The Great Sunflower Project

The Great Sunflower Project

Researchers at San Francisco State University set up The Great Sunflower Project in 2008 to better understand the reason for and impact of declines in bee populations. The idea behind the project is to plant flowers, observe how many and how often bees visit those flowers, and then enter that information into a database on The Great Sunflower Project Web site. The project has since expanded so that citizen scientists can also plant Bee balm, Cosmos, Rosemary, Tickseed, and Purple coneflower for the purposes of this research.

Some bee populations have had severe declines, and this may be affecting food production. There have been few efforts to measure how much pollination is happening over any given region so it is unclear how these declines in bees influence gardens. As the researchers point out, many plants can't set fruit until they have been visited by a bee. The Great Sunflower project uses observational bee data collected by citizen scientists to create a nationwide (and hopefully worldwide) online map of bee populations.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Entomology Department has created a citizen science project to likewise study declining bee populations called BeeSpotter, although this project is limited for the time being to the state of Illinois.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Gretchen LeBuhn, Associate Professor
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: Department of Biology, San Francisco State University
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Observation
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages
  • TIME COMMITMENT: Less than 1 hour per week

    After signing up at the project's Web site, plant a seed or two [purchasing seeds is one of the project's few costs], spend 15 minutes watching your flowers twice a month and send or input your data directly via the site. It's a good idea to bring a camera during observations and include any pictures along with your data.

    The researchers are looking for data from the early part of each month and the later part of each month for as many months as you have flowers.

    For more information, contact Gretchen LeBuhn:

See more projects in FreeObservationAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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