By John R. Platt
What's in a species name?
In some cases, the answers include paternalism, colonialism, sexism and racism.
Take the Townsend's warbler (Setophaga townsendi), for example. This small, bright yellow North American bird was first scientifically described at Fort Vancouver in Washington state, just a few miles from where I live. We get a ton of them in our backyard every year.
But the Townsend's warbler, beautiful though it may be, is a bird whose name has a dark history. It was named by American naturalist John Kirk Townsend, who described dozens of species in the early 19th century — right around the same time he was stealing human remains from Native American grave sites and shipping the skulls back East to help support a friend's racist theory that Indigenous peoples were actually separate species.
As you might expect, in these more enlightened times, several experts have proposed renaming the Townsend's warbler, along with dozens of other North American birds that bear the names of other ethically dubious researchers or historical figures.
And North American birds are not alone.
Around the world, taxonomists and conservationists say we need to address similar species-naming issues, although most aren't as glaring as the Townsend case.
An example comes from biodiversity-rich New Caledonia, an archipelago in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 750 miles east of Australia.
Like many islands, New Caledonia's remoteness allowed unique species to develop and thrive. Hundreds of unique plants and animals call the islands home, including the world's largest gecko, the 14-inch Leach's giant gecko (Rhacodactylus leachianus), known by many as "the Leachie" and named after English zoologist William Elford Leach, who never set foot on the islands.
"The Leachie" is just one example. A new paper published in the journal Biological Conservation, "The inequity of species names: The flora of New Caledonia as a case study," examines the names of more than 650 plants native to New Caledonia that have been named after particular people — usually botanists or collectors. It found that just 7% of the species were named after people born on the islands. Further, only 6% of these plants were named after women (and some of those women were the wives or daughters of the botanists).
This isn't just a function of decisions made centuries ago, either. Most of the species were named by researchers in the past 50 years.
"We should be more inclusive in our taxonomic practice and think about the consequences for the conservation of the species that are newly named," says Yohan Pillon, the author of the study and a biologist with Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Montpellier, France.
Of course, naming a plant species in New Caledonia is, at best, challenging due to their stunning variety.
"The flora of New Caledonia is extremely diverse and complex," Pillon says. "There are over 100 species in the genus Phyllanthus, over 90 species in the genus Psychotria. Few people on Earth can tell them apart."
Even beyond that challenge, purposefully identifying taxonomic names based on more culturally relevant identifiers poses a few problems. New Caledonia, now a territory of France, was originally inhabited by the Kanak community, who currently represent about 41% of the total population. They've been joined over the centuries by people from Polynesia, Europe and southeast Asia. French is the dominant language, and while the dozens of Indigenous Kanak languages are still spoken and taught, they're not as strong as they once were.
New Caledonia. Chris Hoare / CC BY 2.0
"There are 30 Indigenous languages, some spoken by very few people or poorly studied," Pillon says, "which makes ethnobiological surveys complex compared to places like Hawai'i. You need both acute botanical and linguistic knowledge for that. Vernacular names are therefore a very difficult information to collect in New Caledonia and often not very reliable. In New Caledonia, few endemic plants have a known common name."
But despite any challenges that might come in determining a species' taxonomic moniker, picking the right name can have conservation benefits. Pillon points out a case from earlier this year in which local people expressed support for naming a new plant species after its sole remaining habitat.
A similar situation occurred last month in Guiana, where an orchid newly described by scientists had its name chosen by the Pemón Arekuna Indigenous community. Polish researcher Mateusz Wrazidlo told Mongabay that this was an example of "decolonizing science nomenclature and giving more representation to Indigenous [and] local languages."
Pillon echoes that sentiment. "Conservation science needs to be more inclusive," he wrote in his paper, "and the naming of new species offers an excellent opportunity to acknowledge more broadly the diversity of individuals who have contributed to our understanding of the natural world. Areas of high biodiversity often overlap with areas of high linguistic diversity, but the links among biodiversity and cultural and linguistic diversity are often underappreciated. To promote the preservation of biodiversity, species should be named with an eye toward how these names will be perceived by the local communities involved."
And it's not just plants and animals that should be named more thoughtfully or renamed to reverse an inequity. Place names also matter. Last year in the United States, Rep. Deb Haaland — currently on track to be the Biden administration's secretary of the Interior — introduced a bill to reexamine geographic places or features currently known by offensive or racist names, which often belittle Native peoples or erase longstanding Indigenous place names.
That's no small challenge — there are more than 1,400 of these questionably named locations in the United States alone — but names have power. Renaming something or thoughtfully identifying it in the first place offers one more tool for helping to protect the world's threatened species and habitats — while they still exist for us to name.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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