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Karen Oberhauser

Professor of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota


Karen Oberhauser has been studying monarch butterflies since 1984, and is the director of the Monarchs in the Classroom and Monarch Larva Monitoring programs. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota. Karen works with teachers and pre-college students in Minnesota and throughout the United States using monarchs to teach about biology, conservation, and the process of science, and distributes monarch eggs and larvae to hundreds of teachers each summer and fall. Over 500 citizen volunteers participate in the Monarch

Larva Monitoring project. She and her graduate and undergraduate students have studied monarch reproduction, disease dynamics, overwintering biology, larval nutritional requirements, and larval ecology. Some of their more applied work has included risk assessments of the potential impacts of genetically modified corn and insecticides on monarchs.


Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Poster

In the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP), environmental education professionals, scientists, and K-12 teachers and students measure the distribution and abundance of monarch butterflies throughout the US.  From 1997 to 2006, volunteers and participating scientists have monitored over 600 natural area, garden, roadside and agricultural sites in the US and Canada.  These citizen scientists provide information that helps to conserve monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, and advance our understanding of butterfly ecology, thus contributing to basic biological and conservation knowledge.  It also provides an ideal way for environmental education professionals to connect with the K-12 community by engaging individuals from many institutions in a research/conservation partnership.  Teachers throughout the US use the MLMP to enhance science and conservation education by engaging their students in summer monitoring programs, and nature centers incorporate the project into summer program activities for families, youth groups, and volunteers.  The project uses a service learning model to increase science achievement and literacy, as well as knowledge of and concern for the natural world.  Participants conduct authentic ecological research, utilizing science, math and communication skills to carry out and present their research. 

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project Presentation tiny PDF icon

Monarchs breed throughout the northeastern US every summer before migrating to overwintering sites in central Mexico. The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is a 12-year old citizen science effort that leads to better understanding of monarch distribution and abundance during the breeding season. Over 1000 volunteers have participated in the project, monitoring local sites weekly throughout the monarch breeding season. Results are disseminated in scientific publications, via an annual newsletter, and on a website.  Participants include teachers, naturalists, and others, and most volunteers monitor with children. This presentation will focus on how we have have designed a question-based citizen science project that addresses dual goals of education and science. Central to this process has been a continual refinement of both questions and methods using on-going formative evaluation.

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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