It’s funny to name species after celebrities, but there’s a serious side too



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Attenborougharion rubicundus is one of more than a dozen species named after the legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
Simon Grove/Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, CC BY

Kevin Thiele, University of Western Australia

Microleo attenboroughi. Scaptia beyonceae. Crikey steveirwini. These are the scientific names of just a few of the nearly 25,000 species of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms discovered and named in Australia in the past decade.

In each case, the honoured celebrity’s name is Latinised and added to the name of an existing or new genus – a set of closely related species that share common characteristics. In the above examples, Microleo (meaning “tiny lion”) is a genus of extinct carnivorous possums, while Scaptia is a genus of colourful horseflies. And in the case of Crikey steveirwini, a rare snail from northern Queensland, even the genus name honours Irwin, in the form of his favoured colloquialism.




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It’s not the science of tax, and five other things you should know about taxonomy


Scientists have been naming species in honour of celebrities since the 18th century. The father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, coined names to curry the favour (and open the purses) of rich patrons.

These days, we usually do it to curry short-lived attention from the public by injecting a degree of attention-grabbing frivolity. Scaptia beyonceae is one example – so named because the fly in question has a shiny, golden bum.

I don’t think you’re ready for this genus: Scaptia beyonceae.
Erick/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

But to taxonomists and biosystematists – the scientists who discover, name, classify and document the world’s living and fossil species – the naming of organisms is a serious business.

Not just celeb jokes

Consider this. The current best estimate is that Australia, including its shores and surrounding oceans, is home to more than 600,000 species of plants, animals, fungi, microbes and other organisms.

This tally ranks Australia as one of the most biologically rich and diverse nations on Earth. We are “megadiverse” – one of a select handful of nations that together comprise less than 10% of Earth’s surface but are home to more than 70% of its living species.

The world’s biodiversity hotspots.
AAS/Royal Society Te Apārangi

Now consider this: only 30% of Australia’s living species have been discovered, named and documented so far. That leaves more than 400,000 Australian species that we know absolutely nothing about.

Estimated number of described (centre shaded areas) and undescribed (outer unshaded areas) species in Australia and New Zealand.
AAS/Royal Society Te Apārangi

Does this matter? Do organisms need names? The answer is yes, if we want to conserve our biodiversity, keep our native species, agriculture and aquaculture safe from invasive pests and diseases, discover new life-saving drugs, answer some of the greatest scientific questions ever asked, or make full use of the opportunities that nature provides to improve our health, agriculture, industries and economy.

Taxonomists construct the framework that allows us to understand and document species and manage our knowledge of them. Such a framework is essential if we are to sustainably manage life on Earth. At a time when Earth is facing an extinction crisis, brought about by land clearing, pollution and global warming, it is more vital than ever.

Without the understanding provided by taxonomists, we’re like the largest, most complex global corporation imaginable, trying to do business with no stock inventory and no real idea of what most of its products look like or do.

Time for an overhaul

The magnitude of the task seems daunting. At our current rate of progress, it will take more than 400 years even to approach a complete biodiversity inventory of Australia.

Fortunately, we don’t have to continue at our current rate. Taxonomy is in the midst of a technological and scientific revolution.

New methods allow us to cheaply sequence the entire DNA code of any organism. We can extract and identify the minute DNA fragments left in a river when a fish swims past. We are globally connected like never before. And we have supercomputers and smart algorithms that can catalogue and make sense of all the world’s species.

In this context, the release today by the Australian Academy of Science and New Zealand’s Royal Society Te Apārangi of a strategic plan to guide Australian and New Zealand taxonomy and biosystematics for the next decade is a significant step. The new plan outlines how we will rise to the grand challenge of documenting, understanding and conserving all of Australia’s biodiversity.

Sir David Attenborough endorses the new taxonomy plan.

Grand challenge

The plan lays out a blueprint for the strategic investments needed to meet this grand challenge. It envisages a decade of reinvestment, leading to a program of “hyper-taxonomy” – the discovery within a generation of all of Australia’s remaining undiscovered species.

It sets out the ways in which we can use our knowledge of species to benefit society and protect nature, and also the risks involved if we don’t. A small example: there are an estimated 200 unnamed and largely unknown species of native Australian mosquitoes. Mosquitoes cause more human deaths than any other animal on Earth. New mosquito-borne viruses and other parasites are being discovered all the time. It doesn’t take much to put these facts together to see the risks.




Read more:
We can name all of Earth’s species, but we may have to hurry


With such a weighty challenge and such important goals, it’s hardly surprising that taxonomists sometimes indulge in a little quirky name-calling. Names like Draculoides bramstokeri, a cave-dwelling relative of spiders; or the tiny, harmless pseudo-scorpion Tyrannochthonius rex; or Hebejeebie, the name that botanists simply couldn’t resist when a new genus was separated from Hebe.

Materpiscis attenboroughi lived hundreds of millions of years before its celebrity namesake.
MagentaGreen/Sularko/Museum Victoria/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

One of the greatest celebrities of all, the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, has more than a dozen species named in his honour. No fewer than five of them are Australian. These include the brightly coloured slug-snail Attenborougharion rubicundus, and the fossil of the first known organism to give birth to live young, Materpiscis attenboroughi.

The ConversationAs Sir David puts the case in endorsing the plan, discovering and naming species is vitally important, not only for the future of taxonomy and biosystematics, but for the future of our living planet.

Kevin Thiele, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: where to find a puffer jacket that doesn’t warm the Earth



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Puffer jackets and vests have become the popular choice of winter coat for many, but at what cost to the environment, ducks and factory workers?
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alice Payne, Queensland University of Technology

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Our Sustainable Shopping series asks experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. Send us your suggestions for future articles here.


A good winter coat is an investment, and puffer jackets are a timeless classic that speak to the mountaineering, outdoor lifestyle of Patagonia and Kathmandu, whose names alone evoke wintry wildernesses and wild geese in flight.

If you’re looking to replace your old winter coat, there is every possibility that one of the Michelin-man-looking puffer jackets has caught your eye for its warmth, lightness and associations with trekking through the wilderness.

However, the environmental, ethical and social impacts of your puffer jacket might not leave you feeling so warm and fuzzy. Here is a guide to the considerations you should keep in mind when looking for your winter jacket, and where to find the best options.




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Quality of materials

The most common fibres for winter coats are wool or its synthetic imitation, acrylic. For puffer jackets, the outer shell is typically made from polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fibre derived from a non-renewable petrochemical origin, the use of which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Materials Sustainability Index, recycled polyester is a better environmental choice than virgin polyester, and its use is becoming more common. Emerging recycled fabrics from used coffee grounds are also in use in outdoor wear – see Mountain Designs.

The fluffy interiors of puffer jackets also need to be considered. A top ethical concern is the treatment of the birds whose down and feathers are harvested for jackets. Reports have emerged of geese and ducks being live-plucked for down and feathers.

Certifications such as the Responsible Down Standard and the Global Traceable Down Standard are a means by which companies can assure consumers that the down in their puffer jackets was ethically sourced, using the best practice of animal care. Each standard ensures there are no live-plucking or force-feeding practices, and that the animals providing down and feathers are humanely treated according to the five freedoms of animal welfare.

However, buying an expensive coat does not automatically mean that a company has its house in order, just as buying cheaper “fast fashion” puffer jackets need not necessarily mean that the down is unethically sourced. Whatever the price of the jacket, check first whether the company has signed up to the Responsible Down Standard.

The main alternative to down is polyester filling, such as the recycled polyester ECOdown. Unlike duck or goose down, ECOdown does not lose its insulating qualities when wet. The flip side is that polyester down is slightly heavier than duck or goose down. Brands that use ECOdown include Trenery and HoodLamb.

There are also other natural alternatives, such as batting made from merino wool, as used by Icebreaker, or the recycled goose down used by Patagonia.

Manufacturing processes

The long supply chains through which our garments arrive can mean that labour abuses continue to occur. The 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide was released this month, so have a look at how local brands have fared in terms of supply-chain transparency. Throughout April, Fashion Revolution Day aim to connect and inform the public about the issues facing the estimated 60 million garment workers worldwide.




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Three years on from Rana Plaza disaster and little improvement in transparency or worker conditions


Well Made Clothes is a website that allows you to choose clothing that aligns with your values, be they environmental, social, ethical treatment of animals, or all three.

Coat care

The final choices are those you can make as a wearer. For the workaday, bundled-up commuter, choose a high-quality garment in a hard-wearing fabric in a classic style and it will last you many seasons (real seasons as well as fashion’s artificial ones).

Again, fibre matters in longevity. Wool coats have a natural insulating quality. Acrylic, a synthetic substitute for wool, can develop pilling and does not have wool’s natural advantages.

Selecting a brand that will repair your damaged coat ensures that you remain motivated to care for your garment. Finally, in terms of disposal, brands such as Kathmandu and H&M offer a take-back service at the end of the garment’s life (although effective recycling of these garments remains a wicked problem for retailers). High-quality coats will always be in demand at op shops.

Why not wear what you wore last winter?

Retailers might not like this, but you should ask yourself whether you even need a fresh coat and, if so, whether it needs to be bought new. The most environmentally friendly item is the one we already own. Increasing sales of second-hand clothing result in savings in carbon emissions, waste, and water usage per tonne of clothing (see page 38 of this report).

Despite the supposed vagaries of fashion, winter coats are an excellent example of a garment that need not require constant refreshing, but rather can be worn for many seasons if cared for correctly.




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Sustainable shopping: for eco-friendly jeans, stop washing them so often


However, if you seek a winter wardrobe refresh, the enjoyment of rugging up in a new coat can be experienced at a lower cost economically and environmentally by buying second-hand, whether through eBay or op shops, or swapping or buying informally through friends in your social network. Engaging in the sharing economy through clothing renting platforms such as Lána can allow you to rent a show-stopping coat for a special night out.

The ConversationGiven the many considerations involved in the choice of coat – whether concerns over workers’ rights, cruelty to animals, or environmental impact – all we can do is make informed choices according to our individual values. For this reason, my first stop when doing some “sustainable shopping” will always be my existing wardrobe.

Alice Payne, Senior lecturer in Fashion, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.