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Stop Critters From Eating Sunflowers

Submit your ideas for protecting flowers and pollinators to the citizen science contest.

By Lily BuiJanuary 16, 2013 9:32 PM


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DISCOVER Magazine is partnering with 



SciStarter, an online citizen science community, to solve real problems facing researchers. The 

Citizen Science Contest is your opportunity to help millions of regular people contribute to scientific discovery. Prizes include a Celestron telescope, DISCOVER subscriptions, and time-lapse cameras! But hurry, the deadline is January 21, 2013.

sunflower - shutterstock
(Credit: Magdalena Bujak/Shutterstock)

Challenge #3: Stop critters from eating sunflowers!

Background: The Great Sunflower Project uses data collected by citizen scientists to create an online map of bee populations. Participants grow sunflowers, observe how many bees visit those flowers, and then submit their observations.

The Problem: Critters, like mice and birds, often eat the sunflower seedlings before the bees are able to visit. As a result, some volunteers are unable to collect and submit data.

The Challenge: Create a safe, simple way to ensure the sunflowers are protected from critters and reach maturation.

Here's what project director Gretchen LeBuhn has to say:

Q: What is the project’s main goal?

We are trying to identify where the pollinator deserts are across the United States and Canada. Once we figure out where pollinators are doing poorly, we can start improving habitat to help them.

Q: Why are sunflowers ideal for attracting bees?

We chose sunflowers because they are native to all 48 lower states, are wildly attractive to a lot of different bee species, provide food for birds in the fall, and are fun and easy to grow. We've found that urban areas and some crop lands seem to have fewer bees. We also discovered that about 20% of our participants see no bees in their yards (including me!), which suggests that if they were trying to grow some things like vegetables and strawberries, they would have pretty poor garden success.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that volunteers have encountered so far?

When the plants flower, they count the number of bees that visit, which allows us to compare pollinators across all sorts of back yards. However, there are a lot of problems between the seed going in the ground and the plant flowering. Sunflower seeds and seedlings are wildly popular with many garden critters. While we support providing plants that provide resources for lots of critters, we'd like those flowers to get to flowering! What we need is something that can defend a nice tasty sunflower from birds and squirrels.

Q: What are some things that volunteers have already tried?

Some of the things that I've seen people use to safeguard their seeds are upside down strawberry baskets and sawed-off large soda bottles. The latter one creates a mini-greenhouse. The idea is to keep the seeds and/or sprouts unappetizing for rodents.

As natural pollinators, bees are an essential part of the ecosystem. In order to effectively study their pollination patterns, volunteers need to first be able to provide plants for bees to pollinate. Help the Sunflower Project find a way to ward off critters that can potentially hinder the growth of sunflowers meant to attract bees!

Got some ideas? Learn more about this challenge here.

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