As promised, here are the winners for our contest to guess the most-cited ecology papers from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s!
Before we get to the winners, here are the answers, as best I could determine them by combining various searches of the Web of Science database.
Meg pointed out to me that this is sort of like ecology’s greatest hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So in that spirit, at the end I threw in links to some appropriate music to accompany this “playlist”.😉
Most-cited ecology papers from the 1970s
- Connell 1978 Science (intermediate disturbance hypothesis) – 3896 citations
- May 1976 Nature (chaos) – 2530
- UPDATE#4: Ric Charnov himself comments to note that, if I’ve going to count Pianka 1970 (r-K selection) as an ecology paper, I ought to count Stearns 1976 Quart Rev Biol (review of life history theory) – 2167.
- UPDATE#3: Charnov 1976 Theor Pop Biol (marginal value theorem of optimal foraging) – 2053 (my bad, missed this one in my original searches, just stumbled across it doing an unrelated search, can’t believe I forgot about this paper until now!)
- UPDATE#5: Grubb 1977 Biol Rev (regeneration niche and plant species richness) – 2005. Peter Grubb himself alerted me to this miss via email. Thanks Peter and sorry about missing your paper! This miss is another one that exposes the limitations of my search methods. Basically, a Web of Science search on the topic “ecology” misses a lot of ecology papers. So I did other searches to fill in the gaps, mostly searches on a whole bunch of ecology journals. But that combination of searches will still miss some ecology papers in journals that publish on a wide range of fields.
- UPDATE #6: Schoener 1971 Annu Rev Ecol Syst (theory of feeding strategies) 2000. You can’t find this paper in WoS by searching for it directly. But as Ric Charnov has just pointed out to me, you can find the number of times its been cited by first finding a paper that’s cited it. At this point, it’s probably safe to assume that I’ve missed at least a few other highly-cited ecology papers from the 1970s! Now I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and have people start identifying all the papers I missed from the 80s and 90s…
- Grime 1977 Am Nat (CSR hypothesis of plant strategies) – 1847
- Connell & Slayter 1977 Am Nat (alternative modes of succession) – 1811
- Schoener 1974 Science (review of resource partitioning) – 1804
- Hurlbert 1971 Ecology (‘nonconcept’ of species diversity) – 1773
- Janzen 1970 Am Nat (herbivory & tropical tree diversity) – 1750
- Huston 1979 Am Nat (intermediate disturbance hypothesis) – 1674
- Pyke et al. 1977 Quart Rev Biol (review of optimal foraging) – 1621
- Dayton 1971 Ecol Monogr (competition, disturbance, diversity in rocky intertidal) – 1618
- Yes, the number one and eight papers from the 1970s are zombies. The 1970s also gave us bell bottoms. Curse you, 1970s! UPDATE#2: For everyone thinking of using this post as a reading list (and from Twitter it sounds like a number of you might be planning to do so), Connell 1978 and Huston 1979 are WRONG! Do NOT assume that everything on this list must be correct just because it’s often been cited! It would kill me to think that a just-for-fun post like this actually ended up doing damage to our collective understanding of ecology by introducing some naive readers to the most perniciously influential ecological idea ever.
- Joe Connell with two papers in the top four! He also had a number of papers that just missed making this list, and the 1980s list. If you had to guess the most-cited ecologist since 1970 (or even 1960…), you could do a lot worse than to guess Joe Connell. UPDATE #4: Thanks to the updates, Eric Charnov is now first author of one paper on the list, and co-author of another (Pyke et al.).
- Most of these papers are the source papers for influential ideas, not reviews or methods papers.
- One measure of just how far out we are in the tail of the citation distribution is the many famous papers, and famous ecologists, not on this list. For instance, Pianka 1970 (r-K selection) fell just short. So did Brown & Kodric-Brown 1977 (rescue effect). So did May 1972 (complex ecosystems are less stable). And Anderson & May 1979 (modeling disease dynamics). Dave Tilman’s original papers on the R* rule aren’t here either. There’s nothing from Robert MacArthur (he didn’t even come close). Nothing from Jared Diamond, Dan Simberloff, or the other lead combatants in the ‘null model wars’ (again, not even close). Nothing from Bob Paine.
