5 things to know to have a productive conversation about race with your boss

Read the full story at Fast Company.

Author Y-Vonne Hutchinson shares five key insights from her new book that can help guide a courageous conversation.

Piping plover help wanted: Volunteers needed to monitor Montrose Beach as birders await return of Monty and Rose

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago.

The group that watches over the endangered piping plovers needs 20 volunteers who can commit two hours a week to protect the birds from predators and beachgoers.

Why experts say you should immediately stop filling birdfeeders

Read the full story at AL.com.

Experts are issuing unusual advice – quit filling your bird feeders.

The reason, according to Dr. Victoria Hall with the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, is an “unprecedented outbreak” of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, strain H5N1 in wild birds.

Webinar: Leveraging Behavioral Science for Continuous Improvement within SEM

Apr 27, 2022, 11 am CDT
Register here.

Energy efficiency program administrators across the U.S. and Canada have been working together to improve the performance of their Strategic Energy Management (SEM) programs. While SEM can support decarbonization of operations at customer sites and often provides other non-energy benefits, these programs are challenging to administer and implement and they rely on customer commitment. To ensure program offerings meet customers’ needs while maintaining flexibility, a committee of program administrators from the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), with input from their SEM implementation contractors, is looking at the key role of behavioral science in making SEM more effective and inspiring customer commitment. The committee is also determining how to most effectively evaluate energy-saving measures that leverage behavioral science.

To cite an example: at a recent CEE Industry Partners session, an SEM implementer illustrated the importance of employee engagement in making the cultural shift to SEM. One way he leverages behavioral science in practice is through treasure hunts, which support customer buy-in to SEM.

To further explore this topic and work toward concrete demonstration of verifiable SEM impacts, a panel of several program administrators and SEM implementers will discuss the role of behavioral science in SEM based on their observations so far. Panelist presentations will be followed by facilitated discussion.

Webinar: Environmental Monitoring and Integrated Pest Management at UIUC

Apr 27, 2022, 10 am CDT
Register here.

Environmental monitoring and integrated pest management (IPM) are two essential aspects of preserving library collections. Attendees will learn how storage environments can impact library materials and the elements of a successful IPM program. We will also cover how to identify pests and mold and what to do when you see them. This session is open to anyone, and is especially geared toward UIUC library staff.

This event is part of Preservation Week 2022. For more information, visit go.library.illinois.edu/PresWeek2022 or contact Shelby Strommer (strommer@illinois.edu).

The end of ‘vroom, vroom’? Mattel brings first carbon neutral electric vehicle toys to mass market

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Even toy cars are joining the electric vehicle revolution, with Mattel this week unveiling the first mass market toy line to be certified as “carbon neutral” featuring zero emission toy cars and EV charging stations.

The line has been launched under Mattel’s construction toy brand Mega Bloks, with the new “Green Town” range including four building sets such as the Build & Learn Eco House and the Grow & Protect Farm.

Every product is made from a minimum of 56 percent plant-based materials and a minimum of 26 percent bio-circular plastics, with the materials approved by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification body.

Moreover, each toy in the set is designed to help teach “green behaviors through play patterns,” Mattel said, highlighting how the blocks will allow children to simulate waste sorting, using electric transport, protecting honey bees and choosing renewable energy sources. 

European Commission proposes ‘greenwashing’ ban and new consumer rights

Read the full story at Resource.

The European Commission has proposed to update the EU consumer rules, aiming to obligate producers to provide information on products’ durability and reparability and ban ‘greenwashing’ practices. The proposals hope to empower consumers for ‘the green transition’, allowing consumers the opportunity to make informed and environment-friendly choices when buying products.

Thousands of undiscovered mammal species may be hidden in plain sight, new research finds

Taxonomy, or the study of classifying species, plays a key role in biodiversity conservation. Aarthi Arunkumar/Moment via Getty Images

by Danielle Parsons, The Ohio State University and Bryan Carstens, The Ohio State University

Taxonomy, the study of how living organisms relate to one another as species, has been around since the 1700s. Though scientists and philosophers have long debated what makes a species a species, taxonomists treat each species as a group of organisms that share common biological characteristics.

Discovering and describing new species is essential to biology researchers and conservationists because they use species as a unit of analysis. Species are also economically important to agriculture, hunting and fishing, and have special legal status, such as under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Despite this, scientists have been able to formally name and describe only an estimated 10% of species on the planet, based on discovery trends over the years.

This gap in knowledge is known as the Linnean shortfall. It remains unclear whether poor research methodology, disagreements on how to define a species, or other factors are to blame for this gap.

We are scientists in evolutionary biology, and figuring out ways to better identify species is central to our research. Using genetic analysis and artificial intelligence, we were able to disentangle hidden species that have been lumped together in a single group and predict where and what types they might be. Our findings also pinpoint a potential cause for this shortfall in species identification: an underinvestment in the science of taxonomy.

Determining what makes a species can get complicated.

Hidden species remain to be discovered

For this study, we chose to focus on mammals. Because of their relatively large size and importance to people as a source of food, companionship and entertainment, we predicted that it was more likely that a large proportion of mammalian species have been already been identified.

Our first task was to identify known species that might actually contain two or more species. To do this, we analyzed 1 million gene sequences from 4,300 named species, identifying clusters of sequences that showed high genetic diversity and fitting the data to an evolutionary model.

We found potentially hundreds of hidden species that were previously classified as a single group. This finding was expected, as it mirrors results from previous studies, albeit on a larger scale.

Where and what are these hidden species?

Once we identified the presence of these potentially hidden species, our second task was to determine what specific traits they have in common. To do this, we used a data science technique called random forest analysis, a form of machine learning that draws information from a large number of different variables in order to make a prediction about a particular outcome. It’s similar to the technique that Netflix uses to suggest shows you might be interested in watching.

Random forests is a machine learning algorithm that makes predictions using multiple decision trees.

In our case, we wanted to predict whether a known species contained hidden species. The predictor variables we used spanned environmental factors, such as the climate of common mammalian habitats, and species-specific factors, such as physical traits, geographic range, reproductive and survival patterns. We also included research-based factors on the techniques scientists used to conduct their studies. In total, we collected some 3.8 million data points to build our model.

Based on our model, we found that three types of predictor variables stood out the most.

The first type comprised attributes of the species itself, such as body mass and geographic range. These results suggest that small mammals with relatively large ranges are more likely to have hidden species. This makes sense as, all things being equal, it is more difficult for scientists to recognize physical differences in smaller animals than larger ones.

The second type was climate – there are likely to be more hidden species in wet, warm areas with a large difference in day and night temperatures. This likely reflects the fact that tropical rainforests tend to have very high levels of mammalian diversity.

The third type was research effort, including the geographic dispersion of samples in museum collections and the number of recent publications mentioning the scientific name of a known species. This implies that researchers are generally effective in identifying new mammals, as how much attention the scientific community has focused on a specific mammal predicts whether that creature is identified. This is supported by how the general characteristics we’ve identified match new mammalian species described over the past 30 years, as well as the fact that our model recognizes areas that scientists are already investigating for hidden species.

Diagram showing the phylogenetic distribution of various mammals.
This diagram shows an estimate of the number of hidden species within known mammals. The relative size of the shadow surrounding each silhouette represents the ratio of predicted total existing species to known species. Striped silhouettes represent mammals with conflicting results excluded from the study. Danielle Parsons, CC BY-NC-ND

Unknown species face extinction

At a time when Earth is facing its greatest extinction crisis since an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, we believe that identifying and describing the many undiscovered species on Earth is crucial to aiding the preservation of its biodiversity.

Even though our study still found a large number of mammals waiting to be discovered, mammalian diversity is already relatively well captured compared with that of other species. We found that roughly 80% of existing mammal species have already been described, a proportion far higher than in nonmammal groups with even higher diversity such as beetles or mites.

Discovering and describing new species, as with all scientific research, takes a village. Natural history museums are largely responsible for collecting the raw data we analyzed, and genetic and biodiversity databases provided the infrastructure to make it accessible to us. A culture of information sharing among peers and large computer networks supported the thousands of hours of computation time we needed. Our work was made possible only by ongoing investments in taxonomic research.

Biodiversity scientists are racing to better understand the processes that create and maintain biodiversity while in the midst of the planet’s sixth mass extinction, one that is entirely caused by human actions. Taxonomists face the challenge of describing the species around us before they go extinct. As our findings suggest, there is still a long way to go.

Danielle Parsons, PhD Candidate in Evolutionary Biology, The Ohio State University and Bryan Carstens, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, The Ohio State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The rogue wildflower hunters of Texas

Read the full story at Texas Highways.

Throughout the year, a small group of botanists and wildflower enthusiasts regularly text each other GPS coordinates from across Texas. When the text comes, they mobilize. Their mission? Save some of the rarest flora in the state. For members like Michael Eason, head of San Antonio Botanical Garden’s rare plant conservation program and author of Wildflowers of Texas, heading to remote locations to save endangered plants is a passion.

Jennifer Holmgren: from alternative fuels pioneer to carbon recycling queen

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

If you’d like to find out whether Jennifer Holmgren can do something, the quickest way is to tell her she can’t.

The Colombian-born chemist started her career in the late 1980s, in a lab in Des Plaines, Illinois, working for a company called UOP that would later be acquired by Honeywell. UOP developed technology for the petroleum and petrochemical industries, and after becoming the company’s director of exploratory research in 2002, Holmgren began pitching the idea of bio-based chemicals and fuels. Given this was a company squarely focused on the fossil fuel industry, she faced plenty of internal pushback from colleagues who thought the whole idea of alternative fuels was something of a joke. Still, by 2006, she’d convinced the higher-ups to create, and let her lead, a renewable energy and chemical division.