What is the future of peer review in ecology?

The Applied Ecologist's blog

For the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2016 the BES Publications team will be holding a panel debate on the future of peer review in ecology. Find out how you can get involved in this debate here.

What is the role of peer review in scientific research? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different models of peer review? What recognition should be available for reviewers? How is the peer review landscape changing? If you find yourself asking these questions, this workshop is for you!

Peer review is critical to the research process, but is also the subject of much criticism and debate. Review bias, reviewer recognition and the discovery of peer review rings are recent examples of topics widely discussed by the scientific community. Many peer review models and experiments have emerged across scientific disciplines with the aim of improving the review process, often leading to more questions…

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Short-Term Snow Cover Reduction effects Do Not Scale Up to Long-Term Legacies

In this new video, Gesche Blume-Werry presents the very interesting findings of her study, published in the last issue (November) of Journal of Ecology, and titled ‘Short-term climate change manipulation effects do not scale up to long-term legacies: effects of an absent snow cover on boreal forest plants‘. This study was part of Gesche’s PhD project in which she explored the hidden life of plants below-ground and investigated the responses of roots to climate change. The video is available below and can also be found on the Journal of Ecology YouTube channel (english subtitles available).


gesche.pngGesche Blume-Werry recently received her PhD from Umeå University with the project “The hidden life of plants – fine root dynamics in northern ecosystems”, supervised by Ann Milbau (Research Institute for Nature and Forest INBO, Belgium). Gesche is an ecosystem ecologist with a passion for high-latitude ecosystems and her dissertation research focused on above- and below-ground biomass allocation, production, growth and phenology. With a special emphasis on root dynamics, she wants to discover more about the hidden part of the plants below the surface and if root responses to climate change differ from shoots. This response is of special importance in high latitudes, where the majority of living plant biomass is belowground. In her current postdoctoral work at Umeå University, Gesche continues to study root production by using a unique combination of ecological and physiological methods.

Effects of nitrogen deposition on masting tree reproduction

Bogdziewicz 1Michał Bogdziewicz is a PhD student at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, supervised by Rafał Zwolak (AMU, as well) and Elizabeth Crone (Tufts University, USA). Michal’s work involves the study of different aspects of mast seeding consequences on ecosystems: the connection between masting and Lyme disease and the effects of masting on animal populations. The main goal of his PhD is to evaluate how nitrogen affects the reproduction of mast seeding trees. The effects of nitrogen addition on different aspects of oak reproductive ecology were analysed in his recently published paper in Journal of Ecology titled ‘Effects of nitrogen deposition on reproduction in a masting tree: benefits of higher seed production are trumped by negative biotic interactions’.

Numerous studies show that anthropogenic global changes (e.g. global warming, nitrogen deposition) are driving increases in plant seed production. However, it is not clear whether this increase translates into higher plant recruitment. To test this, we measured how nitrogen addition affects the seed crop of red oaks. We had this unique opportunity because of the long-term nitrogen supplementation experiment at Harvard Forest, USA, which has been going for more than 25 years. We also measured how N-addition affects the interactions of oaks with their most important seed predators (weevils, Curculio sp.) and seed dispersers (rodents) in Eastern USA, and assessed the germination potential of acorns produced by N-fertilized oaks.


Left: Cage for germination experiment. This one is closed, but in the other half we cut holes to allow rodent access. Right: Curious deer mice during live-trapping.

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Discovering something previously overlooked in annual grasslands

Today Journal of Ecology published a paper titled ‘Lagging behind: have we overlooked previous-year rainfall effects in annual grasslands?‘ written by Dudney et al. Below, lead author Joan Dudney of University of California Berkeley, provides a background to the study.

Return to the same place in an annual grassland and you will invariably notice that no two years look alike. The high inter-annual variability inherent to annual grasslands has puzzled ecologists for years. Drivers of these composition shifts are ostensibly complex and no single factor has risen dominant over others. This is somewhat unexpected, as water availability is obviously integral to plant survival, particularly in arid and semi-arid systems where water is often scarce. Weak links, however, between plant communities and rainfall continue to prevail in literature. In our recent study of Californian annual grasslands, a new perspective on an old subject helped enhance our understanding of the effects of rainfall on grassland composition.

Rainbow over annual grasslands in the Bay Area, CA, taken by Joan Dudley in 2013

Rainbow over annual grasslands in the Bay Area, CA, taken by Joan Dudney in 2013

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Editor’s Choice 104:6 – New Zealand’s plant priorities

If evolution happened anew, what would the present-day plant world look like?  That is, would the randomized processes that govern evolutionary change tell a different story? And particularly for plants which are sessile organisms, is the starting point of ‘who gets there first’ the most important of all?