- I decided that Emlen and Oring 1977 (ecology, sexual selection, and mating system evolution) was really an evolution paper. Yes, that’s a debatable decision. But I get paid to make the tough calls.😉
Most-cited ecology papers from the 1980s
- Hurlbert 1984 Ecol Monogr (pseudoreplication) – 4146
- Porter & Feig 1980 Limnol Oceanogr (DAPI for counting bacteria) – 3371
- Vannote et al. 1980 (river continuum concept) – 3193
- ter Braak 1986 Ecology (canonical correspondence analysis) – 2547
- Azam et al. 1983 Mar Ecol Prog Ser (microbial loop) – 2437
- Pulliam 1988 Am Nat (source-sink dynamics) – 2322
- Chapin 1980 Ann Rev Ecol Syst (review of mineral nutrition of plants) – 2169
- Peterson & Fry 1987 Ann Rev Ecol Syst (stable isotopes in ecosystem studies) – 1874
- Wiens 1989 Funct Ecol (spatial scaling) – 1824
- Coley et al. 1985 Science (resource availability and anti-herbivore defense) – 1726
- Many more methodological and review papers than from the 1970s.
- Hurlbert 1984 is the most-cited ecology paper published from 1970-1999, so you get a 5 point bonus in the contest if you guessed that one.
- Not sure if we should feel good or bad about the fact that possibly the most-cited paper in the history of our discipline (Hurlbert 1984) basically tells the rest of the field “hey, you’re screwing up!”
- Stuart Hurlbert joins Joe Connell as the second person with two first-authored papers in this contest. Stuart Chapin has two papers in the contest as well, but on one of them (Coley et al.) he’s third author.
- Worth noting that there are few if any “one hit wonders” anywhere in the contest. Most everybody with a paper in the contest also has other papers with 100+ citations.
- Again, all sorts of famous papers and ecologists didn’t make the cut. Werner & Gilliam 1984 (ontogenetic niche shifts). Schoener and Connell’s famous dueling reviews of field experiments on interspecific competition from 1983. Brown 1984 (relationships between abundance and geographic range). Werner et al. 1983 (adaptive habitat selection under predation risk). Oksanen et al. 1981 (food chain dynamics along productivity gradients). Paine 1980 (famous lecture on interaction strength). Menge & Sutherland 1987 (famous graphical model of the determinants of community structure). Connell 1980 (ghost of competition past). Hanski 1982 (core-satellite hypothesis). Connell & Sousa 1983 (famous review of evidence needed to judge stability or persistence). Day & Quinn 1989 (review of post-hoc tests in ANOVA).
Most-cited ecology papers from the 1990s
- Clarke 1993 Australian J Ecol (nonparametric multivariate analysis of community structure) – 3781
- UPDATE: as noted by a commenter, the real #2 is Lima & Dill 1990 Can J Zool (review of decision making under predation risk) – 3270. Since nobody guessed this one, adding it to the list doesn’t change the contest outcome. It would change people’s point totals, but I’m not going to bother going back to recalculate those.
- Vitousek et al. 1997 Science (review of human domination of ecosystems) – 2535
- Levin 1992 Ecology (pattern & scale) – 2490
- White & Burnham 1999 Bird Study (MARK program) – 2406
- Lebreton et al. 1992 Ecol Monogr (mark-recapture estimates of survival) – 2079
- Dufrene & Legendre 1997 Ecol Monogr (defining indicator species) – 1963
- Vitousek et al. 1997 Ecol Appl (review of human alteration of N cycle) – 1803
- Saunders et al. 1991 Conserv Biol (review of consequences of fragmentation) – 1717
- Jones et al. 1994 Oikos (ecosystem engineers) – 1683
- West et al. 1997 Science (explaining 1/4 power allometric scaling) – 1672
- Clarke 1993? Australian Journal of Ecology? Really???!!! Does the fact that I’ve never even heard of this journal, never mind this paper, mean I’m way less well-read than I like to think I am?
- Two of the most highly-cited methods papers from the 80s and 90s are to do with ordination methods, as are several papers that barely missed making the 1990s list. I didn’t realize ordination was that big a deal, but apparently it is!
