And the most-cited ecology papers from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are… (UPDATEDx6)

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

  1. Connell 1978 Science (intermediate disturbance hypothesis) – 3896 citations
  2. May 1976 Nature (chaos) – 2530
  3. 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.
  4. 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!)
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. Grime 1977 Am Nat (CSR hypothesis of plant strategies) – 1847
  8. Connell & Slayter 1977 Am Nat (alternative modes of succession) – 1811
  9. Schoener 1974 Science (review of resource partitioning) – 1804
  10. Hurlbert 1971 Ecology (‘nonconcept’ of species diversity) – 1773
  11. Janzen 1970 Am Nat (herbivory & tropical tree diversity) – 1750
  12. Huston 1979 Am Nat (intermediate disturbance hypothesis) – 1674
  13. Pyke et al. 1977 Quart Rev Biol (review of optimal foraging) – 1621
  14. 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

  1. Hurlbert 1984 Ecol Monogr (pseudoreplication) – 4146
  2. Porter & Feig 1980 Limnol Oceanogr (DAPI for counting bacteria) – 3371
  3. Vannote et al. 1980 (river continuum concept) – 3193
  4. ter Braak 1986 Ecology (canonical correspondence analysis) – 2547
  5. Azam et al. 1983 Mar Ecol Prog Ser (microbial loop) – 2437
  6. Pulliam 1988 Am Nat (source-sink dynamics) – 2322
  7. Chapin 1980 Ann Rev Ecol Syst (review of mineral nutrition of plants) – 2169
  8. Peterson & Fry 1987 Ann Rev Ecol Syst (stable isotopes in ecosystem studies) – 1874
  9. Wiens 1989 Funct Ecol (spatial scaling) – 1824
  10. 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

  1. Clarke 1993 Australian J Ecol (nonparametric multivariate analysis of community structure) – 3781
  2. 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.
  3. Vitousek et al. 1997 Science (review of human domination of ecosystems) – 2535
  4. Levin 1992 Ecology (pattern & scale) – 2490
  5. White & Burnham 1999 Bird Study (MARK program) – 2406
  6. Lebreton et al. 1992 Ecol Monogr (mark-recapture estimates of survival) – 2079
  7. Dufrene & Legendre 1997 Ecol Monogr (defining indicator species) – 1963
  8. Vitousek et al. 1997 Ecol Appl (review of human alteration of N cycle) – 1803
  9. Saunders et al. 1991 Conserv Biol (review of consequences of fragmentation) – 1717
  10. Jones et al. 1994 Oikos (ecosystem engineers) – 1683
  11. 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:

68 thoughts on “And the most-cited ecology papers from the 70s, 80s, and 90s are… (UPDATEDx6)

  1. Very, very interesting. Thanks for doing the leg work on this. You’ve already identified the major trends. However, I find it really depressing how much we’ve turned from new ideas (1970s) to navel gazing (i.e. we need to improve our methods). The 2000s aren’t much better – there are 3 papers reviewing what we’ve learned about human impacts on nature (diveristy-ecosystem function, fragmentation, climate chnage), and one re-echo of West et al and one paper on microbial flora in the human gut – probably a trend to bet on – more interesting ecology from microbiologists), but the rest, eve going on past the top 10 are mostly methodological.

    There is a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime era to ecology in the 1960s and 1970s that was just a stage in the development of the field that will never be repeated. But there has to be more going on than that. My pet hypotheses – the declining NSF award rates have discouraged boldness crossed with some variant of my machismo hypothesis (its easier to impress people with methodology than to come up with truly clever ideas that impress people). I don’t think the exploding number of journals/papers published has helped keep the focus on big ideas either. I can’t find find Connell’s CV easily but I bet he wasn’t publishing 10 papers a year with 5 graduate students when he was regularly producing top 10 (and near top 10) papers. Good ideas take time.

    Despite my grumbling, I am ultimately an optimist. Something will shake ecology up, but I don’t know what it is at the moment. Any thoughts?

    • Yes, microbial ecology of the human gut is already really hot, and it’s going to get hotter.

      Re: lack of “ideas” papers from more recent decades, I suppose it’s possible that’s it’s an artifact of the fact that older methods papers stop getting cited at some point, so that the most-cited papers from long ago always end up being ideas papers. The test of that hypothesis will be to look back in 30 years and see if the most cited papers from the 90s are ideas papers, with the methodological and applied papers that currently top the 90s list having been superseded. Personally, I kind of doubt it though. I think you’re right that, conceptually, much of ecology is still stuck with a set of ideas that was developed from the mid-60s through the 70s. That’s certainly what’s mostly in our textbooks. Which is why I have a post in the queue arguing that ecology needs a new textbook.

      Yes, the exponential growth of the literature, much faster than the growth of the number of ecologists, presumably doesn’t mean that the creativity and insightfulness of the average ecologist is growing exponentially!

