Eastern North American monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus L.) show a series of range shifts during their breeding season. Using ecological niche modeling, we studied the environmental context of these shifts by identifying the ecological conditions that monarchs use in successive summer months. Monarchs use a consistent ecological regimen through the summer, but these conditions contrast strikingly with those used during the winter. Hence, monarchs exhibit niche-following among sequential breeding generations but niche-switching between the breeding and overwintering stages of their annual cycle. We projected their breeding ecological niche onto monthly future climate scenarios, which indicated northward shifts, particularly at the northern extreme of their summer movements, over the next 50 yrs; if both monarchs and their milkweed host plants cannot track these changing climates, monarchs could lose distributional area during critical breeding months.
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