It is one of the most iconic butterflies in North America. They have vibrant orange wings with black stripes and white spots. They can be seen feeding on milkweed plants and migrating from North America to Mexico at certain times of the year. If the image of a monarch butterfly popped into your head, then you get the picture! Unfortunately, monarch populations have declining rapidly over the last couple decades. So, the question is why are the monarchs disappearing? Penn State Entomology PhD student Staci Cibotti is trying to answer this question with her research.
Over the last century agriculture has improved dramatically because of new tools and technology being developed; however, some of these innovations have come at a cost. One of the innovations that has been the subject for debate for many years is pesticides. Up into the 1970s many pesticides were toxic to humans and the environment and eventually banned. A new class of pesticides (the neonicotinoids) was developed as an alternative to combat agriculture pests, but still possessing a low toxicity that it would not affect other animals and the environment. Research over the last decade however has found that neonicotinoids can have negative impacts on other animals and the environment. Some examples of these impacts include killing beneficial insects like bees that promote plant pollination or being leeched into the ground where it can contaminate the soil and influence plant development.