Interesting ...

Paul Cherubini monarch at
Thu Apr 18 22:45:33 EDT 2002

Chuch Vaughn wrote:

> Any scientist who engages in "crisis" reporting has crossed the
> line from scientist to activist. 

Chuck, on the Ecolog-l  a few weeks ago C.D.Basset made a similar 

"When a "scientist" distorts or misuses his or her data, they are no 
longer acting as scientists but as political operatives. It is appalling 
to hear "scientists" consider when it is okay to distort data!

Chuck, I now wish to examine once again what happened with the monarchs
in Mexico this past winter - this time in a show and tell kind of way that 
demonstrates how the facts about what really happened have never
been revealed to the public:

First there were Elizabeth Howard's reports on Feb.7 & 14 on the 
Journey North website announcing that Lincoln Brower had 
determined that over 75% of the entire overwintering population
in Mexico was wiped out. Howard also 
explained that while scientists had not yet visited certain outlying
colony sites, mortality rates were feared to be similar because 
"their forest habitat is less pristine"  

In addition, Elizabeth Howard wrote about how the "storm illustrates
the danger of heavy deforestation" and "because
of heavy deforestation, scientists fear the remaining forest may no
longer provide the protective microclimate needed to keep the 
butterflies suffieciently dry and warm."

Likewise Lincoln Brower told the World Wildlife Fund "the forest 
canopy was too thin to protect the delicate monarchs from the rain and
cold weather last month"

I noted to myself that conspicuously absent from these sensational
reports was hard evidence - actual pictures of the thinned forests 
that were supposidly no longer capable of keeping the butterflies 
sufficiently warm and dry.   

So I visited the sites and took myy own pictures. Mexican biologist 
Eligio Garcia led a group of us to the "monarch cemetery" at the Sierra 
Chincua colony where Brower said 74% of the monarchs had died. 
Instead of finding a thinned, "degraded" forest, I found this:
I found the butterflies littered the ground below a very tall and
dense forest - the same exact forest Brower had said "was
too thin to protect the delicate monarchs from the rain and
cold weather."

Next, I wondered if the scientific literature supported the 
notion that an "intact" forest was capable of keeping the butterflies
"sufficiently warm and dry."

I found exactly the opposite.  In 1983 Dr. Bill Calvert coauthored a
a paper with Lincoln Brower in Biotropica in which they described 
their  experiences while camped out with the monarchs for several
days during a major snowstorm in Jan. 1981 at the Chincua colony 
in a forest they consider "intact".  Some key points they made

"In general, butterflies in branch clusters are less shielded from the
wind and soaking action of precipitation than those in trunk clusters
and are therefore more likely to be wetted by precipitation. Indeed
some branches that came down contained butterflies that were 
soaked with water."

"it is clear from this study that forest cover is not sufficient to
protect all butterflies within a colony from occassional winter 

Next, I wondered if there was any field evidence to support
Elizabeth Howard's (Journey North) speculation that there had
been heavy mortality at some of the  outlying monarch colonies
- the ones she claimed had "a less pristine forest."

Here again, contrary to the scientists' predictions, reports began
coming in about how two outlying colonies (Piedra Herrada & Cerro
Pelow) were not hardly damaged by the Jan. 2002 storm.
Here's are two of these reports from Dr.Bill Calvert
and one from Dr. Robert Cook, a Wildlife Biologist for the National
Park Service:

"While the reports of the high mortality at El Rosario and Sierra
Chincua are certainly cause for grave concern, I wanted to let you
know that this extreme mortality event may not have affected all
overwintering sites. We saw no evidence of die-off, there was only
what I would consider "background mortality", evident in the relatively
small numbers of dead butterflies we saw on the ground."

Lastly, I wondered if the Mexican monarch scientists agreed with 
Dr. Brower's and Journey North's claims that "over 75% of the entire 
overwintering population in Mexico " had been killed.

I found out the Mexican scientists (Eligio Garcia and Dr. Roberto 
Solis) felt Brower had vastly exaggerated the mortality estimates.
Their findings were that 33-47% of the monarchs at the Chincua and
El Rosario colonies perished in the January storm, not 74-80% as 
reported by Brower. 

In Summary, what actually happened was this:

1. There was heavy, though not truly catastrophic mortality at the large
    Chincua and El Rosario colonies.  Heavy mortality occurred at Chincua
    despite the fact that it was located in an especially dense, intact forest.

2. There was light mortality at some outlying colonies even though
    these forests were claimed by Journey North to be "less pristine"

3.  If the mortality estimates of the Mexican scientist's are correct,
     only about 30% of the entire overwintering population perished
    in the January storm, not "over 75%" as reported by Lincoln
    Brower and Journey North.  The strong monarch migration that
    has occurred in Texas this spring suggests the mortality estimates 
    made by the Mexican scientists were more accurate.

The American public will never have the opportunity to know these
findings because the American monarch scientists and Journey North
are unwilling to put out mass press releases or even web site information
retracting much of what they had said earlier and unwilling to provide 
reporters with photos showing how contrary to their expectations, 
there was heavy mortality in some dense forests and light mortality in 
some "less pristine" forests.

Paul cherubini
Placerville, Calif.


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