Ask Us Anything: the research contributions of ecologists from developing countries

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next question, from Pavel Dodonov: how much do scientists from developing countries contribute to ecological research?

Brian’s answer: Short version. A lot. I think there are two kinds of contributions (these apply to researchers from all countries). One is what I call brick-in-the-wall research. In this metaphor science is a very large wall (maybe not such a good metaphor anymore in light of my president’s goals but ignore that). And most science adds a brick to the wall. Yes its a small part of the wall. But it is a permanent part of the wall, and all humans should count themselves lucky when they do something that will outlive them. And more bricks can go on top. Most research is of this brick-in-the-wall type. And of course developing countries do this work too. In many ways their work is often more important than some of the bricks built in the developed world because they are describing species and ecosystems that are very poorly understood. Then there is the more unusual research that helps people organize their thoughts across many bricks. This work is often conceptual, often appears in high-profile journals etc. There are many, many scientists doing this kind of work in developing countries too. Just thinking my own field of macroecology, Alexandre Dinoz-Filho and Thiago Rangel are both from Brazil and doing great work in this area. Adriana Ruggerio is from Argentina. Eduardo Rappaport, also from Argentina, wrote a great book on species ranges and has a macroecological rule named after him. Sadly, I just learned he passed away recently. Pablo Marquet is from Chile. There are nice contributions from China. Ramon Margalef was way ahead of his time, and while you might not consider Spain a developing country today much of his work was done under a dictator when the country was still quite poor. I could name half a dozen really important ecologists from Mexico in various subfields of ecology. And I’m forgetting people who will be annoyed with me, I’m sure! So yeah, plenty of scientists from developing countries do the core synthetic thinking.

But the one thing that is clear is that science from developing countries is the future. Papers from established countries are a shrinking proportion of all papers (with the US proportion declining fastest). Brazil and China are growing especially fast (partly because they are the biggest) but it is a broad phenomenon including many developing countries.

43 thoughts on “Ask Us Anything: the research contributions of ecologists from developing countries

  1. Hi Brian, thanks for the post. I have a long follow-up question that has been bothering me for a while.

    I agree with you that developing countries play an important role in ecological science (I’m South African, so I would say that!). However, my perception is still that in order for researchers from developing countries to be considered successful internationally, we need to “play by the rules” set by developed countries. I am specifically referring to publishing our work in the best scientific journals.

    Many well-respected journals originally focused on specific developed countries (e.g. the ESA and BES journals, American Naturalist, Oikos). While these journals are essentially international now, they still support societies in their respective countries.

    Developing countries also have our own journal-supported societies, many of which have been around for ages (The Royal Society of South Africa has existed in ts current form since 1908, and earlier version have floated around since the 1820s). But unlike the journals from developing countries, these journals have not been able to reposition themselves as truly international. I’m sure this is true for other developing countries too.

    Researchers like me from developing countries are caught between a rock and a hard place. We can either support our local journals and academic societies, but then restrict the potential readership of our papers (not to mention the career implications of publishing in ‘obscure’ regional journals) or we keep feeding the perception that the best work should be reserved for journals traditionally from developed countries.

    This doesn’t even touch on the negative perceptions of academic publishers from developing countries. For example, Hindawi Publishers from Egypt are regularly lumped together with predatory publishers even though their journals are indexed on Web of Science and have legitimate impact factors.

    So, to get to my question, how can researchers help improve scientific institutional capacity in developing countries (i.e. journals and societies) without making personal career sacrifices (i.e. lower visibility, poorer reputations)?

    • Hi Falko – you raise many interesting points.

      As far as BES or ESA journals being focused on their own countries. I’m not sure I see that. As a grad student in the US I was much more excited about getting published in Oikos & Ecography (Nordic Society) than ESA. And I also got the table of contents for Austral Ecology sent to me.

      But as for your larger point of building capacity locally while succeeding globally. It is a good question and I don’t know if I have the answer. I suppose one, probably harsh, question is whether local journals are an important part of local capacity? I’m not sure I have a definite opinion on that. The world is not going to support 90 sets of national society journals that are high profile. And I do feel like BES/ESA/Nordic journals if anything have a slight bias towards less studied areas of the world, certainly not a bias towards home-grown stuff. But I do recognize the innate unfairness that the “top” journals are all Norther European/North-American. I’d be curious to hear others answers.

      Contradicting myself, I do think there is a broader phenomenon that I don’t know how you eliminate it as it is unintentional but citation circles. Even though the US and Britain have shared a language and have had each others society journals readily accessible to each other almost since the beginning, network analysis of citations still clearly shows that Brtis tend to cite Brits and Americans tend to cite Americans. That pattern has always struck me as crazy. Although also probably natural since citations come from knowing people, seeing talks at conferences etc as much as reading journals. So probably I am being naive in thinking of BES and ESA journals for the whole world.

      In short you raise tough questions and I don’t have good answers. And feel free to tell me I am being hopelessly naive and privileged. I probably am.

      And on the note of forgetting to mention people since you raise South Africa, sticking just within my field of macroecology, I could have/should have mentioned Cang Hui and before their move Steve Chown and Melodie McGeoch.

      • Thanks Brian, I don’t think it is unfair that “top” journals are concentrated in US/UK/Europe. Rather, I think it is an indicator that these regions have maintained a strong research culture for prolonged periods (50-100 years).

        I suppose my original comment reflects a form of “developing country impostor syndrome”. We send our best work to international journals and ‘dump’ the less novel stuff in our local journals. This maintains the perception that local research (i.e. research by people from these developing countries) is of lower quality. This is illogical reasoning, of course, but no one ever said impostor syndrome was logical…

        As an outsider, I just assumed that US/UK/European researchers don’t have this insecurity because their top national journals are also top international journals. While they might also have impostor syndrome or different reasons, it won’t be linked to national identity.

      • Thanks Falko. Yes I can see your point. Getting accepted at say Ecology or Journal of Ecology is no easier for an American or a Brit respectively (a rule of thumb I’ve heard is that a good dissertation should manage to get one paper into Ecology so its definitely aspirational for everybody). Most people end up placing a majority of their papers in lower ranked journals be they regional (Northeast Naturalist) or taxonomic (Auk) or topic specialized (Community Ecology) or other journals. But having got that one paper in Ecology and then attending the ESA meeting, I can see how it gives a sense of belonging that is totally unearned (by the individual) relative to other parts of the world and conversely a sense of outsiderness (is that too strong?) to others.

        I wonder what could be done to change that sense of impostor syndrome? I think many international societies are increasingly making a point of holding meetings in more parts of the world. In general I think this is an important topic and goal. Aside from the very important benefits of human diversity it is clear ecology benefits from literal physical geographic diversity in study topics as well.

    • About making a journal international… I can think of two examples which sort of succeded in it or may be on the right track: Sociobiology, a journal published by the State University of Feira de Santana, in Brazil (and quite far from the Brazilian economic centers), which focuses on social insects and, from what I’ve heard, is read by myrmecologists and other “social-insectologists” everywhere; and Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation, published by the recently formed Brazilian Association for Ecology and Conservation. This latter journal used to go by the name Natureza & Conservação or Brazilian Journal of Nature Conservation, and, as I understand, they recently made a choice to change the scope and make the journal broader and more international.

      I think the main issue with publishing in journals from developing countries is not even visibility – many of them are indexed in Web of Science, many South-American journals are freely available on the SciElo platform, and my first-ever paper, in Brazilian Journal of Biology, has been cited by papers in much higher-ranking journals. I think the main issue is how we, as researchers, are evaluated – mostly based on the impact factor of the journals we publish in (or some metric derived from the impact factor; in Brazil there’s something called Qualis, which classifies journals into five strata; most of our own journals fall in the third class or lower). Early-career researchers cannot afford to send good research to minor journals as it would harm our job prospects – a paper in a higher-ranking journal counts more even if it cited less; and even established have to publish in higher-ranking journals to get funding. So there’s a positive feedback loop, in which researchers don’t send papers to lower-raking journals, and therefore these journals never reach higher ranks; and people may refuse to review for lower-ranking journals, precluding the improvement of papers sent there.

      • Pavel – I like your examples. And while there is considerable inertia to overcome, I do think over time the “prominent journals” will shift and change to be more geographically diverse. But I do think at the end of the day there will still be some form of contingency. We cannot have 90 prominent journals in a field even though I do believe and hope we will have 90 countries making substantial contributions.

