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  5. Sharing scientific expertise to restore habitat for pollinators

Sharing scientific expertise to restore habitat for pollinators

Thomas Onuferko


Bee researcher Thomas Onuferko, 2015.

May 20, 2021

Canadian Museum of Nature Research Associate Thomas Onuferko’s research on wild bees will give a “leg up” to pollinators in Manitoba. Dr. Onuferko’s expertise is helping Tundra Oil and Gas establish pollinator-friendly habitats on retired oil well sites. In the long term, such efforts to create pollinator refuges will not only be beneficial for wildlife conservation, but necessary for agricultural sustainability.

“Canada’s prairies are home to around 400 species of bees on which many native and crop plants rely for pollination. There is strong evidence that providing patches of pollinator-friendly habitat in agricultural landscapes increases biodiversity and, in many cases, also improves crop yield, explains Dr. Onuferko.”

The project is taking place in a few phases. The first involves preparations for habitat restoration. “This includes selection of pollinator-friendly native plants to seed, planning management strategies to ensure the plants take hold and are not outcompeted by exotic weeds, and developing a monitoring protocol to see how bees and other pollinators respond to Tundra’s restoration measures,” says Onuferko.

Phase two entails helping desirable plants take hold while controlling for weeds, and sampling flower-visiting insects to show that restoration efforts are helping to increase pollinator biodiversity. Subsequent phases would see similar restoration work carried out more broadly at various retired well sites, as part of Tundra’s initiative to minimize its human footprint.

For the pilot project, two sites were selected with different characteristics and locations. Both sites were seeded in late fall 2020.

The first site, situated in the rural municipality of Sifton, is an access road that was decommissioned in 2018. Heavily forested with aspen, poplar, and willow brush, this site is crown land designated as a wildlife management area.

The second site in the rural municipality of Wallace-Woodworth consists of a water injection well and access road. It was decommissioned in 2014 and is fully reclaimed. Surrounded by slough grass, cattails, and willow brush, it has a large area that is unavailable for agricultural purposes and will be left in a natural state.

While Dr. Onuferko advises on this restoration work, he is pursuing a broader research project about pollinator biodiversity in the prairies. As the museum’s Beaty post-doctoral fellow* in 2019-20, he collected thousands of insects, mainly bees and wasps, found in rare sand-dune habitats in the southern prairies. The resulting identifications and documentation will provide an important baseline of knowledge of the diversity of pollinators in these threatened ecosystems.

The importance of bees and other pollinators to biodiversity is the driving force behind the United Nations’ designation of May 20 as World Bee Day. Learn more at: