NatureSims Partners With Monarch Joint Venture On MonarchVR Game
Did you know that no single monarch completes the species’ entire Great Migration in a lifespan?
Monarchs born in the summer live two to six weeks while those born in August can live up to nine months by entering reproductive diapause, which prolongs life by delaying reproductive functions.
This and countless other fascinating facts are why we chose to allow users of our second NatureSims title, MonarchVR, to explore the world virtually and from the perspective of the monarch butterfly.
When ready to turn his butterfly vision into a virtual reality, NatureSims Founder Kai Evenson turned to Wendy Caldwell, director of the Monarch Joint Venture. MJV was founded in 2008 as a small partnership working to preserve monarch butterflies for future generations. It now represents a network of more than 110 partners, including federal and state agencies, academic institutions, non-profits, and businesses.
The MJV’s ability to coalesce the many different, yet equally necessary, elements working together to preserve the monarch and its migration makes it an invaluable synthesizer for monarch preservation. We’re glad to have them as one of our strongest partners on MonarchVR. We’re also proud to support their non-virtual, real-world efforts.
The Monarch Butterfly: Path To Survival
MJV’s list of initiatives is long and complex, but boils down to science, education, habitat, and partnership.
One of the main paths MJV follows toward that goal is community science, including two different national monitoring programs that engage volunteers, partners and the public. Community science informs conservation and inspires people to act on an individual level.
It’s educational, collaborative, fun, and always a strong priority for monarch conservation because it offers so many ways for monarch lovers to engage by collecting data and participating in the building of high-quality habitat.
Want to get involved? CLICK HERE to get involved in monarch conservation efforts in your area.
“For a long time, we’re going to be constantly fighting habitat degradation due to human conversion, degradation and loss,” says Caldwell. “There can never be too much habitat for pollinators, and this is about more than monarchs. It’s about the entire landscape and everything that lives within it.”
MJV accomplishes this via creating and nurturing partnerships with agricultural stakeholders and others to impact habitat quality in a fundamental way across as wide a landscape as possible, though this is only one example of their multi-tiered efforts.
Counting monarch butterflies is surprisingly consistent for a population that traverses the continent on a regular basis. What’s known as the eastern population (east of the Rockies) winters in Mexico and accounts for nearly 99 percent of all North American monarchs while the western population (west of the Rockies) winters on the coast of California. The eastern population consists of millions of butterflies, so many they’re counted by the number of hectares they cover while overwintering in Mexico. The western population is much smaller and counted individually while overwintering in California.
“Just a few years ago, just under 30,000 individuals were counted in California, a drop compared to the 100,000-300,000 that have been counted annually over the last couple of decades,” says MJV education coordinator Katie-Lyn Bunney. “Two years ago, there were fewer than 2,000 individual monarchs counted in California, which was very alarming, but last year it went up to nearly 250,000, which is spectacular.”
While a good sign, Bunney notes that this is far below historic population numbers, and the monarch still faces a tough road ahead to avoid losing the migration. MJV and its community of supporters are up for the fight, though.
“I feel like we’ve never been busier and we’re gaining momentum, including engaging with people from all over North America via virtual trainings, community science, professional development, and communicating with a broader reach,” she says.
Virtual Reality Keeps It Real
Right at that point is an intersection where MJV and NatureSims have been working together since the earliest days of the project to make MonarchVR a learning asset in classrooms and for the broader public.
“It’s a visual educational tool to find and engage an increasing number of people who know and care about the plight of the monarch,” says Caldwell. “Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to engage kids with more interactive learning opportunities, and MonarchVR is a fun way to extend the classroom exponentially while educating people about monarchs.”
With a background as a biologist specializing in environmental science and entomology, Caldwell already loved insects, but visiting the monarch wintering grounds caused her passion for monarchs to find full bloom.
“I first visited the colonies in Mexico in 2012 and it brought me to tears. I’d been working with this insect and gaining an appreciation for it, but when you see those millions of butterflies, it’s true magic.”
As masses of monarchs in California, Mexico and countless farms and properties along the route of the Great Migration, monarchs have a unique way of capturing the heart and the imagination of many who experience their collective natural beauty, and they need our help.