Native Versus Tropical Milkweed Facilitation of Monarch Butterfly OE Parasite
Faculty Mentor: Gretchen North, Biology Department
Funding: Ford Research Mentor's Endowment
In seeking to protect the famous southern migration of the monarch butterfly, local gardeners introducing non-native perennial milkweed to the North American Southwest may be inadvertently facilitating the spread of the monarch butterfly’s obligate parasite, the protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, also called OE infection. While native milkweed species to the North American Southwest reduce to an underground root system seasonally, like A. fascicularis and A. speciosa, non-native tropical milkweed, A. curassavica, retains an aboveground body throughout the year, and thus lacks the potential to purge unsuccessful, dormant OE spores from the plant body. This study sought to quantify this difference in spore-load between native and non-native milkweed, Asclepias, species to determine to what degree, if any, tropical milkweed’s introduction could be contributing to the decline within monarch butterfly populations of the North American Southwest.
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