FMR restoration efforts emphasize pollinator health

A yellow sulphur butterfly in the bluff prairie at River Oaks park in Cottage Grove, an FMR restoration site. Photo: Joe Walton

The past few years have brought little good news for pollinators in Minnesota and the greater United States. These species are increasingly impacted by habitat loss and widespread agricultural pesticide use, and populations are experiencing dramatic declines. 

Recently, however, more research and money have been funneled to this issue, with local, state and national governments taking actions aimed at protecting pollinator populations. While this research has helped us understand certain factors linked to pollinator decline, it's also striking how much of this research is concentrated on a few specific species — usually iconic pollinators like monarch butterflies and honeybees —  while we know relatively little about many native pollinators.

In fact, the state of native bees in Minnesota is largely unknown. Not only do we not have data on population trends for many native species, we don’t even know which bees those are or where they occur. The most recent statewide species list of bees in Minnesota was published in 1919 — almost 100 years ago!

However, scientists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Minnesota Biological Survey are now conducting fieldwork to create a current statewide bee list. These surveys will in turn lay the groundwork for studies that will allow us to track bee populations and determine whether they’re increasing or declining — essential knowledge for evaluating how our actions as a society benefit or harm these important pollinators.

National restoration efforts

But research isn’t the only action aimed at saving our native pollinators. Habitat restoration projects big and small have taken a renewed interest in providing habitat specifically geared towards pollinators.

On a national level, the Obama administration created the Pollinator Health Task Force, adopting a federal strategy to promote pollinator health. Monarchs have garnered special attention, and ambitious efforts like the proposed I-35 pollinator corridor to create habitat along the entirety of the butterfly’s United States migration route. However, this corridor will benefit more than monarchs, and it highlights the growing understanding that habitat connectivity is paramount to the success of these species.

The federal task force and other national initiatives also call for the restoration of prairie habitats, which support myriad plants for pollinators. Especially important within these restoration plans will be the provision of diverse host and nectar plants. Not only must several species be included, but they need to bloom at different times in the growing season. For example, early bloomers like milkweeds should be planted alongside late-season bloomers like asters and blazing stars. These are all principles and factors FMR ecologists have long applied.

FMR: Restoring for pollinators

At FMR, we’ve focused on diverse, pollinator-friendly restorations for many years. We design our plantings and seed mixes to include high-value pollinator plants with diverse heights, colors, and bloom times — all important when it comes to supporting a diverse community of pollinator species. For example, our new 2,500-square foot prairie pollinator patch at Ole Olson Park contains over 30 different plant species, including 26 flowering species, and is part of our larger restoration of over 2 acres of prairie at the North Minneapolis riverfront site (volunteer planting photos). Similar plantings have occurred at Old Mill Park in Hastings and at a number of the other sites we manage.

We’re also excited about some of our larger prairie and savanna restorations, including work we’ve done at the Sand Coulee Scientific & Natural Area and work we're planning at the William H. Houlton Conservation area in Elk River. These larger projects (the Elk River site will transform over 160 acres of farm fields into prairie!) are important for creating large-scale contiguous habitat for pollinators and will also help improve natural area connectivity, allowing pollinators and other wildlife to move between sites and preventing population bottlenecks in smaller, isolated natural areas. 

Asters bloom among a diverse array of species at one of FMR's many restoration sites.

Moving forward, we’re continuing to create new pollinator habitat, including in forests, savannas and prairies, and are working with partners and funders to pursue grants specific to creating pollinator habitat. It’s our hope that through these endeavors, FMR will remain a leader not only in science-based restoration, but also in the revival of pollinator populations in Minnesota.

Learn more

Minnesota Pollinator Resources and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pollinator surveys