        Personally, I have found some of my favorite papers in “low impact” journals.

    • There is another issue regarding publications from developed vs. developing countries that has been bothering me as well, and that is the proliferation of open-access journals with fast review and less emphasis on novelty and impact, and the associated publication fees. I see it has become a sort of an unspoken rule that, if that paper doesn’t make it to one of the traditional journals, then it is off to PLOS One, Ecology and Evolution (reputable) or, increasingly, Scientific Reports (which I will go on record saying I consider as the largest predatory journal in current activity. There, I said it).

      Now let me be clear I am not criticizing the open access model (quite the contrary), but it creates yet another dividing line: those that can afford the ~US$1500 to see that paper published on PLOS or E&E or SR, and those who can’t. And when you compare the productivity from both groups, one will seem to be lagging behind. For most people in developing countries, the “backup” plan can’t be “submit to a fast review journal and get it out there quickly”. It ends up being submitting to the small local journals, which offer way less visibility, are not indexed by WoS or other big ones, and usually have very long review times, as they are mostly ran without any supporting staff. Not because the research is worse, but only because of cost.

      • Exactly! I agree with everything you wrote, but didn’t want to bring up the whole debate on open access journals vs. local journals.

        It is not just absolute cost of publishing open access – it is all the hassle that goes with paying in a different currency. For instance, fluctuations in the exchange rate between South African Rand and US Dollar can change publication costs by 20% in any year…this is excluding the transaction costs on foreign payments.

        A few years ago they discussed something similar at the Society for Conservation Biology annual meeting. SCB is excellent at accommodating developing countries and their membership and conference fees are usually 80% lower than scientists from developed countries. Still, turnout by African researchers at the conference was low and the reasons were (a) African scientists didn’t have credit cards to make the online payments and (b) many African countries have strict rules and heavy transaction costs on international bank transfers (because the countries try to discourage their citizens from moving their cash out of the country).

  2. I hope I might ask the following anything, which could perhaps inspire some new blog post ideas….

    The underlying assumption of the above article seems to be that lots of ecological research contributions from scientists in the third world is obviously a good thing. This seems hard to argue against so long as the focus is limited to ecology + third world.

    But what if we were to expand the scope of the question? Is all research from any scientist on almost any topic also obviously a good thing? It seems to be a foundational assumption of not only the scientific community, but also the larger culture they serve, that all knowledge is good. To what degree is this assumption true? And to what degree are scientists and the rest of us willing to ask that question?

    This larger question seems related to how we value ecological research from the third world or anywhere else. If some research is dangerous, and the danger is large enough, the structure of civilization which all research depends on may be at risk. And should that structure collapse then most of what is being learned today would be lost. This is hardly hypothetical speculation given that it could literally happen tomorrow.

    Ecological research by third world scientists (or anyone else) only has value if what is learned can be preserved and built upon. Thus the question of whether the civilization which would do the preserving is at risk from other research is not a separate issue, but the heart of the issue.

    If readers find this distracting, boring, or off topic etc, ok, apologies, then I’d rephrase to ask to be pointed to that branch of science which raises it’s vision above the details of any particular narrow knowledge stovepipe to the larger questions which all the stovepipes depend on. While you’re stocking the shelves with the newest knowledge in your field, who’s watching the store?


    • Phil – I am not sure what you are really trying to say. I suspect it might be because what you are trying to say would sound badly if said directly but I am not sure.

      I think though you are conflating two issues – quality of research with where it comes from.

      There is a valid question about how much research society should fund under the assumption that the more it funds, the lower the quality at the edges will be.

      But that is completely irrelevant to today’s discussion about whether quality research comes out of diverse countries, which it indubitably does.

      • Hi Brian, thanks for the engagement. Here’s a simplified example to illustrate my interest.

        A biologist might spend their entire career studying a single species. An ecologist takes a broader view by studying the systems of life which all species depend on.

        My interest is in taking an ecological view of the knowledge development process as a whole, and it’s relationship with the civilization which all science depends on.

        This broader “ecological” interest in knowledge development as a whole is typically declared off topic in ANY science discussion, because science is very reductionist in nature with each scientist typically focused on a very narrow stovepipe of information. Everybody wants to talk about their particular stovepipe, but not the larger system which allows that stovepipe to exist.

        Such a rejection of the broader view might be compared to the biologist who doesn’t want to discuss the environment as a whole because that’s seen as off topic to their narrow study of a particular species. But what the ecologist knows is that the state of the environment as a whole is directly relevant to the fate of any particular species.

        The knowledge development process as a whole and it’s relationship with the civilization it depends on is directly relevant to every field of science, because if that process as a whole fails and crashes civilization, then all fields of study will be swept away in the collapse, and everything you’re working so hard on is a waste of time.

        Thus, from this broader truly ecological perspective, I feel on topic in EVERY science discussion.

      • @Phil:

        We’re happy for the conversation to flow naturally from the topic of the post to related topics. But we don’t welcome comments that are completely off topic, they interrupt and derail productive conversations. The question of whether all knowledge is good, or whether research on some topics is dangerous to civilization, has nothing to do with this post. Please stay on topic in future.

      • For the information of readers, Phil’s IP address has now been blocked because he explicitly refused to stay on topic. His off-topic comments have been deleted. This is a step we take rarely and reluctantly, but we do it when necessary. We’re not willing to allow all our comment threads to be dominated by one person who wants to talk about the same off-topic issues in every thread.

  3. Quick correction. Chile is a high-income country (not developing). It also strikes me that of all the countries listed in this article have either very high (Argentina) or high (Mexico, Brazil, China) Human Development Index (HDI). A sad fact is that much of the high impact science out of countries with low HDI either goes unrecognized or is hindered by conditions that create barriers to doing and promoting science. Of course, there are examples of fantastic scientists from of all of these countries, who have succeeded under major obstacles. However, I think we also need to do a better job recognizing these barriers exist and at taking steps to correct them.

    • Hi Matthew. You are right there is a lot of variation in incomes. The original question came from somebody in Brazil so that was my reference point. And there are a lot of countries that have not traditionally been “big players” in scientific research but are becoming such. So that is what I took as my working definition.

      But you are right that there are plenty of countries that are not at that level. And their research is that much harder to hear about.

    • Matthew, a good point, but being classified as high-income or middle-high income by the World Bank doesn’t necessarily translate into science training, investment and funding. Another key difference for many countries like Brazil and Argentina is the lack of political and economical stability, which often has huge impacts on funding, mobility, and strategic planning for scientists.

      Four years ago Brazil was funding thousands of students to go abroad, research money was flowing everywhere, labs were being modernized and “big science” experiments were being started, exchange rates were very favourable and Brazilian scientists were showing up en masse on all international conferences. Now, we are scraping the barrel, most funding programs have been severy cut back or completely suspended, and exchange rates have plummeted, even though our income classification hasn’t changed. One example, related to another post above, is that being from a Middle High Income country, Brazilians are never eligible for conference or publication fee reductions/waivers, making them completely unfeasible for the majority of Brazilian scientists (while they were reasonable just four years ago).

      Then there is also the issue of infrastructure and bureaucracy. I am involved in a project that relates to new tech applied to Ecology, and the combination of taxes and regulations means that to get the same tech that an European/North American researcher would get for US$3000, delivered in a week, it cost us three to four times more, and receiving it may take over an year. That makes it very hard to keep pace with scientists in developed countries.

      There are certainly many other countries where the research situation is much, much worse, but I think the scientific gaps can be bigger than expected by just looking at income levels.

  4. Catherine Hulshof (from the University of Puerto Rico and so currently with limited access) gave me permission to post these thoughts:

    My knee-jerk reaction was that this post fed into a common stereotype/bias/perception of low quality science in developing countries.

    Someone asking “do ecologists from the U.S. contribute to ecological research?” would seem out of place but someone asking “do ecologists from developing countries contribute to ecological research?” is acceptable.

    I can see how the post was trying to endorse work in other countries but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m more upset that someone would ask that question, implying that developing countries don’t contribute to ecological research. The post came off as defending science in developing countries (because it needs defending?). Maybe the post could have addressed this head on? Why is there this perception? What does it mean to contribute to ecology in traditional and non-traditional sense? What are limitations or barriers of doing science from a developing country that our U.S./Europe/Australia counterparts may not even realize or understand?

    Some of the greatest ecologists I know don’t have a formal education and whether they ‘contribute’ to ecological research is not so much because they don’t publish or can’t attend ESA, but because researchers who fly down for a few weeks (often without knowing language), collect their data, leave, publish results, aren’t usually interested in fostering long-term professional relationships, and they don’t tend to be interested in expertise of non-PhDs….that has been my experience working in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and even Puerto Rico.

    Feel free to post this if it contributes to a larger conversation. My internet access is sporadic. I’d be interested in hearing other people’s reactions, especially from people who have worked in developing countries, have strong ties to developing countries, are from developing countries.

    • Lots of things to think about in there.

      For everybody reading this, it might be worth noting that the original question came from an early career researcher in a developing country, so that context may matter in the question.

      As for my response, I am probably guilty of getting too philosophical and off topic (about how there is much good and some great research everywhere and I personally don’t perceive a big difference in where it comes from). So let me just say plainly and unequivocally that the research contributions from scientists in developing countries are large and important!

      I know Canadians love to talk about how they punch over their weight in terms of papers or impact factor per dollar, which is true statistically, but that is also parsing small differences. It is my pretty strong experience that the research quality done per dollar or per person is pretty much constant anywhere in the world. Some countries can just afford more research, but I don’t perceive differences.

      That said, it isn’t permission to ignore the differences and challenges of working in a developing country. Some of the ones I am aware of are:
      – the fact that the system is centered in and therefore on some level favorable to those with the oldest research traditions (North America, Europe, Australia/New Zealand)
      – the impostor syndrome Falko talks about. Falko is right that IS happens to everybody everywhere. But coming from a country that is newer in research tradition certainly feeds it. Anything leaving one feeling as an outsider feeds it.
      – the fact that some NA/Europe researchers tend to treat other countries as fly-in, capture some data, fly-out places without respect for the local community and their knowledge. Although of course many go to great care to invest time and energy into the local scientific community
      – the fact that funding in many developing countries is more skewed to applied problems, making it harder to do the basic researcher that for whatever false reasons is usually perceived as more prestigious. I dare say it is my perception that even ecologists in Australia face this challenge/opportunity.

      I personally take this as a priority when I travel to developing countries to acknowledge the importance and high quality of the work there and push back at impostor syndrome. So I regret not being completely successful with this post. As an editor, the statistic I use most often is publications in top journals. The US percentage is shrinking and those from non-NA/Europe/Australia/NewZealand are growing. Something is going in the right direction.

      I think you raise a very important question (it echos in Falko’s questions too). What should count as “an important contribution to equality”. The perspective I took of publishing in international journals is a limited one.

    • First, thank you for this post, Brian!
      The reason I asked this question was mostly due to the impost syndrome spoken of above… I see a lot of great research done here in Brazil and in other developing countries; I know some great ecologists here, and during my six months in Canada (which including a two-month field season) I felt that I was not behind Canadian or North-American researchers in terms of ecological knowledge and training. Still, most of the papers I cite are from developed countries and, more importantly, I feel there’s a strong impostor syndrome by researchers here. It’s my personal impression that we tend to think that research from North America, Europe or Australia is necessarily better, and tend to value scientists and institutions from these countries more than those from our own country or continent. For example, I have several friends who did part of their PhD in North America, Western Europe or Australia, but just one who went to Eastern Europe and another who went to Chile to do part of her Masters.
      So I have an impression that researchers in Brazil often udervalue our own scientific capacity, and I wanted an opinion from outside. This post actually succeded in helping with my impostr syndrome, and hopefully it will be good to others. I’ve always had the impression that there’s a lot of really good research coming from developing countries, and it’s good to see that other people share this thought.
      …Regarding researchers flying down – collecting data – leaving: I’m afraid not only people “from outside” do this… People who contribute a lot to data collections and sometimes even study design, without who the study would not have been possible, often don’t get the recognition they deserve. But I think this might be getting off-topic…

      • Glad you liked the post. To be fair, there are some NA/European researchers who do just assume their research is better. I don’t think it is just scientists in developing countries and their impostor syndrome. It is unfortunate all around. And very untrue! I believe your impressions of equal quality work are absolutely true. And I will say that as an editor I regularly see great papers coming from all over the globe (and as I’ve said this trend is only increasing). And on a more personal note, I have had the good fortune to visit and speak with scientists in Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica and China among others and have had very similar experiences in terms of interesting conversations as when I visit and give a seminar in the US or Europe.

        And I think things are changing faster than most people imagine. I predict 20 years from now a majority of the publications in top journals will be from outside the longstanding research tradition world (Europe/NA/Austro-New Zealand)

        That said about the quality being equal, I don’t want to minimize the challenges either. You are right to finger the journal pyramid as a challenge.Any time the selection rates are so low, the slightest little things can tip decisions. And so much of science remains based on personal relationships.

        How to change these to increase geographical representation is not easy to figure out (I for one don’t just want to blow these realities up because they also are beneficial or at least central to science in many ways – there now I’ve said a statement that will really annoy people!).

        Thank you for the question.

  5. What about soliciting some guest posts on Dynamic Ecology from ecologists based in developing countries? I’d love to read their perspectives on these important questions.

    • From my point of view, this could be a great idea. Scientists from the third world might be in a better position than first world scientists, Americans in particular, to see that the stability of civilization which all science depends on can’t be taken as an obvious given.

    • scrogster – I think that is a great idea. I am talking with my co-bloggers about the best way to implement this. In the meantime, if any ecologist from a developing country (at any career stage) would be interested in writing a post, please get in touch with me. It could come from lots of different perspectives as there are obviously so many dimensions to the topic.

      • Nice idea! The number of academic bloggers is increasing in Brazil and other developing countries. We write our blogs in our own native languages, but most of us can also write in English.

  6. Good question & answer. I don’t like the developing vs developed dichotomy & many organisations (including the World Bank) are moving away from that terminology. But the general issue is still valid. I think this question may also be conflated with the English-speaking vs non-English speaking countries issue – there is a vast wealth of ecological knowledge published in non-English language journals that are rarely cited in English language papers, especially natural history observations. I think it would be awesome if more universities had in-house multilingual research support.

    • That’s a good point… I always search in SciElo – a South American online journal database – for studies on a ecosystem or on the natural history of some species. The studies are mostly of limited interest and simpler statistics, but with lots of useful information, including species lists, dispersal syndromes etc, often testing some ecological hypothesis in one or two areas.
      Some of these studies are in English, and nearly all have abstracts in English, so they’re not fully unaccesable to “outsiders”… Still, multilingual research support would be awesome.

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  8. Thank you for this post and its thoughtful comments section. As a Brazilian contemplating my next step in academia, I find the discussion extremely useful.

    I started my undergraduate degree in Brazil before transferring to Canada, where I lived for 3 years and finished my B.Sc. in EEB. Throughout my degree, I kept in touch with friends in Brazil and got to witness second-hand the decline in the country’s investment in science while having the immense privilege of doing research in Canada. One impression that I got there – which I haven’t been able to shake – is that Brazilian scientists do a lot more with a lot less, especially in terms of applied work and outreach, without getting proportional recognition.

    Brian brought up the point that basic research is considered more prestigious, and I think my education has caused me to internalize that in ways that are making it difficult for me to settle back into Brazilian academia. I’m now back home looking for graduate projects that align with my interests in broad EEB questions while being tempted to do the applied work that I admired from afar – unsure of how my biases as a Brazilian with a North American education are driving my search. I also worry about how doing graduate work here, publishing in “local” journals, and leaving the sphere of NA academia will impact my ability to go abroad again in the future if I so desire.

    I don’t have much of a point here, but those are the questions that have been occupying my brain recently, and I thought they might relate to the overall discussion. Cheers!

      • It’s interesting to hear your opinion that we do “a lot more with a lot less” in Brazil… I’ve never thought about it this way – well, I think we do more research with less equipment, but I always felt that we’re doing way less outreach than we should. But then again, I’m not sure people do enough outreach anywhere… And in some areas, such as environmental education, my impression is that the outreach done in Brazil is based on a different paradigm than that in North America. In any case, outreach does not get nearly as much recognition as it should here; not sure about other places…

        Regarding publications – one option would be to “work on two fronts”: send your minor research, e.g. from parallel projects, to local journals (and so have a steady flow of publications and provide some basic data to the scientific community) and your more important research, especially that related to your thesis, to higher-ranking international journals. Or you may focus entirely on the higher-profile journals; I have friends here who published their Masters research in Ecography, Plos One or Ecological Applications, which I consider to be pretty good journals.

    • Hi Pavel,

      What I meant by “a lot more with a lot less” was more research per unit equipment/funding/infrastructure – driven by need, – and more outreach per unit incentive/recognition. I can only compare the two institutions I’ve attended, but where I am in Brazil, students actively maintain elaborate outreach programs and events despite minimal institutional support and academic benefits. In Canada, the only outreach I experienced were citizen-science or science-fair type events, led by institutions and with sparse student interest, especially from undergrads. How much outreach is done compared to what would be “enough,” is a separate but related matter, I think. Obviously Brazil is in need of more outreach than Canada – due to the state of our public education, socioeconomics, environmental laws, political climate, etc. – so maybe the gap between what is and what should be done is larger. I don’t know.

      In terms of “working on two fronts” regarding publications: doesn’t that mentality weaken local journals even further? I get that publishing in better and more far-reaching journals increases the potential impact of (in this case, Brazilian) science, but I can’t help but get the impression that it feeds into this “developed world”-centric view of what “important science” is. Again, I don’t have a lot of evidence or experience to have a firm stance on this, but those are my current views of the issue.

      Thanks for the discussion!

      • Hi Isabela,

        Got it… Totally agree with doing more with less now, regarding both equipment for research and recognition for teaching – based on my own limited experience. There is of course a lot of variation – I saw a lot more outreach in São Paulo than I see now in Bahia. But even here I’m aware of quite a few projects working with very little recognition.

        Agree about your other comment… Perhaps a good way to strengthen local journal without hampering your own carreer would be citing them in your papers. In this way our journals get visibility, increase their IFs and your CV stays good… What do you think? There’s a lot of good research there, it just has to be shown.

      • Hi Pavel,

        Citing local journals while publishing in bigger ones seems like a good way to increase exposure of local research without the possible negative career consequences of publishing locally. I don’t know if, or how fast, that would eliminate those negative career consequences – it’s possible that they’re an inevitable part of how global academia works, though I certainly hope not.

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  11. Hi all, sorry to be late to the party. I wanted to see how the conversation went because we’ve actually done research on the topic so I was curious as to how well impressions matched results.

    I think the original question needs to be more specific: when one says “how much do scientists from developing countries contribute to ecological research?” it depends on if you mean in absolute terms (number of papers) or if you mean the impact of individual papers (with the caveat that impact can itself be measured in different ways).

    In numerical terms developing countries are still way behind – at least for ecology. All of Latin America combined still publishes far fewer papers than the US. However in terms of impact, the answer is “YES” And also “NO”. We’ve shown that, e.g., Brazilian teams publish in journals with lower IF than US-author teams – potentially because they send them there due to the imposter syndrome mentioned above – BUT that their articles are cited more than the other articles in the same journal in the same year, including those by US authors. citations of papers with US-Brazil collaborators far exceed those of US authors or Brazil-only teams. So yes, their impact is quite high when measured in this way (Note this is not true of all countries, though). Of course in certain subdisciplines, e.g., Tropical Biology, the impact of scientists in the global south – both numerically and in terms of impact – can certainly exceed that of scientists in the global north. For more on this you can check out

    Smith MJ, Weinberger C, Bruna EM, Allesina S (2014) The Scientific Impact of Nations: Journal Placement and Citation Performance. PLoS ONE9(10): e109195.


    Stocks, G., Seales, L., Paniagua, F., Maehr, E. and Bruna, E. M. (2008), The Geographical and Institutional Distribution of Ecological Research in the Tropics. Biotropica, 40: 397–404.

    Finally, there is indeed evidence scientists in dev. countries are more efficient (papers per $ invested in S&T), both at the continental level (Holmgren and Schnitzer) and at the individual country level (Bruna unpubl MS). Of course, as has been pointed out “developing countries” is overly simplistic because it includes countries across a tremendous spectrum of HDI, GDP, etc. so I caveat emptor when discussing patterns in those terms.

    Thanks for a very stimulating discussion!

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