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High demand for avocados could impact monarch butterflies

Credit: Pixabay

Credit: Pixabay

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Thursday, August 11, 2016, 2:41 PM - The high demand for avocado in the U.S. and rising prices for the fruit are fuelling deforestation of central Mexico's pine forests, which are the wintering grounds for the monarch butterfly.

Much higher profits come from growing avocados compared to most other crops. As a result, farmers have been clearing or thinning out the forests to plant young avocado trees.

Farmers can make up to $500,000 annually from a plot if each tree bears 100 avocados a year. It takes about seven years for a tree to reach maturity.

"Even where they aren't visibly cutting down the forest, there are avocados growing underneath (the pine boughs), and sooner or later they'll cut down the pines completely," Mario Tapia Vargas, researcher for Mexico's National Institute of Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research told The Associated Press.

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Monarch butterflies are at risk as avocado trees grow in the mountains of Michoacan, southwest of Mexico City where in late-October, the eastern population of North America's monarchs overwinter.

To make matters worse, a mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as what a dense forest would require. This results in less water for other vegetation and wildlife.

In addition, the high demand could also impact locals living in the area, Greenpeace Mexico highlights. 

"Beyond the displacement of forests and the effects on water retention, the high use of agricultural chemicals and the large volumes of wood needed to pack and ship avocados are other factors that could have negative effects on the area's environment and the well-being of its inhabitants," the organization said in a statement.

Avocado production in Michoacan tripled and exports increased tenfold between the years of 2001 and 2010, according to a report published in 2012 by Tapia Vargas's institute. Expansion came with a loss of forest land of about 690 hectares.

SOURCE: The Associated Press

Related: The apple is no longer the most pesticide ridden fruit

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