      One question to ask is whether there are underrated ideas from recent years that will come to be seen as hugely important in years to come. I might nominate the Chessonian framework for thinking about coexistence.

      I’m thinking of those old NCEAS ecoessays from Jim Brown and Peter Kareiva. Brown of course revered ecology of the 60s and 70s, whereas Kareiva thought that era’s emphasis on patterns, generality, and on weak theory-data links, needed to be replaced with an emphasis on dynamics, system-specificity, and on rigorous theory-data links. I’ve always preferred Kareiva’s point of view. But in doing this list, I admit that I don’t find many of the papers on the 90s list in particular to be very interesting or important. Despite the fact that it would seem that ecology has moved in the direction Kareiva wanted it to move, at least in some ways.

      • Like Brian, I found the shift from ideas to methods depressing but unsurprising. Since the 80s, the field has been obsessed with rigor and less focused on whether the questions we can ask rigorously are even worth asking.

        I have always found the Karieva/Brown essays to be an interesting reflection of the tensions in our field. In some ways I think it reflects a deeper issue with what is science. Is science strictly logic and rigor or is it also a creative process that may not flourish under a strict regime of logic and rigor? It seems obvious to me that we need both approaches, but sadly balancing dualities is not a strength of human nature.

        As for the 2000s, I wonder if some of the bigger ideas were published in books? Hubbell (with 3000+ citations on Google Scholar) springs to mind. That said, I still don’t think the 2000s would look like the 70s…

      • Hi Morgan,

        Re: bigger ideas being published in books more recently: don’t forget MacArthur & Wilson 1967 and Tilman 1982! More broadly, I think it would be interesting to use Google Scholar to identify the most cited ecology books. My guesses for the top three would be the two I just listed, plus Hubbell 2001, with either Hubbell or M&W being #1.

        Does an emphasis on logic and rigor crowd out creativity? I’m not sure. I’d like to think not, or at least not necessarily, though in practice I can well imagine it might. Like everyone, I’d of course like to have both–a lot of creative thinking, but with the ideas being rigorously followed up.

    • Hi Brian, in the name of self-promotion, you missed Bruno et al TREE 2003 which should have been in your top 10.

      I agree about how limited funding promotes conservative science. Is it also harder to get creative ideas though peer review? We had Hurlbert in the 1970s but we have Jeremy today; does such criticism in dampen creativity? And has this changed? I kind of doubt it. Connell and Sousa were very tough on Sutherland and as is so often the case with critics, didn’t apply the same rigor to their own work.

      Maybe the citations per decade need to be scaled somehow: there is so much more to cite now! So many more people doing ecology.

      • Hi John,

        You’re commenting on the wrong post re: Bruno et al.–this post only covers papers from the 70s-90s, not the last 10 years. 🙂

        Re: whether ecologists are more or less critical of one another now than they used to be, really hard to say. Different anecdotes point in different directions.

        Re: getting creative ideas through peer review, I wonder: isn’t that what “forum”, “perspectives”, and “opinion” pieces are for? Should we be publishing more of those?

      • For books, I got Gotelli A Primer of Ecology is the most influential if not the most cited (who didnt read / memorize this) for their orals. Simberloff et al Ecological Communities was also HUGELY influential as was Diamond & Case Community Ecology (despite its flaws)

      • Well, if we’re going to broaden the “book” question to include textbooks like Gotelli’s, I think it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. (And I for one have never given Gotelli’s primer more than a casual glance…)

        I’m actually not sure if Simberloff et al. and Diamond & Case would turn out to be nearly as highly cited as some of the other books suggested above. But I’m just guessing on that, based on the fact that those books are both closely associated with the “null model wars”, and the papers from that debate aren’t nearly as highly cited as you might think. That debate was intense at the time, but once it died down it seems like the papers from that debate mostly stopped getting cited. And to accumulate really massive numbers of citations, it’s not enough to be highly cited within some relatively narrow window of time–you have to have some staying power.

      • On the methods end of books, I would guess The Ecological Detective would be pretty highly cited, too.

      • B & A dwarfs The Ecological Detective; Google Scholar has it at 19531 citations compared to 1785 for the latter (though there are non-aggregated multiple versions in Google Scholar, but only for a few citations each). Given the rank of ter Braak’s CCA paper I thought Pierre and Louis Legendre’s Numerical Ecology book would be pretty high up, which I guess it is for an ecology-focussed book at 7512.

      • I was replying to Brian’s comment, which is why I hit the reply button.

        I agree about citations for Simberloff et al and Diamond & Case. My point was they were influential in that in the 80s and 90s everyone talked about them, read them for oral exams, etc. Obviously, you can’t search a database for that (ie, other forms or measures of impact/influence).

        I peeked and Google S indicates 573 for Simberloff et al and 409 cites for D&C. For what is worth.

        re Gotelli; we all know you were born knowing everything Jeremy, but many lesser students had to read it and other books to brush up for orals.

      • Hi John,

        You wrote:

        “I was replying to Brian’s comments, which is why I hit the reply button.”

        This bit of the thread is up against the nesting limit, which can make it difficult to determine the comment to which someone is replying.

        You wrote:

        “re Gotelli; we all know you were born knowing everything Jeremy, but many lesser students had to read it and other books to brush up for orals.”

        You clearly found my comments offensive, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. I went back and re-read my comments on this bit of the thread and they’re totally innocuous. I really don’t see why a passing remark that I happened not to use Gotelli’s book to study for my own orals could reasonably be interpreted as me saying or implying that I was born knowing everything and that only lesser students had to read it. Like everyone, I had to study very hard for my orals!

    • Being an optimist, my initial thought was simply that method-y papers get cited more immediately before they become so standard that they’re not cited as much, and that idea papers are more enduringly cited. Of course, it’s totally testable — we could partition the citations based on the decade in which they occurred and then compare. (By “we” I mean “you,” of course.)

      Another thought: maybe all the methods papers are due to a technology (and data) explosion more than ideas decreasing. That is, ideas are generated at a constant rate. Technology is developing faster than that. So it would make sense that in comparison, method papers become more frequent.

      • I definitely think that science evolves along “lines of least resistance”, analogous to evolving populations evolving along lines of “genetic least resistance”. Actually, science probably does this to a greater extent than evolving populations do! So for instance, computers have greatly increased our ability to do computationally intensive stats–and so you see lots more of that these days. You can see this as picking the low hanging fruit, or taking full advantage of new opportunities. Or you can see it as technology providing us with new hammers, thereby causing us to see everything as nails.

        And yeah, I don’t see any reason to think that per-capita rates of great idea production are going up!

  2. In response to your comment- “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”

    I wouldn’t consider either of Vitousek papers as necessarily applied. Humans are a state factor according to Hans Jenny! Humans are a major and fundamental ecological force, driving changes in biogeochemical cycles and ecology and evolution.

    Its hard to know which papers you were specifically referring to, and I may be misinterpreting your message. Thanks for this, fun!

    • Thanks for your comments Colin. Afraid I’m unclear what you mean when you suggest the Vitousek papers aren’t applied. The fact that humans are having extremely large effects on the world, or that they can be thought of as a “state factor” (not sure what you mean by that), doesn’t mean that research on their effects isn’t applied. It’s pretty standard to use “applied” in the sense I did, as evidenced, e.g., by the titles of journals like Ecological Applications and the sort of work they publish.

  3. A few thoughts:
    1) Phew! It would have looked bad if I won. My quick guesses while eating breakfast were better than I thought they’d be. Connell seems so obvious now (and I’m sure a ton of us teach about that!) I probably went for r- and K-selection instead because I’ve been working on estimating logistic growth parameters for a couple of parasites. 🙂

    2) Related to the above: I hadn’t noticed this post was in the queue. But, after I saw the post appear and gave my guesses, Jeremy told me Hurlbert was the most-cited paper in the group. In response to that, I wrote a post on Hurlbert that will appear tomorrow. As Jeremy said, I use Hurlbert in teaching, and pair it with MythBusters. More details tomorrow!

    3) If you’re going to talk about Thriller, you need to link to the Toolik Lake version!

    4) It’s occurring to me that reading through many of these papers would be a pretty good way of prepping for qualifying exams.

    • Well, maybe some of you still teach Connell 1978. Here at Calgary we know better–my posts convinced the folks who teach our intro ecology course to drop all mention of the IDH!

      Yes, reading many of these papers would be a good way to prep for quals. Though you might have to be bit gutsy to respond to a question about the IDH by saying “it’s a zombie idea”. Well, depending on who’s asking the question. If it’s me, you’d have to be gutsy *not* to answer with “it’s a zombie idea”! 🙂

      Thanks for the Toolik Lake version of Thriller! I’m kind of bummed hardly anybody has clicked my music links so far, good to see somebody else getting into the spirit of the thing. 🙂

      • I actually just lectured briefly on it last week. I have been thinking about this though. It does illustrate trade offs nicely and it is (I think) supported by data in some systems, namely coral reefs. And it is a legit and influential idea. So why not teach it?

        It seems hard to imagine university classes across many disciplines scrubbing mention of any idea that didn’t pan out, e.g., communism.

      • Re: teaching the IDH: I’d say that’s ok only if all of the following are true:

        -You are very careful to distinguish claims about the empirical pattern from explanations for the pattern

        -You teach the empirical data completely, which means you teach that a humped pattern is rare. (As to whether the humped pattern is common in coral reefs, I’m not qualified to say. I would merely note that there are many ecologists who would say that the IDH pattern is common in *their* system, and who are flat out wrong to say that…)

        -You teach valid theory about the mechanisms by which disturbance affects diversity, and do not teach invalid ideas except to point out that they are invalid. Note that this would require you to mostly ignore what’s in textbooks, since textbooks mostly contain only invalid ideas on this topic.

        As to whether the IDH is fine to teach beause it is “legit”, what do you mean by “legit”? Do you mean “somebody reputable once said it in a peer-reviewed journal, so it must be ok to teach it?” Or “it’s in all the textbooks, so it must be ok to teach it?” Or “this idea was reasonable at one time, so it’s still fine to teach it even though it’s subsequently been refuted”? Or “lots of ecologists believe this, so it must be ok to teach it”? Or something else?

        -As to whether it’s ok to teach it because it’s “influential”, I respectfully disagree that that’s a good idea, pedagogically. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to teach students mistakes just because those mistakes are popular.

      • And as for needing a concept that illustrates what trade-offs are and how they can maintain diversity, there’s no shortage of other, non-zombie examples to choose from that work just as well or better in a classroom setting…

      • I hate to derail the comments thread further, but I see a lot of pedagogical value in teaching students that popular ideas are wrong. Following the caveats you (Jeremy) make would be a very good strategy.

        Students will be very likely to come across zombie ideas if the continue into any ecological job, or go to grad school somewhere else, or etc. If they haven’t already learnt a popular idea is wrong (IDH or a.n.other) and why it’s wrong, they may never find out until it’s too late and fisheries quotas have been mis-specified, conservation priorities and plans have been butchered and/or ecosystem services have been annihilated.

      • Yes Mike, that’s exactly how and why I teach standard ideas about the IDH. As discussed in my original zombie ideas post, I actually throw a textbook against the wall as part of this lecture!

        I also teach the zombie IDH as an object lesson in the importance of thinking critically and in not just accepting something as true because a textbook says it, or a “classic” paper says it, or lots of people with PhDs say it.

        Prompted by John’s comment, in a future post I’ll probably return to this issue. I’ll probably poll people on whether/how they teach the IDH. And also argue very strongly for teaching it my way. I’ll also talk about “teaching the controversy” as a middle ground (short version: “teaching the controversy” is better than just teaching people zombie ideas as if they were true, but it has serious limitations as a pedagogical approach, in large part because there actually *is* not real controversy here, anymore than evolution vs. creationism is a real controversy).

        Also prompted by John’s comment, I’ll be doing a couple of further zombie ideas posts later in the summer. One will be specifically on the zombie idea that “harsh environments” can weaken competition to the point where it doesn’t matter, or where competitive exclusion can’t happen. I’ve noted in passing that that’s a zombie idea for some of the exact same reasons that the IDH is a zombie, but it seems not to have sunk in, so I’ll give it its own post. And I think I’ll do another post aimed at fence straddlers who’ve read my posts and the TREE paper but haven’t fully taken the message on board. In that one, I’m basically going to ask people to tell me why they’re still on the fence–so that I can specifically address their reasons and hopefully bring them over to my side.

      • Thanks Jeremy. Whether / how to teach it is something Ive spoken w colleagues about recently. I had an interesting talk w Allen Hurlbert re the local-regional issue. A future post or crowd sourcing project on what to teach in an ecology class would be cool. Syllabus sharing, shaming, etc. I’d be game to help this along as I know I need to update some of my content.

        I don’t think IDH-like patterns are common on reefs. It really only applies to w Pacific reefs w plating Acroporid corals. And there is very little data one way or the other. (but I don’t entirely agree with you that a phenomena has to be common to be taught or interesting)

        “You teach valid theory about the mechanisms by which disturbance affects diversity, and do not teach invalid ideas except to point out that they are invalid. Note that this would require you to mostly ignore what’s in textbooks, since textbooks mostly contain only invalid ideas on this topic.”

        This is where it gets tricky; deciphering what is valid and invalid. It isn’t clear to me the community has come to consensus on this. A surveymonkey poll could be in order!

        By legit I really just mean it is gigantic part of the conceptual history of the field. But I see your point: if it is indeed as flawed as you argue, we’d have to teach it as a historical relict: an example of how we went wrong.

        “As to whether it’s ok to teach it because it’s “influential”, I respectfully disagree that that’s a good idea, pedagogically. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to teach students mistakes just because those mistakes are popular.”

        Well I certainly agree with you on that. But given it’s immensity and popularity, shouldn’t we at least teach why it is flawed? Do you really not even mention it? When I lecture on climate change, I go over common skeptic claims and explain why they are wrong. People are bombarded with false ideas, so arming them with the evidence seems useful.

