Every year, thousands of monarchs migrate through Fort Hood, one of the largest military bases, located in the southern core of the monarch conservation unit. In the last decade, monarch populations have been on the decline and are being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Fort Hood’s Adaptive and Integrated Management (AIM) program focuses on proactively managing at-risk species that could impact mission readiness. Research and conservation efforts carried out by the AIM team are streamlining efforts based on the Texas Monarch and Native Pollinator Conservation Plan provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife. The AIM program was successfully implemented in FY15 using a four-pronged approach:
The AIM Program is working with various organizations within the 218,000-acre Fort Hood area to coordinate research, monitoring, data sharing, educational outreach, and partnerships in pursuit of pollinator habitat conservation and restoration. Researchers survey ~350/one hundred meter transects for butterflies, nectar sources, avian species, and milkweed. AIM is also planning a 120-acre restoration project that is focused on restoring an area inundated with invasive plant species.
The AIM team has conducted over 450 milkweed stem count surveys in Fort Hood grasslands, documenting seven milkweed (Asclepias) species. To conserve the milkweed population on Fort Hood, data was collected on species diversity, abundance, and flowering and seed dispersal times. This information enables the team to apply proactive conservation actions by better coordinating the maintenance and use of sensitive feeding and roosting sites during peak monarch migration times. The AIM team also tagged 1000 monarchs during the 2017 fall migration and recorded data on sex, wing size, body condition, and nectar source use, in addition to Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) parasite load. Future research includes 5th generation monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) winter survivability, Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) population densities and habitat availability on Fort Hood, and the distribution and abundance of Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum) on Fort Hood.
AIM is also planning a ~120-acre restoration project that is focused on restoring an area encroached with invasive plant species. The project is planned to break ground in 2018 and will be used as a matching contribution for the Compatible Lands Foundation (CLF). CLF was awarded a grant through the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The funds will be used to enhance monarch breeding and migratory habitat on or adjacent to four U.S. military bases. The project will plant native milkweed and nectar plants and control invasive species to improve 325 acres of habitat. AIM will be a matching contributor, restoring grasslands on the installation and conducting pre and post-restoration pollinator activity surveys. The project’s total cost with matching funds is estimated to be over $600,000. The restored area will house a pollinator garden, and feature walking paths, tables, composting and rainwater collection facilities, and a greenhouse. It will also serve as a site for monarch research and milkweed seed propagation.
The AIM program impacts thousands of local children through outreach. Every April, Fort Hood hosts one of the largest Earth Day events in central Texas (Fort Hood Earth Fest). This event brings together several schools from Killeen ISD to showcase Fort Hood’s dedication to conservation. The AIM team plays an active role by providing an interactive learning station and outdoor classroom that will be used to show youth how native plants are beneficial to monarchs and all pollinators. AIM intends to share their results with the scientific community by publishing research papers, and reach surrounding communities with environmental outreach and pollinator conservation tips via social media and local newspapers.
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