Do you have 15 minutes to spare? If so, you can be a citizen scientist. Over the past few years, citizen scientists -- ordinary people who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of such creatures as birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and others -- have been active and helpful information gatherers. After all, scientists can't be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help others keep tabs on animal populations.
Scientist Gretchen LeBuhn, of the San Francisco Bay Area, hopes to get thousands of people counting this weekend through her Great Sunflower Project. You can count bees on sunflowers, bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, and purple coneflower. The instructions on the site are very easy to follow and complete.
Pollinators (a group in which bees are in important member) affect 35 percent of the world's crop production, studies have shown. In recent years, bee populations have declined so drastically, due to climate and environmental change, that scientists are struggling to understand and reverse what they call "colony collapse disorder".
Us citizen scientists can help identify where native bee populations are doing well and where they’re doing poorly. Even if you can't help this weekend, planting sunflowers or other bee-friendly flowers can help the bee population in your area.
There are lots of other great citizen science projects. Some are event-based and others are ongoing. These include:
Here are still more citizen scientist project ideas.
Read about the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman