The majority of my summer internship with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms has consisted of various types of outreach events all over the state of Iowa. But when we aren’t doing outreach, you may be able to find us in the field helping collect data for a research project. One of the projects we have been working on is monarch monitoring.
Our part in this monarch research starts in a CRP field. We work through 10 different designated points in each of the fields that we survey. Once at a point, our job is to look at the area around that point to find milkweed, as well as flowering plants that serve as a nectar source for the monarchs and other pollinators. I wasn’t familiar with what a milkweed plant looked like before starting this research. The best way to learn is by going out into the field and identifying milkweed over and over, with the help of others that are familiar, until I’m comfortable on my own. Common patterns that milkweeds have to help identify them are the opposite leaves and a milky sap you find when you break a leaf.
Our area of interest at each site is a circle around the point that has a radius of 30 meters. We divide that circle into four quadrants (NE, SE, SW, and NW) and then start our search. We are looking for a milkweed plant and a blooming plant closest to the center point in each quadrant. If the milkweed plant is flowering then it will double as our flowering plant. The distance of the plants are measured by one of us standing at the center point with a rangefinder. The milkweed plant is inspected for any monarch eggs or caterpillars. As we move through the quadrants we are also on the lookout for adult monarchs flying around or resting on flowers. We repeat this process with each point at each field.
The overall reason for this surveying is to see if the cropland that has been converted into CRP areas is providing food and habitat for the monarchs. Milkweed is that plant we focus on because it is the only thing monarch larvae can eat. That is also why we check each of our milkweed plants for monarch eggs and caterpillars. We look for blooming plants since they will be the nectar source for the adult monarchs and other pollinators. The surveying is repeated at the sites each month to see changes in the habitat being provided for the monarchs.
This internship has allowed me to learn so much whether it was through a research project like this or an outreach event in an Iowan city. And with the summer and this internship coming to an end, I am thankful for every opportunity that has come my way.
Taylor Manemann is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University. Manemann grew up in Huntington Beach, CA and graduated from Johnston High School (IA). She is a senior in Environmental Science with minors in sustainability and agronomy.