Monday, December 29, 2008
While the concerns are real, and the authors do suggest common sense approaches to publishing (i.e., choose appropriate journals and get colleagues to review drafts -something most of my colleagues do), there is little discussion of what incentives could be offered. The curse of the commons is when individual motives do not benefit the greater good, thus incentives could be used to alter motives potentially benefiting the larger community.
A number of journals now offer free access or free color figures in future publications for reviewing or even offering payment. Perhaps the move towards reduced length rapid turn around publications is part of the problem and that we should be valuing longer, more detailed papers (the classic quantity vs. quality problem). Whatever the potential solutions, it is promising to see journals, especially top-ranked ones like Ecology Letters, discussing these issues.
Michael E. Hochberg, Jonathan M. Chase, Nicholas J. Gotelli, Alan Hastings, Shahid Naeem (2009). The tragedy of the reviewer commons* Ecology Letters, 12 (1), 2-4 DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01276.x
Friday, December 26, 2008
What they did is really interesting, and was inspired on a previous study on seeds. They planted known number of spores of several species of Rhizopogon in terracotta pots, that were later planted into the ground (to mimic natural conditions). They planted 16 replicates, and they plan to open and analyze them later in the century based on the spore viability (for example, if in a few years most spores seem to be not viable that may reduce the expected length of the experiment to increase resolution). This paper found that after 4 years the inoculum potential of these spores seems to be increasing with time. I found the approach used in this experiment really fascinating and I look forward to see what happens in the next years!
Thomas D. Bruns, Kabir G. Peay, Primrose J. Boynton, Lisa C. Grubisha, Nicole A. Hynson, Nhu H. Nguyen, Nicholas P. Rosenstock (2009). Inoculum potential of
spores increases with time over the first 4 yr of a 99-yr spore burial experiment
New Phytologist, 181 (2), 463-470 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2008.02652.x
Monday, December 22, 2008
Keeping up with scientific literature is a challenge. Even though is it possible to do a descent job in your super specific area of expertise, it is almost impossible to keep up with literature in general areas of science, such as ecology or evolution, given the hundreds of papers that are published each week. There are many tools that can be used to stay (kind of) updated. One of those are podcasts. If you are reading this blog (and if you frequently read blogs) it is likely that you know a lot about podcasts, but I found remarkable the few people that profits from this awesome resource in academia. There are many nice podcast on science, but few on ecology. The new podcast of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment is an awesome one, and I hope that other journals start doing the same thing (let me know if they are more!). This ESA podcast, with music by Nick Gotelli (excellent choice by the way, click here for more of his music), is surely one that you want to have in your mp3 player when you go for walk.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
As an ecologist of the 21st century, I often think about the early ecologists from the period between 1900 and 1920 (Clements, Forbes, Warming, Spalding, Grinnell, etc.) and wonder what it was like for them to do their science. Being a scientist today usually means being a technophile. Amazing advances are made through technology, from new and larger genomes to running mind-bogglingly complex computer simulations with a scale and scope that would have been simply incomprehensible a generation ago. We also have a vast foundation of ideas, theories, hypotheses and observations that drive our current quest for knowledge.
Ecologists of 1900 did not have access to our level of technology, they did not have this huge foundation of knowledge informing their science. In fact the totality of human knowledge of the ecological world, from Aristotle to Darwin to Haeckel to Warming, could fit on a single bookcase. And for this I envy them. Every observation was something new and exciting. Hypotheses created to explain observations were novel and creative. I may be romantic, but the idea of a wide open frontier of ideas seems so exciting to me.
P.S. I love both the photos of Frederic Clements shown here. The first is of him near Santa Barbara, CA were he would spend his winter months researching plant communities. The second is of him (head in hole) and his wife Edith, also an ecologist, apparently studying below ground interactions among plants.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Andreas Prinzing, Reineke Reiffers, Wim G. Braakhekke, Stephan M. Hennekens, Oliver Tackenberg, Wim A. Ozinga, Joop H. J. Schamine, Jan M. van Groenendael (2008). Less lineages more trait variation: phylogenetically clustered plant communities are functionally more diverse Ecology Letters, 11 (8), 809-819 DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2008.01189.x