Priority effects – the order and timing of species arrival into local communities – can affect ecological community structure and functioning, with profound effects for species persistence and ecological interactions (Chase et al., 2000; van de Voorde et al., 2011). As such, the arrival of different species at different times can dramatically alter the evolutionary tapestry of any given system on ecological time frames, but also in evolutionary time. In particular, the diversification of early arriving species can pre-empt available niche space to prevent the establishment, dominance or diversification of species that arrive later on down the road. Continue reading

Volume 104, Issue 6

Volume 104 Issue 6 of Journal of Ecology is now online!

104.6This issue features 29 papers across topics including plant–herbivore interactions, invasion ecology, dispersal and ecophysiology.

Included in these papers is an interesting study by Mousing et al. showing that small changes in ocean salinity and temperature can significantly affect the distribution and diversity of phytoplankton. The study generated a lot of media attention and you can read the press release from the University of Copenhagen on the Journal blog. The issue also includes an Open Access paper about plant–soil feedbacks by Cortois et al. which you can read more about in a blog post written by authors Roeland Cortois and Gerlinde De Deyn. Continue reading

Editor’s Choice 104:5

The Editor’s Choice paper for Issue 104:5 is titled ‘On the link between functional traits and growth rate: meta-analysis shows effects change with plant size, as predicted’ and was written by a team from the Department of Biological Sciences of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Many thanks to authors Anaïs Gibert, Daniel Falster and Mark Westoby for providing some background on their study below.

The focus of our paper is on the differences across plant species in potential growth rates. It sets up working hypotheses for how traits should be expected to influence growth based on a plant growth model, and then compares these against evidence in the literature. For some traits, correlations with growth are expected to change in a predictable way with plant size. Literature evidence currently available is consistent with these expectations. (At the same time, available literature on growth rate comparisons among species is quite unbalanced and incomplete in its coverage across different traits and plant sizes.) Continue reading

Welcome to our new Associate Editors

Journal of Ecology is thrilled to welcome four new Associate Editors. Jane Catford (University of Southampton, UK), Han Chen (Lakehead University, Canada), Emily Farrer (Tulane University, USA) and Julieta Rosell (UNAM, Mexico) all join the Editorial Board and you can find out more about them below.

Jane Catford

Jane Catford

Jane is based at the University of Southampton in the Environmental Biosciences Research Group. Jane’s research centres on community assembly and invasion ecology. She is particularly interested in how environmental, biological and geographic factors affect the functional composition of plant communities. Current research foci include the causes and consequences of invasion; species invasiveness and ecosystem invasibility; the role of human activities in facilitating invasion and vegetation change. Her work covers both the practical and theoretical aspects of biological invasions and native vegetation restoration. She has ongoing field experiments in Australia, the US and UK, and mostly conducts field research in grasslands, wetlands, rivers and riparian ecosystems. While rooted in community and invasion ecology, her work extends to succession, species coexistence, disturbance, ecosystem restoration, vegetation management, novel ecosystems, assisted colonization, river health, impacts of flow regulation and climate change. Continue reading

What do reviewers want?

Animal Ecology In Focus

Last year’s Peer Review Week proved to be a great success in raising awareness and starting discussions about peer review. This year, it’s back and the focus is on recognition for review.

There have been lots of surveys looking at perceptions of peer review. These surveys agree that peer review is valued and authors feel that the quality of their paper improves as a result. Nature’s annual author survey shows that after the reputation of the journal and relevance to the discipline, the quality of peer review was the third most important factor driving author’s choice of where to submit their article.

For Peer Review Week 2016, I thought I’d take another look at these surveys to see what they tell us about recognition for reviewing activity. I’m concentrating on three big surveys that were carried out in 2015 by Wiley, Taylor and Francis (T&F), and the Publishing…

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Trees may acclimate to drought, but not to warming, in semi-arid systems

Charlotte Grossiord et al. have an interesting paper recently published online in Journal of Ecology, entitled ‘Precipitation, not air temperature, drives functional responses of trees in semi-arid ecosystems‘. The scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory provide evidences that trees in semi-arid systems may acclimate to reduced precipitation but not to temperature rise. Charlotte kindly agreed to share the main findings of the study through the blog post below. 

Pierre Mariotte
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology

Chalotte.pngCharlotte Grossiord received her PhD from the University of Lorraine and INRA-Nancy (France), supervised by Damien Bonal, and co-supervised by Arthur Gessler from the WSL Institute (Switzerland). The main focus of her project was to determine how tree species diversity affects the water relations in European forest ecosystems, with a particular focus on how it affects the resistance of trees to drought stress. Charlotte conducted her PhD as part of a large FP7 EU project FundivEUROPE. After her such research, Charlotte moved to the United States where she is currently a Director’s postdoctoral fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Her research focuses on tree acclimation processes in response to the combinations of precipitation reduction and warming. Specifically, she is interested in physiological and structural adaptation of vegetation to climate change such as for instance responses in carbon assimilation rates, water and nitrogen use, growth allocation and water extraction depth. Continue reading