it is difficult to get local council support for projects given the current lack of public interest in invertebrates. Short-term objectives include the production of a leaflet providing information on monarch butterfly biology and phenology as well as directions on where to find the best overwintering sites in the city. Mid-term objectives centre on finding funds for a student project to undertake basic research on the overwintering behaviour and migration of monarchs within the city.

Conference sponsored by:

British Council NZ
The Community Trust
Landcare Research

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Last updated: October 13, 2003