The migrating population of the iconic monarch butterfly has shown a declining trend in size for more than a decade, causing conservation concerns. One hypothesis for the trend is a corresponding decline in the abundance of milkweed, the only food source utilized by specialized monarch larvae. In response, many organizations are encouraging people to plant milkweed on public and private lands to help create new breeding habitat for monarchs. Patterns of local adaptation in milkweeds, including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), may influence the success of these planting programs; however, data are lacking to evaluate this possibility. We have designed a transplant experiment to be replicated across the native range of A. syriacaat educational institutions with students in grades 6-16. We also are developing curriculum that helps students connect evolutionary ecology concepts with the current concern about monarchs and are recruiting educators to gather seeds and conduct the milkweed transplant experiment. Thus far, we have drawn upon the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN), a group focused on developing educational research projects replicated across college campuses, to recruit college professors. Additionally, we have offered summer workshops for grades 6-12 life science teachers.
Currently, we have identified more than 30 interested educators in 10 states. Ten individuals, including 6 professors from the EREN network and 4 public school life science teachers, have committed to participate in an expanded pilot study this summer. Additional educators plan to participate in the full transplant experiment in 2018. All but one of these educators met the principal investigator in person, either at an EREN conference or at a summer workshop; consequently, the opportunity to interact directly with participants appears to enhance recruitment success and retention. The geographic distribution of interested participants is broad but does not cover the native range of common milkweed. We will continue to recruit participants through these and other networks, and also expand our efforts to recruit educators affiliated with nature centers and native plant societies. After recruitment and training, educators will work with students to gather long-term data across space that will characterize patterns of local adaptation in common milkweed and shed light on the evolutionary forces shaping them.