“It [glyphosate] kills everything”

“It [glyphosate] kills everything,” said Lincoln P. Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College who is also an author of the paper documenting the decline of monarch winter populations in Mexico. “It’s like absolute Armageddon for biodiversity over a huge area.”

AND WE ARE FEEDING IT TO OUR CHILDREN

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As recently as a decade ago, farms in the Midwest were commonly marred — at least as a farmer would view it — by unruly patches of milkweed amid the neat rows of emerging corn or soybeans.

Not anymore. Fields are now planted with genetically modified corn and soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup, (glyphosate) allowing farmers to spray the chemical to eradicate weeds, including milkweed.

And while that sounds like good news for the farmers, a growing number of scientists fear it is imperiling the monarch butterfly, whose spectacular migrations make it one of the most beloved of insects — “the Bambi of the insect world,” as an entomologist once put it.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed, and their larvae eat it. While the evidence is still preliminary and disputed, experts like Chip Taylor say the growing use of genetically modified crops is threatening the orange-and-black butterfly by depriving it of habitat.

“This milkweed has disappeared from at least 100 million acres of these row crops,” said Dr. Taylor, an insect ecologist at the University of Kansas and director of the research and conservation program Monarch Watch. “Your milkweed is virtually gone.”

The primary evidence that monarch populations are in decline comes from a new study showing a drop over the last 17 years of the area occupied by monarchs in central Mexico, where many of them spend the winter. The amount of land occupied by the monarchs is thought to be a proxy for their population size.

“This is the first time we have the data that we can analyze statistically that shows there’s a downward trend,” said Ernest H. Williams, a professor of biology at Hamilton College and an author of the study along with Dr. Taylor and others.

The paper, published online by the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity, attributes the decrease partly to the loss of milkweed from use of “Roundup Ready” crops. Other causes, it says, are the loss of milkweed to land development, illegal logging at the wintering sites in Mexico, and severe weather.

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