        PS: I am relieved to see you have good taste in music, eg, Belly and Throwing Muses!!! (you seemed like more of a Kraftwerk guy to me)

      • “But given it’s immensity and popularity, shouldn’t we at least teach why it is flawed? Do you really not even mention it?”

        Oh, absolutely. The way I teach it (this is in an upper level population ecology class) is to start by just introducing the general notion of disturbances. We want to understand what effect, if any, they might have on species diversity and composition, and why. Then I say that the way many ecologists, including textbook authors, think about this problem is seriously wrong. That doesn’t mean those ecologists are bad ecologists, it just means that the problem is a difficult one. And I say that to understand the right way to think about the problem, it’s helpful to first understand why the usual way of thinking about the problem is wrong. And then I go from there.

        I find that that works really well, pedagogically, for two reasons. First, it really gets students’ attention to be told “your textbook, and indeed a lot of professional ecologists, are wrong.” Second, zombie ideas about how disturbance can promote coexistence are all based on, or can be captured with, what in my TREE paper I refer to as “linear additive models”. Such models are really simple limiting cases. They’re like the community ecology equivalent of exponential growth in population ecology–the simplest limiting case, which you start with not because it’s realistic, but because you first need to teach the baseline case so that the students can see the effects of adding in realistic complications like density dependence. So I start by showing how, in a linear additive world, disturbances are irrelevant. And then I go on to say, ok, the real world mostly isn’t linear or additive, so let’s add some realism and understand how and why disturbance actually matters in a realistic world.

        It’s kind of ironic, really. Zombie ideas about how disturbance affects diversity, which are the ones that are in all the textbooks, are based on about the only models one can come up with in which disturbance *can’t* affect diversity!

        In a future post, perhaps I’ll post some of the computer labs that I use to accompany my lectures on this material.

      • “In that one, I’m basically going to ask people to tell me why they’re still on the fence–so that I can specifically address their reasons and hopefully bring them over to my side.”

        It would be immensely valuable to have some of the (living) people whose ideas are being “invalidated” to weigh in. Eg, Sousa, Menge, Grime, Tilman, Callaway, etc. A forum in Ecology might be a place where they would feel more comfortable. (Ill contact EIC Strong) Because so far, this has been a one sided conversation JF. That doesn’t mean you are not right, but people are I think hesitant to write off so much of the conceptual basis of the field without even hearing from anyone else. Know what I mean?

      • Hi John,

        Re: the idea of a forum in a journal, could be useful. I’d suggest that, to be maximally useful, any such forum ought to be structured in such a way as to oblige the participants to engage with one another rather than talk past one another or simply repeat things they’ve said in previously-published papers.

        Re: one-sidedness of conversations on this blog, if you go back through my old posts on this you’ll find a fair bit of pushback, I think. In particular, I’ve devoted whole posts to pushback from Chris Klausmeier and Karl Cottennie. And while I’m sure that some readers, like you, may have avoided commenting because they were uncomfortable with the tone of those posts, many other readers would not have commented, or indeed even read or noticed those posts at all, had I not written them in a very forthright manner, made zombie jokes, etc. Hopefully a future post in which I say to readers “Ok, this is me in teaching/question-answering mode rather than zombie-slaying mode; what do you find confusing or unconvincing about my arguments so far?” will be inviting to readers put off by the tone of my previous zombie ideas posts.

        I’ll also note that my intent in publishing a TREE paper was to reach readers who don’t read the blog or who choose not to comment for whatever reason. TREE was a good outlet because it’s widely read, and because they quite commonly publish letters responding to their papers. So far, the only letter to TREE responding to my paper came from a group of students, and was declined. But it’s perhaps not surprising that my TREE paper hasn’t attracted any responses so far. Most people quite understandably prefer to spend their time on their own work rather than commenting on the work of others.

        More broadly, my TREE paper contains nothing original to me. It’s just calling attention to, and trying to explain in an accessible way, what’s now a fairly substantial body of work in the peer-reviewed literature. The published work of Chesson, Huntly, Shea, Roxburgh, Miller, and others (as well as the empirical review of Currie) hasn’t drawn responses from folks like those whom you list (which again could be for many reasons, many of them perfectly understandable). But that’s nothing to do with me or my blog.

  4. That ter Braak’s CCA/Canoco paper and Clarke’s (effectively) Primer paper (Clarke 1993, is essentially NMDS and ANOSIM) are so well cited is not too surprising. (Cajo’s paper would have been among my choices for the 1980s.) There’s not a lot you can do when you have many tens or hundreds of species and sites if you want to get some summary of community response along gradients. That these things remain popular is probably supported by the more applied areas of the subject, that they underpin two very popular and user-friendly computer applications that implement these ideas, and that there is a significant barrier to moving beyond them.

    Two recent advances in this area are by Thomas Yee and Dave Warton and colleagues. Yee’s work on vector GLM/GAMs, which (in reduced-rank) forms can fit Gaussian ordination in parametric and non-parametric modes is what CCA’s underlying response model aims to approximate. Warton and colleagues did related work – modelling many species via a GLM applied to each – and showed how to bring this together into a single summary via GEEs, and have shown that CCA et al model the wrong mean-variance relationship in many data sets.

    However, both these require a good grounding in both the theory and computing, and both may be dangerously in Brian’s statistical machismo territory. I doubt that either of these will be in the top 10 ecology papers of the 2000s or 2010s – which is perhaps a shame and reflects somewhat on the level of statistical/computation skills in areas of the discipline.

    Thanks for an entertaining start to my Monday.


    Wang, Y., Naumann, U., Wright, S. T. and Warton, D. I. (2012), mvabund — an R package for model-based analysis of multivariate abundance data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 3: 471–474. DOI
    Warton, D. I., Wright, S. T. and Wang, Y. (2012), Distance-based multivariate analyses confound location and dispersion effects. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 3: 89–101. DOI
    Yee, T. W. (2004). A new technique for maximum-likelihood canonical Gaussian ordination. Ecological Monographs 74:685–701. DOI
    Yee, T. W. (2006. Constrained additive ordination. Ecology 87:203–213. DOI

  5. Now just for laughs I’m curious about who are the most cited ecologists ever. Not sure how to do it, though. In Web of Science you could search on individuals and from that figure out how often they’ve been cited, but you’d have to do a lot of the arithmetic yourself EDIT: nope, I’m wrong, WoS will give you totals for individuals. I believe Google Scholar will give you the total number of times an individual has been cited, and will include citations of someone’s books and book chapters as well. But Google Scholar also includes citations of, and from, things like conference abstracts, which I personally wouldn’t want to include. And either way, you’d still be faced with the problem of trying to identify a big enough set of candidate individuals. Some of the names you’d want to check are obvious: Connell, Paine, May, Tilman…But probably, some of the names aren’t as obvious, at least to me. I don’t know, maybe you just do it as a post on “citation counts for famous ecologists” rather than trying to identify the most cited ecologist of all time.

    EDIT: The other problem is how to filter the WoS search results if people have the same last name and first initial. And you can’t search on full names because older WoS data only have author last names and initials. And you can’t always use middle initials to help you since some famous ecologists, like Dave Tilman and Joe Connell, don’t often use their middle initials.

  6. I think one paper that gets forgotten about a lot is Lima and Dill 1990, Behavioral decisions made under the risk of predation – a review and prospectus. It has been cited 3,375 times, and is in a relatively obscure journal (Canadian Journal of Zoology – Revue Canadienne de Zoologie).

    This list is very interesting though, thanks for posting!

    Also, according to Google Scholar (which is a bit inflated), Tilman has been cited 69889 times, pretty impressive.

    • Good catch on Lima and Dill! I know that paper but had forgotten it until you reminded me of it. I’ll update the post.

      Since nobody guessed that one, adding to the list won’t change the contest outcome, though it might change a few people’s point totals.

  7. A thought: Let’s assume for the sake of argument that ecology has indeed swung from a period where people were thinking of lots of big ideas, but those ideas weren’t being rigorously evaluated, to a period where ecology is rigorous but people are no longer thinking up lots of big ideas. And let’s further assume that it would indeed be optimal to have some sort of balance of the two.

    Don’t those assumptions together imply the existence of a “Golden Age” of ecology, a balanced transitional period from the creative-but-not-rigorous 60s and 70s to the uncreative-but-rigorous present? More specifically, doesn’t this mean the Golden Age was the 1980s?

    Unless of course there was no transitional phase, but it instead was a sharp shift from creativity-dominated to rigor-dominated. More specifically, did the “null model wars” make ecology rigorous at the cost of making it uncreative? (

    All of the above is phrased deliberately provocatively in the hopes of starting an entertaining discussion. 🙂

    • I strongly doubt Ecology is unique in this behaviour – take Physics as another example. The latest big Physics idea to get a lot of media coverage (and even more funding) was thought up in the 60’s (in my home town!).

      I’d say it’s inevitable in science that the big ideas come first, with the rigourous testing to follow. Can it really be any other way? I think we’re probably still coming up with big ideas today (rapid evolution interacting with ecological dynamics?), but they won’t be recognised as such until a certain amount of time and rigourous testing has passed.

      • Wow, that’s a surprise! Wouldn’t have pegged you for an optimist on this, Mike! 🙂

        The comparison with physics is interesting. And it may not lead to the conclusion you suggest: Lee Smolin recently wrote a whole book lamenting that physics has run out of really big new ideas, with too many people being distracted by a dead end (string theory)!

  8. A further thought: if ecology is so “rigorous” these days, how come zombie ideas persist? Shouldn’t any rigorous science have given up on the IDH long ago? Put another way: in light of the continued existence of zombie ideas, what does it mean for ecology to be “rigorous”? And is ecology actually rigorous, or does it merely have some of the trappings of rigor?

    • There’s a difference between rigorous testing of big ideas and asking questions that can be tested ‘rigorously’. I’d say we’re bad at rigorous testing of big ideas because we have a case-specific mentality in ecology. Being poor at testing big ideas does not preclude us from letting some definition of what is rigorous statistically (I’m looking at you 1980s and your obsession with ANOVAs) deciding what science is ‘sound’ versus ‘unsubstantiated’.

    • I think the latter. Just trappings. But seeing a new generation of Don Strong’s starting to speak up gives me hope. Yet note, you can’t change minds or the field just by being right. You have got to be persuasive (and more patient and less dismissive). Use a little human psychology.

      • Hi John,

        ” Yet note, you can’t change minds or the field just by being right. You have got to be persuasive (and more patient and less dismissive). Use a little human psychology.”

        I freely admit that my “default” methods of persuasion won’t be effective with all readers, and for other readers are counterproductive. But on the other hand, many readers would not have read my zombie ideas posts at all had I not written them as I did. And some readers who did read them were in fact persuaded (I once surveyed readers on this: My solution has been to try to use different methods of persuasion that will be effective with different subsets of people. My TREE paper for instance is in a widely-read journal rather than on a blog, and contains no deliberately-provocative rhetoric or zombie jokes or whatever. I plan to continue doing the best I can to reach and persuade various audiences.

  9. Another explanation for increasing citation of methods papers in more recent years is that the explosion of new journals and sheer numbers of papers leads to relatively less citation of the “ideas” papers. My assumption is that papers published in lower impact journals, or regionally-focused journals, are less likely to involve general, conceptual tests and more likely to address management concerns or the ecology of specific organisms or communities. To test this, you could focus only on references cited by papers published in a Ecology. My bet is that the top-ten lists of papers cited by Ecology articles would favor the ideas papers more consistently into the present compared to the literature as a whole.

    Not every ecologist needs to be working on big ideas. It’s probably a good sign for our field that we have so many researchers generating data and results for so many species and systems.

    Thanks for the excellent lunch time entertainment.

    • Interesting idea Peter, you could be right, I’m not sure. Unfortunately, I think it would take actual work to check (this post was not very much work to put together at all).

      Glad to have given you an entertaining lunch. 🙂

  10. What a great post and discussion! Something that struck me was the spread of articles across journal titles within each top 10. In your face, Impact Factors!

    It’ll be interesting to see if/how that changes: perhaps well see more of a concentration of articles in higher IF journals as we go through time with more pressure to chase the IFs. Of course, this quickly descends into a circular argument, so I’ll stop there.

    • Re: the spread across journals, at one point it looked like Am Nat papers would really dominate the 70s list, but then I did some follow up searches that turned up a couple of papers from other journals that I’d missed initially. So a couple of Am Nat papers got pushed out of the top 10.

      Re: the spread across journals, keep in mind that citation concentration is increasing over time, at least recently and at least based on the data I’ve seen from other fields like physics. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the spread across journals here in part reflects the fact that, decades ago, there was less difference in IF between the highest-impact journals and others.

      The spread of articles across journals might also shift a bit if we took larger sample sizes. Ecology papers that get 1500+ citations are so rare, and the conditions that cause a paper to get 1500+ citations so multifarious and stochastic, that it’s hard to imagine such papers coming disproportionately from only Science and Nature. But if you looked at papers that got, say, 500+ citations, you might well find that they come disproportionately from Science, Nature, PNAS, Ecology, Ecological Monographs, Am Nat, and maybe a short list of others. But I’m just speculating, I could be wrong. That could be the topic of another post, I suppose–historically, which journals have published what fraction of all highly-cited ecology papers?

  11. Here is another possible paper to include for the 1990s.
    Mantua NJ et al. 1997 A Pacific interdecadal climate oscillation with impacts on salmon production. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 78:1069-1079 (2367 citations, the definition of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and impact of the PDO on salmon production)

    Pauly et al (1998) Fishing down marine food webs is close to inclusion, and definitely a big ideas paper, although more recent papers Essington et al. (2006) PNAS and Branch et al. (2010) Nature question both the underlying trend in data and the interpretation of the data. Applicable to some places but not everywhere.

    • Yeah, I checked Pauly et al. It doesn’t make the 90s list (1528 citations). I wasn’t aware of Mantua et al., but it sounds to me like an interdisciplinary paper given where it was published and the title. I’m guessing a lot of its citations come from the atmospheric science/meteorology/climatology literature? If so, I don’t think I’d count it as an ecology paper.

