Wildflower seed packets lead to pollinator-friendly behaviors, though more follow-up is needed

Kerr, K. C. R., & Harricharan, A. K. (2021). Assessing the impact of complimentary wildflower seed packets as an outreach tool for promoting pollinator conservation at a zoo. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 20, 92 - 106.

The decline of pollinator populations globally has been recognized as an urgent issue, due to how crucial pollinators are to a healthy and functioning planet. One of the primary drivers of decreasing pollinator populations is the loss of their habitat, so a common conservation technique is to promote pollinator-friendly gardens. Past research has demonstrated that planting wildflower seeds of native species has a strong, positive effect on plant and pollinator diversity. However, the behavioral impact of programs that distribute wildflower seeds has not been studied. This study investigated how providing wildflower seeds to a group of Toronto Zoo annual membership holders effected their pollinator-friendly behaviors.

Zoos have adopted conservation education as one of their main goals. The community-based social marketing model proposes that a variety of barriers such as convenience, in addition to a lack of information on a topic, prevent human behavior change. Based on this framework, some zoos started to hand out wildflower seeds and educational information to increase the planting of pollinator gardens. This kind of engagement is called a post-visit action resource (PVAR). Seeds are especially effective PVARs because they are easy to store and distribute, and inexpensive.

This study involved Toronto Zoo annual membership holders from 2018. The members were selected to participate if they lived in Ontario, Canada, and if their membership was going to remain valid through September of 2018. The 6,581 households that fit the criteria were randomly divided into an experimental and a control group. Both groups received the Zoo's Spring 2018 magazine, which included a 2-page article on pollinator health, while the experimental group also received a pack of wildflower seeds taped to the article inside the magazine. The researchers then collected self-reported data on attitudes, behaviors, and intentions in relation to pollinator gardening via a Google Forms survey, which was emailed to the participants. The survey sent to the experimental group had 12 questions, whereas the control group survey did not include any questions about the seed packet, which reduced the survey to 9 questions. The questions were either multiple choice, or on a five-point Likert scale. The survey had a low response rate (6.9%), or 341 surveys, and after additional screening for duplicate responses and other errors, 152 experimental group surveys, and 172 control group surveys were used in the data analysis. The researchers analyzed the data to determine whether providing the seed packets and the pollinator-focused article impacted behavior change.

Most of the experimental group (57%) reported planting their seeds, and of that group, roughly half said that their plants had germinated and were doing well. Many of the respondents (72%) had never purchased pollinator-friendly plants before, which suggests that providing seed packets effectively created new pollinator habitat. Of the respondents who did not plant their seeds, the top reasons they expressed were not having time and not having space. Additionally, some reported giving their seeds away to family or friends. A number of participants (23%) reported not ever seeing the seed packets as the reason they did not plant them. A higher proportion of participants from the experimental group (54.6%) reported reading the informational article on pollinators in comparison to the control group (34.9%), but there was no difference between the groups in terms of whether those who read it also enjoyed the article, if they looked up additional information, or shared the article. There was also no difference between the groups in how they said the experiment impacted their uptake of pollinator-friendly behaviors, such as planning to purchase pollinator-friendly plants in the future.

This study had a few limitations. The study sample consisted of Zoo members, suggesting that they may hold more pro-environmental attitudes and knowledge than the average individual, meaning that this research is not generalizable to the general population. The survey responses were voluntary and self-reported, so there was no way for the researchers to validate the data, and the actual behaviors of the respondents may have differed from their survey answers. The results may have been impacted by the large number of participants who did not see the seed packets, which were inside of a magazine, and the researchers acknowledge that their distribution of the seed packets should have been clearer.

The researchers recommend distributing seed packets as a form of post-visit action resource (PVAR) because many of the seed packets were planted, and thereby provided at least a short-term increase in pollinator habitat. However, the long-term impacts of this intervention were unknown because there was no significant difference in whether those who received seed packets planned to continue pollinator-friendly behaviors in the future. Therefore, the researchers recommended incorporating additional follow-up material, such as an email campaign to remind the participants to plant their seeds and provide information about how to care for them going forward. One significant difference between experimental and control groups was the increased likelihood that the experimental group read the accompanying article. This suggests that seed packets, and other physical marketing tools, can draw more attention to the additional educational information provided. If educational programs use seed packets as PVARs, the researchers recommended using seeds that are easy to germinate and store, plus information about the best area and time of year to plant the seeds, because many of the study participants kept their seeds to plant in the future or gave them to others.

The Bottom Line

<p>Declining pollinator populations has been identified as an urgent and global issue, which has been linked to habitat loss. This research aimed to understand whether providing wildflower seed packets, in addition to written pollinator educational material, would impact behavior change. A group of Toronto Zoo annual membership holders were sent an article focused on pollinator health, and an experimental group received a pack of wildflower seeds that accompanied the article. Data from a voluntary and self-reported survey showed that most of the participants who received the wildflower seeds planted them, and were more likely to read the accompanying article, but there was a lack of long-term behavior change. The researchers recommended using a follow-up email campaign to remind people to plant their seeds, and how to best care for them, to promote long term pollinator-friendly behavior change.</p>

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