The eastern North American migratory population of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) is in serious decline. Habitat restoration, including adding millions of host plants to compensate for loss of milkweed in US cropland, is a key part of the international conservation strategy to return this iconic butterfly to sustainable status. We report here that Popillia japonica, a polyphagous, invasive beetle, aggregates and feeds on flowers of Asclepias syriaca, the monarch’s most important larval food plant, reducing fruiting and seed set by >90% and extensively damaging milkweed umbels in the field. The beetle’s ongoing incursion into the monarch’s key breeding grounds in the US Midwest is likely to limit pollination and outcrossing of wild and planted milkweeds, reducing their capacity to colonize new areas via seeds. Popillia japonica represents a previously undocumented threat to milkweeds that should be considered in models for monarch habitat restoration.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 8, 12139, p. 1-6.

© The Author(s) 2018

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USDA-NIFA -SCRI grant 2016-51181-235399 in collaboration with the IR-4-Project (USDA-NIFA grant 2015-34383-23710), U.S. Golf Association, Bayer North American Bee Care Center, BASF Corporation, and the University of Kentucky Nursery Research Endowment Fund.

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Supplementary information accompanies this paper at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-30731-z This is paper no. 18-08-048 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.

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Supplementary Materials