Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Are scientific editors reliable gatekeepers of the publication process?

Posted by Lucy Zipf

The goal of the peer-review process of journals is to make well-founded and consistent decisions and publish high-quality science. The scientific community assumes the publication process is reliable and fair, with the best papers being published only after rigorous review. Scientific editors act as “gatekeepers” in this publishing process, deciding whether a paper is even sent out for peer review, or alternatively “desk rejected”, that is returned to the author without peer review.

The Biological Conservation editorial team often acts as an editorial gatekeeper, as shown in this 2018 photo in front of an actual gate. From left to right:  Danielle Descoteaux (USA, publisher) Richard Primack (USA),Robin Pakeman (UK), Tracey Regan (Australia), Vincent Devictor (France), Richard Corlett (China), Liba Pejchar (USA), Bea Maas (Austria) and David Johns (USA). 

We recently assessed the consistency of editors’ desk decisions and published our findings in Biological Conservation. Ten editors of Biological Conservation evaluated forty manuscripts that had been previously submitted to the journal. 

Frequency of agreement among editors to send to manuscripts for review in 2018 (as a %). The green portion of a bar represents papers that editors sent out for review in 2017, while the red portion represents papers that were desk rejected in 2017. A high agreement indicates that 70-100% editors agreed in 2018 to either reject or review a manuscript. Low agreement indicates 40-60% agreement among 2018 editors. It can be seen that the decisions made in 2017 were largely supported by editors in 2018.

Overall, we found that editors are reasonably consistent in their decisions to send a paper out for review, or to desk reject it, and that they agreed with past decisions. However, disparities in agreement with decisions reveal the unsurprising subjectivity editors bring to the process.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Leaf longevity published!

Posted by Linnea Smith

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”  
Henry David Thoreau. 

Our leaf longevity project for my BU Biology honors thesis and Sarah Pardo’s BU Academy senior thesis has now been published in the international journal Oecologia.  The article, titled “Leaf longevity in temperate evergreen species is related to phylogeny and leaf size” is featured as “Highlighted Student Research.”

In this project we used the living collection of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts to determine the leaf longevities (LL) of 169 temperate evergreen species. To our knowledge, this is the largest dataset of its kind, collected from one site using a single unified method.

Richard Primack (left) and Linnea Smith (right), demonstrate measuring leaf longevity by counting leaves across different aged branch segments.

We found that LL has a strong phylogenetic component – different genera have different LLs (see the figure below) – and conifers with longer needles tend to have shorter leaf longevities. Of the 169 species we investigated, Labrador tea (Rhododendron tomentosum) had the shortest LL (only 1.4 years); the oldest leaves we found were of Taurus fir (Abies  cilicia), living for an average of 10.5 years.

Different genera of evergreens have very different average leaf longevities, varying from 2 to 6 years. The number of species examined is listed above each genus. From shortest to longest leaf longevity, the genera are Rhododendrons, Ilex (holly), Pinus (pine), Taxus (yew), Tsuga (hemlock), Picea (spruce), and Abies (fir). 

Because leaves play a vital role in the carbon cycle as well as other ecosystem functions, understanding their dynamics (such as LL) is important to better constrain carbon budgets and ecosystem models.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers and Climate Change

By Tara Miller

I saw deep in the eyes of the animals the human soul look out upon me.” 
- Henry David Thoreau 

This summer, I worked with New York wildlife rehabilitation (rehab) centers to study whether rates of diseases are increasing.

A fox with mange, a parasitic disease, at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)

Wendy Hall, co-founder of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, NY, told me she is seeing more animals afflicted by diseases that used to be rare, like West Nile virus and mange. Increasing rates of disease may be linked to climate change, as warmer temperatures allow disease vectors to move northward.

Wendy Hall with a red-tailed hawk
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)

Could diseases be tracked over time using wildlife rehab records? This was my summer project, tapping into these records and connecting with wildlife people who care for sick animals. The goal is to keep animals, people, and the environment healthier.

A volunteer at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge teaches a group about barn owls
(Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge)