Back in 2014 I took the Journal of Animal Ecology to task for pretty much ignoring most of the animal world and publishing almost exclusively vertebrate papers. Ken Wilson their Editor-in-Chief decided to check up on this claim and to his chagrin, found that I was right in my assertion 🙂
As a loyal subscriber to the print copy of the journal I am very aware of the front cover photograph and have had two occasions this year to publicly praise the journal for their invertebrate-themed covers. Then I received the July issue which despite having an invertebrate themed In Focus article, featured a leopard as their poster animal. Although I love cats, I feel that the mega-cats, and the other so-called large charismatic mega-fauna do ecology as a whole, and entomology in particular, a great deal of harm. They suck away much-needed funds and bright capable students into an area that is vastly over-supplied with resources that could be much more profitably used elsewhere, i.e. the study of our planet’s dominant animal inhabitants, the invertebrates.
Journal of Animal Ecology cover images 2017
My first reaction to the leopard picture was to go through my shelves and look at all the front covers of the journal since they adopted the new size and format, to see how biased (I automatically assumed that they would be) they were towards vertebrates. I was not surprised, there was indeed a very strong vertebrate bias.
Journal of Animal Ecology front covers, 2009-2016
Just over 80% of the covers had a vertebrate subject; taxonomically they break down to 50% mammals, 20% birds and 11% fish. Considering the true species composition of the known number of vertebrates, mammals (less than 0.5% of described animal life, about 5 500 species) are vastly over-represented to say the least. Fish people should be particularly incensed 🙂
Relative proportions of described animal life. Fish as the most speciose vertebrate group get a picture 🙂 I apologise to any nematologists who might be reading this post 🙂
So what about the journal content, has editorial policy change since 2014 and how are the invertebrates doing? Ken stated in his blog that taxonomically speaking the papers published in Journal of Animal Ecology were approximately, 30% bird, 26% mammal, 12% fish and 20% insect related. I did a quick count of the papers published in 2015 and 2016. Things are changing, birds and mammals are down (24% and 22% respectively) and fish are on the up (17%), but vertebrates still account for 67% of papers published in the last two years. Although the journal is still very vertebrate biased that is a definite improvement, but still not back to the glory days of the 1970s, Nevertheless, well done Ken and colleagues. Progress is being made (whether deliberately or not) to redress the balance, but still much more is needed to put invertebrates in the lead where they deserve to be. More insect front covers would surely be easy enough to implement and help reinforce the message that insects and other invertebrates are where most of real world ecology is to be found. Over to you Ken 🙂
I always feel a bit guilty about taking the Journal of Animal Ecology to task, because when compared with the Journal of Zoology, JAE are paragons of virtue in regard to publishing invertebrate papers but I guess that as a long-standing member of the British Ecological Society I feel a somewhat more proprietorial interest 🙂