World Wildlife Fund (WWF) scientists have reason to believe that Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup, contributed to drastic decreases in the North American monarch butterfly population. Monarch butterflies are an important part of the environment and play several vital roles in nature.

The WWF started monitoring the migratory habits of monarch butterflies in 1993. Shortly after the WWF began monitoring monarch butterflies, monarchs had a dense population. During its peak in 1996, monarch butterfly hibernation colonies in Mexico covered a 45 acre area. Last November, they covered only 1.6 acres. Although the WWF indicated illegal logging as one of the culprits, university researchers have found another cause.

University of Minnesota biologist Karen Oberhauser found that increased use of Roundup brand herbicide in America and Canada contributed to declining monarch butterfly populations. Across the American Midwest, the agriculture industry used the herbicide to kill milkweed, the exclusive location where monarch butterflies lay their eggs.

Oberhauser indicated a direct correlation between the decrease in milkweed and monarch butterflies in the Midwest. The milkweed population fell 80 percent, and so did the monarch butterfly population. One midwestern state in particular experienced a near eradication of as Iowa has gotten rid of 98 percent of its milkweed.

“We have this smoking gun,” Oberhauser said. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”

Glyphosate is the key chemical that Monsanto puts in Roundup-brand herbicide, and the chemical has been linked to serious health issues. Monsanto has said that glyphosate is safe, however, studies have linked the chemical to Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, and other diseases in humans. But once thought of as all miracle catch-all herbicide, Roundup is proving itself otherwise.

Some weeds are actually developing a tolerance to Roundup, causing farmers to plow or use more herbicides containing glyphosate. From 1992 to 2007, Roundup use increased by 11,000 tons. Glyphosate also doesn’t break down as advertised so easily. Twenty years of use has spread glyphosate into groundwater, soil, and the air around areas its used.

Monarch butterflies are important to the environment, as well as science, as they are indicators of healthy ecosystems. Butterfly populations encourage flourishing ecosystems because of their value as pollinators, and serve scientists because of their expansive population spread. This expanse allows scientists to monitor animal habitat loss and climate change. Not to mention, butterflies provide another food source for insectivorous animals.

Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.