SCIENCES

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution

Princeton Univ. Apr. 2017. 296p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780691166353. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400884766. NAT HIST
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Don't be fooled by the delicate beauty of monarch butterflies and milkweed: a war has raged for millions of years. Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed, a toxic plant that continuously evolves to discourage consumption. The monarchs persist, as the poison makes them literally sickening to their predators. Agrawal (ecology, evolutionary biology, & entomology, Cornell Univ.; coeditor, Insect Outbreaks Revisited) offers historical evidence and current research to explain the relationship between the two. Many visuals, such as graphs and pictures, aid the text, making the book reminiscent of a college seminar. The author's style is accessible as he stops to explain unfamiliar terms and background. However, only readers with a strong interest in butterflies and milkweed or those committed to lifelong learning will likely stay motivated to finish this volume. There has been much media coverage of the declining monarch population, with suggestions to plant more milkweed. Yet Agrawal believes that an alleged lack of milkweed isn't the real problem. He cautions that many of his peers don't agree with his theory but encourages others to figure out the mystery.
VERDICT Interesting, but for a specific audience.
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