Citizen Science: A New Kind of Pollen Count
“Citizen Science” refers to the method of relying on everyday people to collect or analyze data as part of a larger scientific project. With the advent of Internet technology, this method of research– akin to crowd-sourcing– has become more popular than ever before, especially for environmental scientists, whose research often encompasses large areas of land that would otherwise not be feasible to visit. For Lil’ Sprouts, Citizen Science projects offer the chance for accessible, hands-on environmental education in one’s own backyard. Some of the projects we feature are adventurous nature treks while others are more leisurely undertakings– but all encourage exploring nature in one capacity or another.
As the weather starts to turn, clear, biting mornings extend into brisk afternoons and evening arrives chill and early. The amount of time we spend outdoors grows shorter. Bees and other pollinators experience the change as well, becoming increasingly active as they gather nectar in preparation for winter. In the final weeks before fall ends, grab your sweater and spend some time outside participating in The Great Sunflower Project.
Founded in 2008, the Great Sunflower Project seeks to increase knowledge of urban, suburban, and rural pollinators in order to better understand why they are on the decline and to create more informed, efficient conservation projects.
The initiative is driven by individuals who monitor pollinator activity in their yard or local green area and submit the information online. Researchers then use the data to create a map that tracks the activity of bees in the United States and Canada, generating a detailed map of where pollinators are (and are not) doing well.
Primarily supported by San Francisco State University, the project began by looking specifically at sunflowers in regional backyards. However, the researchers behind the project soon realized they could learn a great deal more by studying plants outside of sunflowers, and soon they expanded their data to include more casual observations in wild areas, as well.
With simple instructions on how to count pollinators, The Great Sunflower Project makes it easy to get involved. After setting up an account on their website, you’ll be able to input your data regularly.
To participate, you’ll need a plant in your garden or neighborhood that attracts pollinators, as well as a ready stack of paper and a pencil. The preferred length of observation is 15 minutes, but the Great Sunflower Project requests that you sit with the flower for at least five minutes. For more detailed instructions, visit their website.
Studying pollinators is an excellent way for Lil’ Sprouts to observe how ecosystems work around them. The Great Sunflower Project’s go-to fact–that pollinators are responsible for every third bite of food you eat–is a straightforward way to engage children, making their connection to bees tangible. (If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help bees and other pollinators at home, check out our stories on what to plant in your yard and how to build a bee house.)
- What is a pollinator?
Pollinators are what make healthy gardens grow! Since flowers are their primary source of food, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies are the most effective pollinators; other pollinators include spiders, flies, wasps, and bats.
Pollinators carry pollen from one area of a plant to another, a process that fertilizes the plants, which causes them to produce seeds or fruits. Without pollinators, many flowers and plants would not be able to reproduce, and would soon die out. Imagine a world without mangoes, vanilla, raspberries, kiwis, or apples!
Visit GC’s Lil’ Sprouts Section for more Citizen Science Projects.