LPC Habitat

The LPC currently occupies 30,900 square miles in the southern Great Plains, which is only 17% of its estimated historical range. Portions of the LPC habitat lie in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The LPC habitat lies in three distinct ecosystems: sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia), sand shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) and mixed grass vegetation communities. These are used to describe the four specific ecoregions in which the LPC is found:

  • Shinnery Oak Prairie Region (SOPR), which is located in eastern New Mexico and the southwest Texas Panhandle.
  • Sand Sagebrush Prairie Region (SSPR), which is located in southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, and the western Oklahoma Panhandle.
  • Mixed Grass Prairie Region (MGPR), which is located in the northeast Texas panhandle, western Oklahoma, and south central Kansas.
  • Short Grass/CRP Mosaic (SG/CRP), which is located in northwestern Kansas.

The LPC has three necessary habitat components: nesting habitat, brood-rearing and summer habitat, and autumn and winter habitat. Optimal LPC habitat generally consists of 2/3 nesting habitat and 1/3 brood habitat. The fire-grazing interaction historically created a mosaic of cover that the LPC relied on, so disturbance is an integral part of LPC habitat and reproductive success, but must be implemented according to their life cycle.

Leks are characterized by low vegetation and are often located on a knoll or ridge. Disturbed areas, such as old well pads, have been known to be utilized as LPC leks. Since leks are highly visible and frequented during mating season, leks are important for monitoring LPC populations, location, and health.

Watch a video on LPC habitat types and leks.

Nesting Habitat

Nesting habitat is characterized as tall and dense cover of shrubs and perennial grasses. From mid-April to mid-June LPC will seek dense and tall cover for protection from predators and grazing should be reduced. The highest success rates for nesting have more than 60% absolute cover and grasses are higher than 20 inches (51 cm). LPC favor mid- and tall grasses for nesting, such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), big bluestem (A. gerardi), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and in some locations western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii). Female LPC typically nest within two miles of a lek, but not necessarily the lek where they were captured.

Brood-rearing and Summer Habitat

Brood habitat is characterized as higher amount of forb cover and less grass cover than nesting sites. Broods have limited mobility, so shorter grasses are required for chicks to move easily on the ground. It is suggested that high quality brood habitat be close to nesting habitat (approximately 1,000 feet). Brood habitat typically also has a high level of insects, which populate the forb cover. Prescribed burning and grazing, herbicide application, and mechanical treatments are good tools for creating brood habitat, but can also reduce nesting habitat.

The LPC uses shrubs and shinnery oak for shade in the summer and times of high heat.

Winter and Autumn Habitat

Winter and autumn habitat is generally the same as nesting and brood-rearing habitat, but during this time the LPC will travel across larger areas. The LPC uses mixed-grass, sand sagebrush, or sand shinnery oak for resting and roosting while migrating throughout their range. LPC tend to prefer grasslands with <15% shrub cover, but it is not considered necessary to implement specific habitat management for autumn and winter habitat, so long as quality nesting and brood habitat is present.

Habitat Conservation

In order to conserve LPC habitat, policymakers have implemented a focus on strongholds. Strongholds are defined as areas that are sufficient size to support a viable population of LPC that are managed or set aside for long-term LPC conservation. It has been recommended that strongholds contain clusters of 6-10 leks that are located at a maximum of 1.2 miles apart. Research suggests a minimum size of 25,000 acres (10,118 ha) per cluster, if all of the area is high quality habitat.

Within strongholds there are focal areas, which are required to meet population goals, and connectivity zones which link focal areas together and are not required to meet population goals. The Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (CHAT) is a decision support tool designed to identify focal areas and connectivity zones in order to facilitate coordinated efforts to enhance habitat conditions required to expand and sustain the species.

Habitat Specifications

Below are numerical descriptions that research has shown to be optimal for LPC habitat.

Plant communities with a substantial sand shinnery oak component:
Nesting habitat

  • Canopy cover of sand shinnery oak: 20% - 50%
  • Canopy cover of preferred grasses (native bluestems, switchgrass, indiangrass, and sideoats grama): >20%
  • Canopy cover of a good mix of species of native forbs: >10%
  • Variable grass heights that average: >15”
Brood habitat:
  • Canopy cover of sand shinnery oak: 10-25%
  • Canopy cover of preferred native grasses: >15%
  • Canopy cover of a mix of native forbs: >20%
  • Variable grass heights that average: >15
  • Shrub, grass and forb understory open enough to allow movements of chicks
Plant communities with a substantial sand sagebrush component:
Nesting habitat
  • Canopy cover of sand sagebrush: 15-30%
  • Canopy cover of preferred native grasses: >30%
  • Canopy cover of a mix of native forbs: >10%
  • Variable grass heights that average: >15”
Brood Habitat
  • Canopy cover of sand sagebrush: 10-25%
  • Canopy cover of preferred native grasses: >20%
  • Canopy cover of a mix of native forbs: >20%
  • Variable grass heights that average: >15”
  • Shrub, grass and forb understory open enough to allow movements of chicks
Native rangelands and CRP land without a substantial sand shinnery oak or sand sagebrush component:
Nesting habitat
  • Canopy cover of preferred native grasses: >50%
  • Canopy cover of a mix of native forbs: >10%
  • Variable grass heights that average between 15-22”
Brood habitat
  • Canopy cover of preferred native grasses: 30-50%
  • Canopy cover of a mix of native forbs: >20%
  • Variable grass heights that average between 15 -22”
  • Shrub, grass and forb understory open enough to allow movements of chicks.
Each property has a different capacity to provide quality LPC habitat, so it is important to consult with a local professional when creating habitat to support the LPC.

Monarchs in North America

Monarch butterflies occur in North America, as well as other regions of the world. The most significant populations occur in North America and Mexico where they are generally divided into two populations, east and west of the Rocky Mountains. The western population is smaller, and those monarchs spend their winters along the California coast. The much larger eastern population winters in a single region – the forested mountains of central Mexico. Additionally, a very small non-migratory population winters in Florida.

Monarch Migrations

Whether monarchs are present in a given area depends on the time of year. They are one of the few migratory insects, traveling great distances between summer breeding habitat and winter habitat where they spend several months inactive. In the summer they range as far north as southern Canada. In the fall the eastern population migrates to the cool, high mountains of central Mexico and the western population migrates to coastal California, where they spend the entire winter.

In March, the first adults from the eastern population leave Mexico and begin their northern and multi-generational migration. Adult monarchs forage on nectar contained in flowers of milkweeds, as well as many other flowering plants. They lay eggs only on milkweed plants in the genus Asclepias. The adults that wintered in Mexico primarily lay eggs on milkweed plants in northern Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, but many travel to other southern states.

The population east of the Rocky Mountains contains the majority of the North American monarch population, which completes its northward migration through successive generations. They are found in the highest concentrations along a migratory flyway corridor through the central United States. In spring the monarchs leave overwintering grounds in Mexico and migrate north into Texas and the Southern Plains, then up through the Northern Plains and the Midwest, and finally up into the Great Lakes region. By late summer, eastern monarchs have spread north into Canada and eastward from the central migratory corridor throughout the Northeast and Southeast states.

From September into early October, fall southern migration to Mexico begins, with the majority of monarchs following the reverse path south along the central migratory corridor. Monarchs from the Northeast head south along the Atlantic coast, concentrating in the states that make up the Delmarva Peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay on the journey. Florida is a stop for many monarchs before they fly over the Gulf Coast to Mexico.

A much smaller population of monarch butterflies lives west of the Rocky Mountains. During summer, western monarchs live in canyons or riparian areas of the West, Southwest, inland California, and the inland Northwest states up to British Columbia. A small number of monarchs can be found in the coastal Pacific Northwest during summer months. Instead of making the long journey to Mexico, western monarchs only migrate as far south as coastal areas of central and southern California.

 

Life cycle

Individual females lay about 400 eggs and typically lay no more than two eggs on any single milkweed plant. The egg-laying process can last as long as 30 days (Edson 2006). The eggs hatch in 9-12 days, and larva feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed plants. The poisons contained in the milkweed afford the larva some protection from predators. Upon pupation, the new adults (the second generation) continue migration to the north and east. Depending on climatic conditions along the migration routes, the eastern monarchs may have as many as five generations during spring and summer. This multi-generational migration results in the eastern population spreading to all states east of the Rocky Mountains and into southern Canada. In the fall, individuals from the final summer generation migrate south to the wintering grounds in central Mexico, and the annual cycle is repeated the following spring.