3-Minute Interview: Gretchen LeBuhn

The San Francisco State University associate professor of biology is asking “citizen scientists” across the country to collect scientific data on the health of pollinating bees. The study requires planting a sunflower and observing twice a month how long it takes five bees to pollinate it. LeBuhn’s “The Great Sunflower Project” is the first coast-to-coast study on bee pollination. For information, visit www.greatsunflower.org.

What’s the impetus for this project? Bees are struggling — there was a lot of information about bee colony collapse disorder. There has been data that suggested that we’re missing some species that were common in San Francisco. We were interested in seeing what effect that loss of bees may be having on pollinator service, on whether or not plants are able to set seeds.

Why are you involving citizen scientists? It’s the only way to collect data at this scale to get a fine-scale map in North America. I also love that it will make people pause for a moment and take a look at these bees that are working incredibly hard for us.

What about people’s fear of getting stung? They are not aggressive. The only time they sting is when they are feeling defensive or threatened.

How accurate will the data be? The key thing for us is getting as many people as we can because the denser the data, the more precise it will be. I’d love to see San Francisco planting sunflowers in every planter.

What will happen once the data is collected? We can start doing some work to help restore the bees. They provide us with a lotof good benefits, in particular food production. They are doing a lot of work for free.

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