  12. A comment on where my guesses came from: Hurlbert was assigned reading during my BSc(hons) in Zoology at the University of Cape Town and one of my favorite all-time papers, Levin (1992) was required reading for my PhD exams at the University of Washington (thanks, Bob Francis) and Connell (1978) I knew from previous citation analysis a few years back, during background for these websites on highly cited fisheries papers:
    and catchy paper titles:

    One more note: there are a number of general references that you can only find under Web of Science under “Cited Reference Search” because they are online or books. Some of these include, as of about 3-4 years ago:
    43,542 Zar JH 1996 Biostatistical analysis. Prentice Hall, London [all editions]
    23,779 Press WH et al. 1992 Numerical recipes for C++ / Numerical recipes for Fortran 77. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
    15,146 Kuhn TS 1996 The structure of scientific revolutions, 3rd edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago [all editions]
    12,510 Fisher RA 1925 Statistical methods for research workers. Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh [all editions]
    11,651 Metropolis N et al. 1953 Equations of state calculations by fast computing machines. Journal of Chemical Physics 21:1087-1092 [now 14,792 cites]
    9174 R Development Core Team 2005 R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria,

    Of these Metropolis et al. (1953) is the weirdest: it was cited 795 times in 2012 alone, but took 18 years before it got 100 total citations. It is of course the MCMC algorithm for finding Bayesian posteriors (much harder to use before there were widely available computers).

    • If we’re going to broaden the “most cited books” thread out to include general stats, programming, and philosophy of science, where do we stop?! 😉

      And at some point, looking at books becomes a reminder of how silly it is to take citations too seriously as a measure of influence. I’m sure Darwin (1859) has been cited a lot–but does anyone really think it’s been cited in proportion to its influence?

  13. I guessed Tilman (in part) because he was dubbed “Most Highly Cited Environmental Scientist of the Decade” (1990’s) by some organization in the early 2000’s. For what it’s worth, he recommended I consider one of Vitousek’s papers. (sigh)

    • Wait, you asked Dave for his suggestions?! That’s awesome! You totally should have tried to talk him into submitting his own set of guesses! 😉

      You know I was just teasing you about guessing one of Dave’s papers, right? 🙂 Dave probably has more near-miss papers in this contest than anyone, plus his books on resource competition may well have cost his papers some citations…

      • Yeah, I did. I found the 1970’s really hard. Minnesota doesn’t have comprehensive quals, I haven’t taught an ecology course yet, and I come from a different discipline, so I think I’ve likely read fewer historical ecology papers than many. This blog contest gives me a nice reading list though, so thanks.

        And yes, I knew you were teasing. (My husband asked what I was laughing about, in fact…)

  14. Ric Charnov himself (author or co-author of two papers on the 1970s list) left some comments on this post on the “About” page. I’ve copied his comments over here so folks don’t miss them:

    “Hi Jeremy; Schoener’s 1971 ARES article on Optimal Foraging should make your 70s most cited list. Its more ecological than my 77 paper with Pyke & Puliam. If a life history paper like Pianka 70 can be ecological enough, then Stearns 77 QRB paper is also on the most cited list.
    Ric Charnov”

    • And my reply to Ric over on the About page is as follows:

      “Hi Ric,

      Thanks very much for stopping by! But you’ve commented on the “About” page rather than the post you’re referring to. I’ll copy and paste your comment over to that post so folks don’t miss it.

      Re: Schoener 1971, you’ve exposed the limits of my search procedure. Web of Science data for ARES only go back to 1975, so I can’t check how often Schoener 1971 ARES has been cited.

      Re: Stearns 1976 QRB, you’re right that it’s debatable whether life history theory papers should be considered ecological. But given that I decided to list Pianka 1970, you’re right that I should list Stearns. I’ll update the post.”

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  18. I don’t think methodology/applied ecology papers rise is a threat to burgeoning novel concepts or ideas. Interesting papers in applied ecology areas can capture new aspects on how ecological science adresses problems and solve them in efficient yet promising fashion. I think the blossom of methodological papers is related to the awareness of the recent generation of biologists/ecologists (90’s and over) who care to assimilate well comprehended and sophisticated statistical methods with rigorous methodological practices in their field of studies because more focus of research is now geared toward practical problems with which our society and the legislators/policy makers are ask to confront. The challenge of modern science ecology is to analyse all the data generated indirectly by satellites and directly on ground stored in databases in a convenient way so as to reveal its multifaceted aspects within multidisciplinary team with an emphasis on integrating new concepts which could help better explain the patterns.

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  21. I’m surprised that
    Diversity and evenness: a unifying notation and its consequences
    MO Hill – Ecology, 1973 – Eco Soc America
    didn’t make the cut.

  22. Pingback: Should we judge a scientific field by its classic papers, its typical current papers, or its best current papers? | Dynamic Ecology

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