Debate on Top 100 ecology articles

A ‘greatest hits’ package of top 100 papers for ecologists, which rates Charles Darwin’s 1858 article on the evolution of the species at No 1, has kickstarted some heated debate.

Twitter is abuzz with conversations sparked by a list of 100 must-read scientific papers – designed by a Flinders University expert and French ecologist as vital recommended reading for all ecologists.

Australia’s Professor Corey Bradshaw, the Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology at Adelaide’s Flinders University, was co-author of the article “100 articles Every Ecologist Should Read”, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

It was designed to cover a broad query; with more than 1.5 million new articles published each year across all scientific disciplines, how can the really important ones be clearly identified?

The results are stirring debate in international scientific circles with more than 1,000 Tweets raising questions such as whether other scientific disciplines also need to create their own essential articles lists.

“People need to be led,” says Professor Bradshaw, “especially young graduates who aren’t familiar with papers that are already considered classics, and haven’t digested their relevant information.

“This shows through in a lot of unnecessary research effort, with young graduates trying to re-do or re-design what has already been done.

“We need to get younger researchers up to speed with all the very best scientific literature.”

“It seems to have had an effect – and every scientific discipline should do this,” says Professor Bradshaw, noting additional calls for drilling more deeply into lists of the best articles within specific sub-disciplines. “It has been embraced as a very popular idea.”

The idea was sparked when Professor Bradshaw spent a six-month sabbatical in 2015 with Dr Franck Courchamp of Université Paris-Sud and the CNRS, and they discussed the need for such a list as an essential aid for students.

However, it took much more work than they expected – two and a half years in fact – to contact ecology experts about their lists of leading articles, then complete the ranking and voting of recommended papers.

After generating a ranked list of 544 papers, the authors studied the relationships between rank and such aspects as journal impact, citation rates and article age.

Professor Corey Bradshaw at the SA Museum Flinders Ranges fossil exhibition.

Professor Bradshaw found it interesting that more highly ranked papers tended to be older, and that not all of the most cited papers were published only in top-tier science journals.

The published list provoked a wide range of reactions.

“I’d say about 80 per cent of it was positive,” says Professor Bradshaw, “but a few people went straight to the list and freaked out, without bothering to read its purpose or how it was compiled.”

Feedback included arguments about which papers have been included or excluded, and accusations of male gender bias.

“It should be reminded that this ‘greatest hits’ package of papers stretches back to Charles Darwin’s article on the tendency of species to form varieties, published in 1858 (Ranked No 1) – and that there were relatively few papers published by women before the 1970s.”

Professors Bradshaw and Courchamp have analysed the issue of gender bias in published ecology articles in another paper being reviewed by the same journal.

While collating the list of 100 leading ecology articles, Professor Bradshaw also found the surveyed experts were driven by the reputation of articles in addition to their personal assessment. But most importantly, it has achieved its primary aim of directing young ecologists towards papers that they should at least be familiar with.

“It has generated a lot of hot conversation among ecologists around the world, which is great because it provides a sample of articles that we should all read – or even re-read.”

The full article “100 Articles Every Ecologist Should Read”, by Franck Courchamp and Corey J.A. Bradshaw, can be read online at

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