What ecology & evolution papers do you read again and again?

This semester, my lab is having lab meetings where we alternate reading classic papers in disease ecology with newer papers on multihost and/or multiparasite interactions. So far, all the classic papers we’ve read have been by Anderson & May. I’ve read their papers over and over, and still take new things away from them every time. I sometimes feel like they covered everything there is to cover, at least in terms of theory – one thing that is interesting is how little data existed in the 70s and 80s for them to compare their models to.

For example, in rereading May & Anderson 1979, I was struck by this passage:

Because the generation times of most hosts are several orders of magnitude longer than those of their parasites, it is tempting to conclude that selection acts more rapidly on the parasites. However, the way parasitic infections act within host populations makes it likely that the parasites force the pace of host evolution to keep step with, or even ahead of, their own evolution.

I was struck by that because, in the system I’ve worked on the most, the host seems to be “ahead” of the parasite, and this is always something that people have a hard time wrapping their heads around when I present the research. Perhaps I should start including this quote in my talk!

Another line that I had forgotten about is this one:

Population dynamics is always confounded by population genetics

This is cryptic population dynamics, 30 years before that term was coined! (Like I said, Anderson & May covered everything.)

This got me to thinking about what papers I read repeatedly, and which ones I should be rereading but am not. Hurlbert is one that I revisit periodically. When I reread the PEG (Plankton Ecology Group) paper recently, I realized how many of the details of it I’d forgotten — including how many people contributed data to that paper. (I’ll have a post on that topic next week.)

What are the classic papers that you get new things out of when you reread them? (Neglected classics are welcome, too!)

11 thoughts on “What ecology & evolution papers do you read again and again?

  1. I don’t go back and reread stuff very much, but your post made me feel like I should.

    I’ve read Wimsatt 1987 several times: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/false-models-are-useful-because-theyre-false/

    I haven’t reread Armstrong 1979 Ecology in a long time, but when I read it I remember being struck by how prescient it was. It was on a much narrower topic than Anderson and May of course, so I wouldn’t go so far as to claim Armstrong 1979 as some kind of major neglected classic. But within its domain, it’s great. Armstrong not only figured out pretty much everything that’s in later and better-known papers that I also like (Holt et al. 1994 Am Nat, Leibold 1996), he also figured out other stuff. But a lot of it is just in passing remarks. Sounds to me very much like what makes Anderson and May so rewarding for you to go back to–you keep finding passing remarks that later became major lines of research.

    Holt 1977 is great in that way too. There’s a lot of insight packed into that one paper.

  2. Hutchinson’s “Homage to Santa Rosalia or why are there so many kinds of animals?” and Jim Brown’s “Two decades of homage to Santa Rosalia: toward a general theory of diversity”.

    Most papers by Mike Austin are worth rereading several times – always way ahead of the curve and really densely packed with ideas – especially his dissertation work (1980-1985 papers about growth along a nutrient gradient) and his 1990 paper (Measurement of the realized qualitative niche: environmental niches of five Eucalyptus species) on niche modelling was ahead of its time and unfortunately still ahead of the state of the field.

    LC Birch’s series on flour beetle population dynamics are papers I go back to frequently.

  3. A few classics in design and interpretation of biodiversity inventories:

    Brown, B.V. & Feener, D.H. 1995. Efficiency of two mass sampling methods for sampling Phorid flies (Diptera: Phoridae) in a tropical biodiversity survey. — Los Angeles County Museum Contributions in Science 459, 1–10.
    Colwell, R.K. & Coddington, J.A. 1994. Estimating terrestrial biodiversity through extrapolation. — Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 345, 101–118.
    Gaston, K.J. 1991. The magnitude of global insect species richness. — Conservation Biology 5 (3), 283–296.
    Godfray, H. C. J., Lewis, O. T. & Memmott, J. 1999. Studying insect diversity in the tropics. —
    Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 354, 1811–1824.
    Gotelli, N.J. 2004. A taxonomic wish-list for community ecology. — Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 359, 585–597.

    The Godfray et al. and Gotelli papers in particular have been very influential on my career choices; I am a taxonomist working primarily with material from large-scale inventory projects and/or in collaboration with community ecologists.

  4. Somewhat of a specialized paper, but I always enjoy rereading Freeland and Janzen 1974 – Strategies in Herbivory by Mammals: The Role of Plant Secondary Compounds. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2459891?sid=21105776523073&uid=4&uid=3739200&uid=2

    It’s considered sort of a seminal paper for plant-animal interactions. Fun to reread what was known then and how knowledge has progressed, but also where some knowledge gaps are. Rereading it somehow always gets me thinking of a new experiment that could be done.

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