Art Shapiro: 'The Controversy Over the Western Monarch Butterfly'

Back in February, butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, told a monarch butterfly summit on the UC Davis campus--organized by the Environmental Defense Fund--that the monarchs are "on life support."

Scientists, conservationists and citizen scientists were there to discuss "Recovering the Western Monarch Butterfly Population: Identifying Opportunities for Scaling Monarch Habitat in California's Central Valley."

"The western population of the monarch butterfly has garnered widespread attention because of its dramatic decline in recent decades," the Environmental Defense Fund said in its opening statements. "The latest population surveys indicate that monarchs overwintering on the central coast have declined 86% since last winter and now total 0.5% of their historical average. Population declines have spurred greater scientific study, funding, and coordination around the western monarch. California legislators appropriated $3 million in funding to the California Wildlife Conservation Board to establish the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Rescue Program."

In his presentation, Shapiro told the group: "As of right now, the monarch is on life support in California, and we are reduced to prescribing placebos. If our patient comes back from the brink—as history suggests it may well—will we convince ourselves that our placebos worked? Probably. And that's not how to do science. That's what philosophers call the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc." (See Shapiro's other comments)

Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly populations of central California for more than four decades, posts his research on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

Meanwhile, the widespread interest in monarchs continues to widen. What's happening with the monarchs this year?

If you're a University of California Master Gardener and want an update on the status of Western monarchs, be sure to attend Shapiro's presentation at the UC Master Gardeners' Fall Conference on Saturday, Oct. 26 in the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 1455 Madison Ave., Redwood City.

The event, to take place from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., includes a talk by Shapiro from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. on "The Controversy on the Western Monarch Monarch Butterfly."

The agenda:

  • 9:30-9:45: Welcome and Introductions, Shirley Melnicoe, president and Kali Burke, new program coordinator
  • 9:35-10:  Recognition, Ginny Piazza, membership chair
  • 10 to 11: Soils Group presentation by Master Gardeners Joe Lees and Nick Landolfi
  • 11 to 11:15: Break
  • 11:15 to 11:45: Igor Lacan, UC Cooperative Extension Advisor for San Francisco Bay Area, The Odonata Order – The Mystery of Dragonflies
  • 11:45 to noon: Sheena Sidhu, staff biologist, San Mateo County Department of Agriculture on Pests and Diseases,  Latest Pests & Diseases in San Mateo County
  • 12 to 1: Lunch
  • 1 to 1:15: Master Gardeners leading some exercises, to be announced
  • 1:15 to 2:45: Arthur M. Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, The Controversy on the Western Monarch Butterfly
  • 2:45-3: Closing comments/wrap-up

For further information on the conference, contact UC Master Gardener Melissa Mason at Shapiro can be reached at