Monarchs, milkweed and self-medication in a changing world

The milkweed plants growing in 40 cube-shaped chambers on a hilltop at the U-M Biological Station provide a glimpse into the future that allows researchers to ask a question: How will monarch butterflies fare?

Most discussions of the monarch’s plight focus on habitat loss: the logging of trees in the Mexican forest where monarchs spend the winter, as well as the loss of wild milkweed plants that sustain them during their annual migration across North America.

The U-M study examines a different type of potential threat. It is one of the first experiments to assess the likely impacts of elevated carbon dioxide levels—the same mounting gases blamed for human-caused climate change—on the health of future monarch populations.

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