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Research for Pollinators

Although international research regarding monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) and their needs has been underway for decades, there is still much to learn about how to help monarchs and other pollinators find the most suitable habitat locally in Nebraska. In addition to their numerous habitat restoration projects for pollinators, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is working toward gaining an understanding of the abundance and distribution of monarchs and another native butterfly, regal fritillaries (Speyeria idalia), in the state. Research being led by other organizations in the state will complement the Wildlife Division’s efforts.

Monarch Watch

You don’t always need a PhD to participate in pollinator research. A large portion of pollinator research is based in community science (also called community science). For example, the largest monarch butterfly migration project is a community science project called Monarch Watch. Participants catch and tag monarchs during their peek migration to Mexico. For more information, visit https://monarchwatch.org/.

Project Monarch Health

Project Monarch Health is another program that collects data from captured monarchs. Community scientists sample for the protozoan parasite OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) by applying a sticker to a monarch abdomen and then placing the sticker on a note card. The note card is then mailed back to Project Monarch Health and analyzed in their lab. Even though this project has been around for over 15 years as of 2020, they have received less than 200 samples from Nebraska. For this reason, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would like to encourage anyone that participates in Monarch Watch tagging to assist Project Monarch Health also. For more information, visit https://www.monarchparasites.org/.

Nebraska Bumble Bee Atlas

Nebraska is fortunate to be home to the second bumble bee atlas organized by the Xerces Society. The Nebraska Bumble Bee Atlas gives volunteers the opportunities to get hands-on experience with our native bumble bees. Volunteers capture, photograph, ID, and then release bumble bees to help give researches a better understanding of bee distribution, population shifts, and habitat associations. For more information, visit https://www.nebraskabumblebeeatlas.org/.

Butterfly Survey

Game and Parks has our own community science pollinator project. We ask community scientists to walk transects to identify regal fritillary and monarch butterflies. On the walk back, the volunteers identify plants and landscape features to help draw connections between the habitat and butterflies. For more information, visit http://outdoornebraska.gov/butterflysurvey/.

TNC Monarch Conservation Strategies

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has plans to conduct research on species of milkweed and the associated response of monarchs. They have milkweed research plots planned for their Central Platte River Prairies. See TNC Prairie Ecologist Chris Helzer’s blog for more information about this study site.

Sand Milkweed Research

Sand milkweed (Asclepias arenaria) grows well in the Sandhills of Nebraska, and researchers are interested in knowing the relative suitability of this plant for monarchs. Although the Sandhills ecoregion appears to lay outside the primary flyway for monarchs, researchers intend to evaluate if the adult monarchs find sand milkweed and use it for egg-laying, and if the larvae survive.

UNL Department of Entomology

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is leading an effort to develop a beneficial insect plan. Dr. Judy Wu-Smart is heading this work at The Bee Lab, in the Department of Entomology at UNL.

For more information on pollinator research or ways to get involved, please contact our Pollinator Ecologist, Cody Dreier, at cody.dreier@nebraska.gov or 402-471-1755.