Rodrigo Solis

PhD Candidate

  • Email: Rodrigo
  • Tel: 1 604 442-5722
  • Office: TASC1 8439
  • Personal site: Monarch Butterfly

COUPLED SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL MODEL FOR TANS-BOUNDARY CONSERVATION; THE CASE OF THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

INTRODUCTION

The Monarch Butterfly population counts had shown a steep decline over the last decade. This decline is said to be caused by the habitat loss in the breeding grounds due to agricultural practices and urbanization, by the forest loss in the overwintering sites, and the inclement weather during its migration. Also the accelerated loss of fat storages during the overwintering months due to disturbance from touristic activities, use of insecticides for controlling disease-borne mosquitoes, and planting of non-native milkweed plants have been suggested to contribute to this decline.

Within this intricate mosaic of causes, a common denominator is found. The fate of the Monarch Butterfly is tightly bounded to the decisions, and ultimately actions, of a wide range of groups of the society with different interests (sometimes completely opposite between them). Just as an example of that contrasting scenario, farmers in general tend to seek to maximize their yield (and profit) sometimes putting into stake the availability of habitat for the Monarch and other pollinators. On the other hand, several groups of citizen scientists had organized themselves for providing habitat to the Monarchs and generate awareness without any other incentive than the prosperity of this butterfly. Situations as those can be identified with other groups of interest such as government agencies, NGO’s, tourists, owners of the forest within the Monarch Reserve, etc.

A high number of researchers had responded to the Monarch’s plight and engaged in several areas of research related with the Monarch. Within the most fructuous researchers on this regard have focused strongly on either the ecological or the social spectrum of the problem, but few have engaged the problem with an interdisciplinary approach, integrating both society and ecology under one single frame of analysis. Even scarcer had been the attempts of integrating those two elements and using them as a beacon for policy development. That gap is the one that this research program (integrated by two PhD researchers) will aim to fill.  

OBJECTIVE

Examine how alternative management actions aimed to the conservation of critical Monarch butterfly habitats across North America affect the Monarch’s population to human development.

METHODS

The final result of this project is a tool aimed to aid decision makers into testing different management strategies for the Monarch Butterfly conservation across North America. This tool will couple a dynamic simulation model of the species, with a set of 6 surveys to different groups of interest across the migratory flyway. The surveying technique, called Discrete Choice Experiment is an advanced surveying technique that provides the sufficient resolution for making it couplable with the biological simulation model. A more detailed explanation of the surveying techniques is described next.

Choice Experiments

Choice Experiments are a flexible approach for quantifying social preferences over time, allowing to test non-existent alternatives. This technique has the advantage of exploring the decision making process in a multivariate manner; allows the linking of the results with behavioral antecedents as covariates, such as demographic information, to explain the observed decision. Moreover, in this kind of approach, the respondents are forced into making trade-off decisions closely mimicking the real decision making process. Finally, by adding a monetary attribute to the choice experiment, it is possible to obtain the willingness to pay/accept of the respondent for each one of the attributes explored (e.g. amount of milkweed, amount of Monarchs, etc.).

On the present study, six main groups of interest were identified: 1) Farmers in Canada, 2) and The U.S., 3) General Population of Canada, 4) and The U.S. (including citizen scientists) , 5) Tourists within the Monarch Reserve, and  6) indigenous communities and ejidos that own the forests within the Monarch Reserve. One Discrete Choice Experiment will be designed and applied to a representative sample of each one of those groups of interest. The attributes of every survey will be coordinated across all of them so they may be coupled afterwards within them and with the biological simulation model.

The surveys sent to the general population will mainly aim for eliciting the willingness to pay of the general population of Canada and The U.S for the Monarch conservation, importance of the Monarch butterfly as a flagship species for pollinators, perception of the general population regarding international cooperation for the Monarch conservation, and importance of the effect of peer pressure (i.e. attitudes of friends or relatives) on the personal perception towards the Monarch. Many other relevant topics will be explored that will also help on the final discussion and analysis of the results. Something of particular interest on this survey is that it will also be sent over different citizen scientist’s mailing lists (e.g. Monarch Watch) so it will be possible to compare the mindset of people already engaged on citizen science activities against non-citizen scientist population.

Another set of surveys will be sent to farmers across the breeding areas of the Monarch Butterfly (Eastern U.S. and Ontario). These surveys will elicit crucial information needed for the design of conservation policies for the Monarch, since agricultural practices are a cornerstone in the fate of most part of the milkweed across the migratory flyway.

Finally, one survey will aim the visitors within the Monarch reserve. This questionnaire will be designed to explore how different rules applied to visitors within the Monarch sanctuaries (fees, crowding restrictions, time restrictions, season restrictions, etc.) could affect their experience visiting the Monarch Butterfly. One of the main results of this survey will be the willingness to pay of the visitors for visiting the Monarch reserve, which, if found to be higher than the current fee (around $5 USD) could provide and increase in the livelihoods of the inhabitants of the reserve.

Model Coupling

All the information gathered from the Choice Experiments above, will be analyzed and behavioral models will be obtained. Those models will have the capacity of coupling with a biological simulation model that will react to different inputs from the user. That coupled model is a dynamic simulation that will provide a forecast (and uncertainty information) based on the management strategies that the decision maker wishes to explore.

Project So far

So far, all the methodological and theoretical research is well sustained. Regarding, the data collection phase, a survey for Urban Residents across Canada and The US was launched earlier this month obtaining 2,215 responses; the data analysis is happening right now. The rest of the surveys (Farmers, Tourists, and Forest owners) will be launched later this year and early 2017.

EXPECTED RESULTS

  • Willingness to pay of the general population of The US and Canada for the Monarch Conservation.
  • Willingness to pay of the citizen scientists for the Monarch Conservation.
  • Perception of the general population and citizen scientists regarding the role of different institutions (NGO’s and Government) in the Monarch conservation stage.
  • Willingness to pay of tourists within the Monarch reserve for enjoying the Monarch overwintering sites.
  • Tourists’ preferences for features of management strategies within the Monarch sanctuaries.
  • Willingness to Accept of Famers of The US and Canada for providing Monarch’s habitat through different agricultural practices.
  • Farmers’ preferences for features of management strategies.
  • Willingness to Accept of the forest owners inside the Monarch Reserve for engaging in conservation activities instead of logging.
  • Forecasting the response to conservation programs and its effect on monarch’s populations.
  • An aiding tool for policy makers for designing new conservation strategies for the Monarch conservation.
  • The design of a methodological framework that will be easily extrapolated for the conservation of many other species endangered by multiple human causes.

RESEARCH TEAM

  • Rodrigo Solis Sosa
    • Doctor in Veterinary Medicine, Master of Sciences of Sustainable Development, Resource and Environmental Management PhD Candidate
    • Previous Experience working with the Monarch Butterfly, especially in the overwintering sites in Mexico
    • Experience developing ecological simulation models
  • Sergio Fernández Lozada
    • Master in Resource Management, Chemical Engineer, Resource and Environmental Management PhD Student.

Worked on several projects in the past designing, applying and analyzing choice experiments