Fort Cavazos AIM Team sets standard for monarch conservation

By Christine Luciano, Fort Cavazos DPW EnvironmentalMarch 14, 2024

Britt Hutchinson and Jansy Alvarado, field specialists for Environment for the Americas, use a vegetation sampling frame to measure the diversity and frequency of nectar plants and milkweed March 8 within a training area at Fort Cavazos. (U.S. Army photo by Christine Luciano, Fort Cavazos DPW Environmental)
Britt Hutchinson and Jansy Alvarado, field specialists for Environment for the Americas, use a vegetation sampling frame to measure the diversity and frequency of nectar plants and milkweed March 8 within a training area at Fort Cavazos. (U.S. Army photo by Christine Luciano, Fort Cavazos DPW Environmental) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — Imagine traversing a variety of terrains and climates for nearly 3,000 miles to find a place to settle. No roadmap except for an internal compass and grit to conquer obstacles along the journey. Achieving this impressive accomplishment with only a wingspan of up to five inches is the monarch butterfly. Fort Cavazos’ 214,000-acre footprint provides a pitstop of habitats to support these long-distance travelers.

Every spring and fall, monarchs can be spotted travelling across the installation and feeding on nectar bearing flowers to help fuel their expedition or laying their eggs on milkweed. Since 2017, Fort Cavazos biologists from the Adaptive and Integrative Management Team have helped to collect data on the more than 10,000 monarchs for Monarch Watch — an educational outreach program at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas, that promotes conservation through a tagging program.

“The AIM Team are champions when it comes to monarch butterfly conservation and science,” Mercy Manzanares, program coordinator for Monarch Joint Venture, said. “We are helping to raise the rest of the (Department of Defense) installations to their level.”

Aligned with the goals of monarch conservation, educational outreach, research, monitoring and data sharing, the AIM Team is leading the way in data collection and was recognized with the Data Champion Award by Monarch Joint Venture. In 2018, AIM Team became the first and only DOD installation to partner with Monarch Joint Venture — a partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs.

“Since 2018, Fort Cavazos has been collecting data on monarch butterflies using the Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program,” Manzanares said. “They are one of the few installations of 317 installations, within the monarch butterfly range, that is collecting data on monarchs, specifically egg and larva data.”

Monarch Joint Venture developed the IMMP protocol, which is divided into four activities that are milkweed and blooming plant survey; monarch egg and larva survey; adult monarch survey; and tracking parasitism and monarch survival. Since 2019, the AIM Team has implemented the IMMP protocol to assess pollinator habitat, monitor milkweed plants in their monitoring plot for monarch eggs and larvae and document adult monarch presence and behavior.

Representatives from Monarch Joint Venture, Environment for the Americas and University of Illinois Chicago gather for a group photo and recognition of the Fort Cavazos AIM Team as the Data Champion awardee. (U.S. Army photo by Christine Luciano, Fort Cavazos DPW Environmental)
Representatives from Monarch Joint Venture, Environment for the Americas and University of Illinois Chicago gather for a group photo and recognition of the Fort Cavazos AIM Team as the Data Champion awardee. (U.S. Army photo by Christine Luciano, Fort Cavazos DPW Environmental) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

On March 8, the AIM Team hosted a training workshop here for Monarch Joint Venture, Environment for the Americas and University of Illinois Chicago who are collaborating on a DOD project due to the mission-sensitive species. Attendees were interns practicing the IMMP protocol at one of the 80 points across the installation. Each point measures 200 by 50 meters and in total 100 plots are surveyed at five meters apart. Every fall and spring, the AIM Team surveys the same plots to track the historical data and trends.

“The idea is to see the landscape changes and how climate or different weather patterns are impacting the site,” Manzanares said. “Or if there was a management practice applied, then how did that impact the monarch butterfly habitat.”

The experience and knowledge gained at Fort Cavazos, will help the interns as they collectively assist 20 military installations with their monarch conservation efforts.

“We are helping the DOD develop a streamlined strategy for regulatory best management practices for restoring and improving monarch butterfly habitat,” Manzanares said. “AIM Team is years ahead of other installations and have already helped to identify best management practices. We like to refer to them as a mentor installation.”

To learn more about citizen science opportunities at Fort Cavazos, visit Facebook/Fort.Cavazos.AIM.Team.