The Influence of Eastern North American Autumnal Migrant Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus L.) on Continuously Breeding Resident Monarch Populations in Southern Florida
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In Florida, the eastern North American population of the monarch butterfly exhibits geographic variability in population structure and dynamics. This includes the occurrence of migrants throughout the peninsula during the autumnal migration, occasional overwintering clusters that form along the Gulf Coast, remigrants from Mexico that breed in north-central Florida during the spring, and what have been assumed to be year-round, resident breeding populations in southern Florida. The work reported here focused on two monarch populations west of Miami and addressed four questions: Are there permanent resident populations of monarchs in southern Florida? Do these breed continuously throughout the year? Do they receive northern monarchs moving south during the autumn migration? Do they receive overwintered monarchs returning via Cuba or the Yucatan during the spring remigration from the Mexican overwintering area? Monthly collections and counts of spermatophores in the bursa copulatrices of females established that a resident population of continuously breeding monarchs exists year-round in southern Florida. It was determined through cardenolide fingerprinting that most of the butterflies had bred on the local southern Florida milkweed species, Asclepias curassavica. During the autumn migration period, however, some monarchs had fed on the northern milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. It appears that instead of migrating to Mexico, these individuals travel south through peninsular Florida, break diapause, mate with and become incorporated into the resident breeding populations. None of the monarchs captured in spring had the A. syriaca cardenolide fingerprint, which is evidence against the southern Florida populations receiving overwintered remigrants from Cuba, Central America or Mexico.