- Interesting how, in the 1990s, the most-cited papers mostly aren’t ones defining new concepts or hypotheses. Instead, the majority are empirical or methodological papers focused on applied issues. Similarly, over the last 10 years (see previous contest), the bulk of most-cited papers are applied, or at least are seen by many as having applied relevance (e.g., recent work on biodiversity-ecosystem function, biodiversity loss, and ecological effects of climate change). And one of the 1990s papers proposing a really new concept or idea (Jones et al. 1994) proposes an idea that I don’t think really works. I leave it to you to decide if this means we’re out of ideas, or if we’ve stopped caring about ideas, or if we already have all the ideas we need, or what.
- Speaking of biodiversity-ecosystem function…Famous papers that didn’t make the cut include various early biodiversity-ecosystem function papers (e.g., Naeem et al. 1994, Tilman & Downing 1994, Tilman et al. 1996), Tilman 1994 and Tilman et al. 1994 (competiton-colonization trade-offs, and their implications for effects of habitat loss), Bertness & Callaway 1994 (positive interactions and the ‘stress gradient hypothesis’), Scheffer et al. 1993 (alternate stable states in shallow lakes), and Lande 1993 (effects of environmental and demographic stochasticity on population extinction risk). That no biodiversity-ecosystem function work made the cut is a real surprise to me, and I suspect to many of you.
- Peter Vitousek joins Hurlbert and Connell as the only three people with two first-authored papers in this contest. But unlike for Hurlbert and Connell, Vitousek’s papers are both group-authored reviews, with overlapping subject matter.
- Arguably, I should’ve included Costanza et al. 1997 Nature (economic value of the world’s ecosystem services), but I decided that was really an economics paper. And I decided Bush et al. 1997 J Parasitology (use of ecological terminology in parasitology) is really a parasitology paper.
- I thought hard about whether to count West et al. 1997 as an ecology paper, and I still don’t really think it is. It’s really evolutionary physiology. But I was afraid people would get upset with me if I didn’t count it, since Jim Brown and Brian Enquist have gone on to develop a whole “metabolic theory of ecology” that builds on ideas from this paper.
So how did our contestants do?
Well, they mostly did better than me! Though I wouldn’t have done too badly. Before I looked up the answers, my own guesses were Connell 1978 (naturally), Schoener 1983, and either Levin 1992 or West et al. 1997 (I was torn). So I’d have scored either 18 or 11, depending on which 90s guess I settled on.
Our very own Meg Duffy impressed me by firing off a great set of guesses within minutes of the post going up: Pianka 1970, Hurlbert 1984, and Levin 1992 are worth 0, 10, and 8, respectively. Plus Meg gets the 5 point bonus for guessing Hurlbert 1984, for a total of 23!
lucaborger guessed Emlen & Oring 1977, Hurlbert 1984, and Levin 1992. Sorry Luca, but I did warn you about guessing papers that might not be considered ecology papers! You score 23 because I decided not to count Emlen & Oring (note that I decided this before anyone guessed).
Francois guessed May 1972, Connell 1983, and Tilman 1994. Francois probably deserves some sort of consolation prize for guessing a trifecta of near-misses. No points, sorry!
Vinicius Bastazini guessed May 1976, ter Braak 1986, and Levin 1992. They’re worth 9, 7, and 8 respectively, for a total of 24. Great!
Linda guessed Collins & Wilbur 1973, Hurlbert 1984, and Tilman et al. 1994. Good guesses all (Collins & Wilbur, the least-cited of the three, has been cited 790 times), but only Hurlbert scores. 15 points.
Margaret Kosmala went with May 1976, Coley et al. 1985, and Tilman 1996 (while noting that she was sorely tempted by Levin 1992). I need to thank Margaret for her originality in guessing Coley et al. 1985, as I missed that paper in my searches and only added it to the list because she guessed it! Margaret might have done even better, had she not fallen into the trap of picking a paper from her little-known supervisor.😉 10 points.
Mike Bode got into the spirit of the thing by naming appropriate bands and movies along with his guesses. Thereby becoming the first and presumably last person ever to mention Bon Jovi, The Breakfast Club, and Pulliam 1988 in the same sentence. And then he won the thread by writing
And the 90s ended for me in 1994, when Kurt Cobain died and Hanski published “A practical model of metapopulation dynamics”.
I think that’s the single funniest thing anybody’s ever written on this blog, so I’m giving Mike a 1 point bonus. He also guessed Huston 1979. So if you’re scoring at home (and if you’ve read this far, you are), he gets 3, 5, 0, and +1 for a total of 9.
Nicole Michel followed the crowd and guessed Hurlbert 1984 and Levin 1992, thereby effectively staking her chances of winning on her 1970s guess. But her first 70s guess was a book chapter and so disallowed, forcing her to fall back on Janzen 1970. Nicole scores 27!
fyeyes had a go despite being new to the field of ecology. And did well: Grime 1977, Connell 1983, and Hanski 1998 (review of metapopulation dynamics) are all very good guesses, though only Grime scores. 8 points.
Trevor Branch surprised me by being the first person to guess Connell 1978. I’d have thought every reader of this blog would know to guess that one! He also guessed Hurlbert 1984 and Levin 1992. That earned him a near-perfect score of 33 points. However, after guessing, Trevor emailed me to admit he’s a ringer–a few years ago he looked up a bunch of citation data for ecology papers as part of a research project. He was even kind enough to share his old data with me, thereby helping me identify a couple of papers I’d missed. But since Trevor had already looked up the data before I announced the contest, I decided not to disqualify him. This contest relies on your background knowledge, and he just happened to have extremely relevant background knowledge. So Trevor’s our winner! Trevor, email me at some point to set up a time to claim your prize at the ESA meeting.
In the comments, I’m curious to hear how folks chose their guesses. Was it papers you’re familiar with from your own work? Like Meg and other commenters, I’m wondering if theoreticians tended to pick theory papers, population ecologists tended to pick population ecology papers, etc. Did you think of famous ecologists and go from there? I saw several folks on Twitter guessing (incorrectly!) that surely there had to be a Tilman paper somewhere on the list. Were certain papers fresh in your mind for some other reason? I know Meg uses Hurlbert 1984 in one of her classes, which I’m assuming is part of why she guessed it. And I’m curious if lots of folks guessed Levin 1992 because that paper recently was the subject of a retrospective in Ecology Letters. And be honest: how many of you guessed Hurlbert 1984 and Levin 1992 because other commenters did?😉
Oh, and since Meg didn’t win, I totally expect an apology from everyone who questioned the integrity of this extremely serious test of our readers’ knowledge of ecological history.😉
Abba was the biggest band of the 70s by various measures. I’ve read that at one point, they were effectively the second-biggest “corporation” in Sweden, after Volvo. And since this contest is about “big” papers, it seems like the accompanying music should be from big bands. So here’s Waterloo, the song with which Abba launched their career by winning the Eurovision song contest:
Only one possible choice of 80s song for this blog! Even though the zombie ideas papers are from the 70s, not the 80s. And of course, this song is from the biggest-selling album of all time. In the video below, you should imagine me as the guy in red.🙂
Picking something from the 90s is tough, as this is the decade that mostly set my own musical tastes (I didn’t really start listening to popular music until the late 80s). So many choices! My first thought was something from R.E.M. They were one of the biggest bands of the 90s, and one of my favorite bands. And they have several songs that can be spun as having to do with global change or the environment (It’s the End of the World As We Know It, Fall on Me, Bad Day…), which would kind of fit with the papers on the 90s list. But their environmental songs are all from the 80s or oughts. And other favorite bands of mine from the 90s don’t necessarily have thematically-appropriate songs. So I’ll embrace indecisiveness and give you several clips:
First, Birdhouse in Your Soul from They Might Be Giants, because (a) it’s awesome, (b) they’re awesome, (c) this is an awesome performance, and (d) on the album, it’s preceded by an introductory ditty that asks “Why are the ocean levels rising up?”, so it’s one step removed from being about global warming.😉
Next, a couple of songs from another of my favorite bands, 10,000 Maniacs. This live performance catches them at their peak:
I will now prove my 90s alt rock bona fides by giving you a trio of clips from singers or bands you’ve probably never heard if you’re much younger than me, but who, trust me, were way cooler and way better than anybody you listened to growing up.😉 In order: Throwing Muses (represented by a slightly-atypical song for them), Liz Phair (from back before she sold out), and Belly. Sorry Mike, nothing from Nirvana; I was never into grunge.
Finally, I have to include something from R.E.M., so I’ll just arbitrarily go with this: