Research Projects in the Oberhauser Lab

For a list of publications from the Oberhauser lab on these and many other topics, with links to most PDFs, please visit our publications page. 

Monarch Population Dynamics

  • In several related integrative efforts supported by the National Science Foundation through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), the Monarch Joint Venture, and the John Wesley Powell Center, we are working with many colleagues to understand temporal and spatial patterns in monarch distribution and abundance, and to ensure that monarch conservation efforts utilize our best scientific knowledge. This collaboration is now called the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership, and includes individuals from Federal and State government agencies, NGOs, and academic institutions. For more information on this work, please visit the Monarch Joint Venture website
  • The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) engages hundreds of volunteers throughout the US in a coordinated effort to measure monarch egg and larva densities. The overarching goal of the project is to better understand how and why monarch populations vary in time and space, with a focus on monarch distribution and abundance during the breeding season in North America. Learn more about the MLMP here.

Monarch Parasitoids

We are studying a wasp pupal parasitoid (Pteromalus cassotis) that had only been reported in monarchs in an obscure 1888 publication before we started working on it, and tachinid fly parasitoids. Our work involves field and lab experiments, as well as observational studies of species that parasitize monarchs and parasitism rates. This research is currently the focus of PhD student Carl Stenoien, many undergraduates, former lab member Dane Elmquist, and Karen Oberhauser. To learn more about P. cassotis, check out Carl’s YouTube page. To see a report on recent efforts to identify tachinid flies reared by MLMP volunteers, see an update from the MLMP.

Climate Change and Monarchs

  • Grad student Reba Batalden studied physiological tolerance of monarch larvae to extreme heat conditions.  Short bursts of temperatures up to 40°C (104°F) allow monarch development, but temperatures of 42°C (108°F) kill most larvae. Hot temperatures slow larval development.
  • Former grad student Kelly Nail used our understanding of thermal tolerances of monarchs in a mechanistic approach to understanding how climate change will affect monarchs. She’s learned that monarch eggs and caterpillars can survive in very low temperatures!
  • Karen is working with several colleagues, including former UM Cons Bio grad student Sarah Saunders, to understand how climate affects monarch population numbers during the breeding season.

Citizen Science and Conservation

  • PhD candidate Eva Landowski studied conservation impacts and motivations of citizen scientists. Dina Kountoupes and Karen Oberhauser used the results from a survey of MLMP volunteers to learn how volunteering in a Citizen Science program affects their engagement in conservation activities such as land preservation and enhancement, and education. Karen and colleague Leslie Ries, now at George Washington University, quantified the contributions made by thousands of citizen science volunteers to our understanding of monarch biology.

Other Insects!

  • In a project funded by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, grad students Julia Leone and Patrick Pennarola, along with Diane Larson (USGS), Jen Larson, and Karen Oberhauser are studying how fire and conservation grazing affect bees and butterflies in remnant Minnesota prairies. the environmental and science education outcomes of schoolyard gardens.
  • In a project funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, grad student Michael Lopez, Rob Blair, Karen Oberhauser, and several USFWS colleagues are studying “rescue transfers” of Karner blue butterfly eggs from WI sites where they occur in abundance to suitable, but unoccupied habitat.
  • Ami Thompson is working towards a PhD in Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota advised by Dr. Karen Oberhauser and Dr. Rob Blair. She is studying how common green darner dragonflies survive the winter. Climate change is likely affecting their overwintering strategies, the question is, how? Common green darners are indeed extremely common across the entire country and play important roles in the aquatic ecosystems.