Which ecology journals are best at publishing papers that go on to become highly cited?

In a comment on the previous post, Mike Fowler noted that the most-highly cited papers in ecology published from 1970-1999 came from a wide range of journals. It wasn’t all Science and Nature papers for instance.

On the other hand, some journals certainly showed up on that list more than others. Which prompted me to wonder: which ecology journals publish the most papers that go on to become highly cited?

This is a good idea for a blog post, in that it’s both entertaining, and requires literally only five minutes worth of background research. So here, according to Web of Science, are the numbers of papers with at least 1000 citations, and at least 500 citations, ever published by various ecology journals. I left out general science and interdisciplinary journals because there’s no easy and reliable way to isolate all of their ecology papers. And yes, Am Nat, ARES/AREES, and Limnol Oceanogr do publish some non-ecology papers, but I couldn’t be arsed to worry about that. The journals are ordered by number of papers with at least 1000 citations.

  1. Am Nat, 23 papers with at least 1000 citations, 71 papers with at least 500 citations
  2. Ecology, 23, 93
  3. ARES/AREES, 22, 80
  4. Limnol Oceanogr, 8, 34
  5. Ecol Monogr, 7, 30
  6. Theor Pop Biol, 4, 6
  7. Ecol Appl, 4, 7
  8. TREE, 3, 46
  9. J Anim Ecol, 3, 14
  10. Oikos, 3, 21
  11. J Ecol, 3, 14
  12. Ecol Lett, 2, 5
  13. Funct Ecol, 2, 4
  14. Oecologia, 1, 16
  15. Ecography, 1, 2
  16. J Appl Ecol, 1, 5
  17. J Biogeog, 1, 3
  18. Global Ecol Biogeog, 0, 1
  19. Ecosystems, 0, 1

Now, of course these numbers might vary for all kinds of reasons, the most obvious of which is how many papers each journal has ever published. If you rank the journals by the percentage of their papers that have garnered at least 1000 citations, here’s the top 10:

  1. ARES/AREES (2.7% of all papers have at least 1000 citations)
  2. Ecol Monogr (0.5%)
  3. Am Nat (0.2%)
  4. Theor Pop Biol (0.2%)
  5. Ecology (0.2%)
  6. Ecol Appl (0.1%)
  7. Ecol Lett (0.1%)
  8. Limnol Oceanogr (0.1%)
  9. TREE (0.1%)
  10. Funct Ecol (0.1%)

And if you rank them by percentage of papers garnering at least 500 citations, things change a bit:

  1. ARES/AREES (9.6%)
  2. Ecol Monogr (2.2%)
  3. TREE (1.1%)
  4. Am Nat (0.7%)
  5. Ecology (0.6%)
  6. Limnol Oceanogr (0.4%)
  7. Theor Pop Biol (0.3%)
  8. J Anim Ecol (0.3%)
  9. Oikos (0.3%)
  10. Ecol Lett (0.3%)

Obviously, there are many other predictor variables you could consider (length of time journal has existed, percentage of review papers the journal publishes, etc.). But that would require work, so I can’t be bothered.

Historically, some journals clearly have been better than others at publishing papers that go on to be really highly cited. Unsurprisingly, review journals are especially good at this, especially if we define “highly cited” to mean 500+ citations. Other than the review journals, the only ecology journals that have ever published more than a handful of highly-cited papers are Ecology, Am Nat, Ecol Monogr, and Limnol Oceanogr.

I was kind of surprised to see that, in terms of rate of publishing papers that go on to be highly cited, there’s an appreciable gap between Ecology/Am Nat/Ecol Monogr and J Anim Ecol/J Ecol/Oikos.

15 thoughts on “Which ecology journals are best at publishing papers that go on to become highly cited?

  1. My first impression is that, given the clear North American-European split between Ecology/Am Nat/Ecol Monogr and J Anim Ecol/J Ecol/Oikos, is this evidence that North American ecologists tend to be more conservative in their reading and citations, in that they look mainly at North American journals? I’ve heard this stated before, but not seen any real evidence. But apparently there’s anecdotal evidence that some North American ecologists haven’t heard of journals such as Australian Journal of Ecology, for instance 😉

    • Damn – I’ve even seen a seminar about European vs N. American citation habits, and I can’t remember who wrote the paper…

      Roosa Leimu? Yes! (Skip to box 3, and some other references cited in the article, Like Wardle 1995).

      Which means the seminar must have been 8 or so years ago, so forgive me if the details are a little hazy…

      • Thanks Mike. I know Roosa well so that may have been where I picked up on the idea but hadn’t realised it was published. Your “Yes!” link did’t work by the way.

      • Bummer – it was supposed to link to her 2005 TREE article with Julia Koricheva. They’ve done a lot of very interesting work on the various (and nefarious) publishing practices of ecologists over the years.

  2. What is very enlightening is to look at which papers received the most citations in 2012 (i.e. are regarded as being the most relevant today). This gets around one issue: papers published long ago have more time to accumulate citations and so do journals (hence the lower ranking of TREE), but not another: papers published recently have not been disseminated widely and made it into textbooks etc.

  3. I was curious about more more recent numbers (since some of the patterns didn’t match my expectations and I’m a sucker for stats), so here are the numbers from 2000-now from web of science (I hope it won’t break the comment length restrictions). I included a couple of other journals as well. Counts are for >200, >300 and >1000 citations, and the results are sorted by >200. This shows the rapid advance of Ecology letters, but I was also surprised to see that TREE still has double the frequency of high citation papers. AREES still rules in frequency. Oikos, Theoretical pop bio, Limnol Oceanogr, and to some extent AmNat have lost some ground. Also, still a gap between US and european journals.

    Journal count200 count300 count1000 Narticles
    TREE 133 64 2 1839
    Ecology letters 65 21 2 1809
    Ecology 61 25 2 4345
    Ecological applications 29 4 1 2417
    AREES 26 13 2 255
    Oecologia 26 12 0 4037
    Oikos 24 7 0 3201
    American Naturalist 22 7 0 2254
    Conservation biology 19 6 0 2794
    Journal of applied ecology 13 5 0 1768
    Limnology and oceanography 12 3 0 2881
    Journal of ecology 11 3 1 1625
    Journal of biogeography 11 6 0 2277
    Ecography 10 6 1 1241
    Ecological monographs 9 3 1 406
    Biological conservation 9 4 0 3940
    Global ecology and biogeography 8 5 0 915
    Journal of animal ecology 7 2 0 1685
    Frontiers in ecology and the environment 7 3 0 2238
    Proceedings of the royal society B (topic: ecology OR conservation biology) 6 2 0 624
    Diversity and distributions 5 2 0 920
    Functional ecology 4 2 0 1707
    Theoretical population biology 3 0 0 874
    Fish and Fisheries 3 0 0 280
    Behavioral ecology 2 2 0 2066
    Theoretical ecology 0 0 0 171
    Basic and applied ecology 0 0 0 769

    Frequencies (still sorted by >200):
    Journal Freq200 Freq300 Freq1000 Narticles
    AREES 0.102 0.051 0.008 255
    TREE 0.072 0.035 0.001 1839
    Ecology letters 0.036 0.012 0.001 1809
    Ecological monographs 0.022 0.007 0.002 406
    Ecology 0.014 0.006 0.000 4345
    Ecological applications 0.012 0.002 0.000 2417
    Fish and Fisheries 0.011 0.000 0.000 280
    American Naturalist 0.010 0.003 0.000 2254
    Proceedings of the royal society B (topic: ecology OR conservation biology) 0.010 0.003 0.000 624
    Global ecology and biogeography 0.009 0.005 0.000 915
    Ecography 0.008 0.005 0.001 1241
    Conservation biology 0.007 0.002 0.000 2794
    Journal of applied ecology 0.007 0.003 0.000 1768
    Journal of ecology 0.007 0.002 0.001 1625
    Oikos 0.007 0.002 0.000 3201
    Oecologia 0.006 0.003 0.000 4037
    Diversity and distributions 0.005 0.002 0.000 920
    Journal of biogeography 0.005 0.003 0.000 2277
    Journal of animal ecology 0.004 0.001 0.000 1685
    Limnology and oceanography 0.004 0.001 0.000 2881
    Frontiers in ecology and the environment 0.003 0.001 0.000 2238
    Theoretical population biology 0.003 0.000 0.000 874
    Biological conservation 0.002 0.001 0.000 3940
    Functional ecology 0.002 0.001 0.000 1707
    Behavioral ecology 0.001 0.001 0.000 2066
    Basic and applied ecology 0.000 0.000 0.000 769
    Theoretical ecology 0.000 0.000 0.000 171

  4. An interesting discussion and I’m glad to see the updated data (as Editor-in-chief of a journal that rose perhaps that is not surprising). I think the European vs. N American journal differences are interesting and am curious what is behind it? Involvement with societies in Europe? Page charges? Pro Europe (anti USA) feelings?

    • Hi Marcel,

      Regarding the N. American v Europe patterns of citation, my interpretation is that it’s N. American researchers tending to be more geographically conservative in their citations than their European counterparts. That is to say, European researchers will cite both European and N. American journals, whereas N. American researchers will often only cite N. American journals.

      That’s a HIUGE generalisation, I realise, but I have some anecdotal evidence to support it and the study by Roosa Leimu mentioned above also found it, if I recall correctly.

    • Re: N. America vs. Europe, could you get that pattern if N. Americans and Europeans both tend to cite their “own” journals, but there’s some other systematic difference between N. American vs. European journals, or N. American vs. European ecologists? E.g., do papers in N. American journals tend to have more citations in them or something?

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