Urbanization predicts infection risk by a protozoan parasite in non-migratory populations of monarch butterflies from the southern coastal U.S. and Hawaii

  • Ania A. MajewskaEmail author
  • Dara A. Satterfield
  • Rebecca B. Harrison
  • Sonia Altizer
  • Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman
Research Article



Urbanization can affect the density of hosts, altering patterns of infection risk in wildlife. Most studies examining associations between urbanization and host-parasite interactions have focused on vertebrate wildlife that carry zoonotic pathogens, and less is known about responses of other host taxa, including insects.


Here we ask whether urban development predicts infection by a protozoan, Ophyrocystis elektroscirrha, in three populations of monarchs (Danaus plexippus): migratory monarchs in northeastern U.S., non-migratory monarchs in southeastern coastal U.S., and non-migratory monarchs in Hawaii.


We used impervious surface and developed land cover classes from the National Land Cover Database to derive proportional measures of urban development and an index of land cover aggregation at two spatial scales. Parasite data were from previous field sampling (Hawaii) and a citizen science project focused on monarch infection in North America.


Proportional measures of urban development predicted greater infection prevalence for non-migratory monarchs sampled in the southern coastal U.S. and Hawaii, but not in the northern U.S. Aggregations of low intensity development, dominated by single-family housing, predicted greater infection prevalence in monarchs from the northern and southern coastal U.S. populations, but predicted lower infection prevalence in Hawaii.


Because natural habitats have been reduced by land-use change, plantings for monarchs in residential areas and urban gardens has become popular among the public. Mechanisms that underlie higher infection prevalence in urban landscapes remain unknown. Further monitoring and experimental studies are needed to inform strategies for habitat management to lower infection risk for monarchs.


Danaus plexippus Ophryocystis elektroscirrha Host–parasite interaction Gardens Tropical milkweed Pollinator 



We thank Alexa McKay, Andy Davis, Leone Brown, Paola Barriga, Daniel Becker, Cecilia Sanchez, Rachel Smith, Carly Phillips, Anya Brown, David Stallknecht and members of the Yabsley, Altizer and Ezenwa labs for comments and discussion of manuscript drafts. We are also grateful to John Drake and Seth Wenger for discussion of statistical approaches. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Center for the Ecology of Infectious DiseaseUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.U.S Fish and Wildlife ServiceManteoUSA
  4. 4.Warnell School of Forestry & Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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