December 17, 2013

Copies of Am Nat from 1922-2004 available!

An offer:

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute is offering to donate a nearly complete collection of American Naturalist from 1922 to 2004.  It was originally collected by Carl L. Hubbs and includes both bound and unbound issues.  We would prefer to send the complete set rather than breaking it up, but will consider all offers.  The recipient must pay for shipping.  We will be happy to package up the volumes and coordinate sending them.  A detailed list of the issues is available on request, contact Ann Bowles, or 619-226-3870. 

December 6, 2013

Peer Review Step by Step at Am Nat

So, in reading along in the Twitter stream, I noticed this conversation by @hylopsar (Hi, Rafael!) about how opaque the steps in the peer review process are for authors who haven't been on the editorial side and how nice it would be to see what the expectations are for "normal":

This is just my view from the Am Nat journal office of course!

1) The manuscript arrives in the web system. One of us in the journal office gives it what the system calls a technical check--Is the PDF readable? Did the math symbols turn into tiny empty boxes? Is it double spaced? We try to minimize annoyance, but reviewers hate it if isn't formatted right, so we're just trying to save you grief later.

2) The manuscript then waits for one of the three deciding editors to claim it. This depends on people's schedules, but it generally moves along every day. The deciding editor finds the time to look the manuscript over and determine whether it can fit our niche. If it seems like it can or they aren't sure, it goes to the next stage...

3) The manuscript gets assigned to an associate editor. We get manuscripts across a broad spectrum of subjects. Though we have quite a few associate editors, we sometimes struggle to get a manuscript assigned. AEs have busy schedules and not all have the expertise needed for that manuscript. We also avoid loading up an AE all at once.

4) If the manuscript seems like it might fit our niche, the AE then develops a list of six suggested reviewers to send to the journal office. If the manuscript is a bit of a stretch for the AE, then developing that list can take a bit of time and exploration. 

5) The journal office takes that list and checks for availability and some basic conflicts of interest. We try to give reviewers at least two months off between assignments. Then two reviewers are invited to review. If we don't get a response to the invitation in a few days, we follow up, wait a day, and then move down the list until we find two reviewers who agree to review. As can be imagined, this process can take some time for some manuscripts especially at some busy times of year. If we run out of names, we ask the AE for more suggestions and start the process over.

6) The standard due date for a review is 21 days after the reviewer agrees to review.

7) When the reviews are completed, the journal office checks them over to make sure the fields are filled out, there aren't any obvious missing bits, and any attachments uploaded correctly. When both reviews are in, the manuscript is returned to the associate editor for a recommendation. The deadline for the recommendation is two weeks since we expect that an AE may have to set aside a considerable block of time to sort out what needs to happen next.

8) The AE writes the recommendation and the manuscript moves back to the deciding editor, who reads over the whole package--manuscript, reviews, and recommendation--before writing the decision letter.

9) Finally, the decision letter is assembled and sent by the journal office.

We try to keep a manuscript moving along, but there are many steps when many busy people might take a little longer. We in the office work regular office hours (and have vacations and weekends and sick days), so if you submit your paper late on Friday, you won't hear from us until Monday.

The problem is always how to balance thorough with timely. When thorough review works well, it works very well indeed. I really appreciated how much it could mean for an author when I read Meghan Duffy's blog post about how review at Am Nat improved her paper:

So when it takes a little longer, we ARE trying to get you the most useful feedback we can in as timely a period as we can, while trying to gauge whether the manuscript fits our niche.

November 8, 2013

TWTW 11/8--Faculty of 1000 and Some Job Hunt Advice

Faculty of 1000 Recommends AmNat

Three articles just showed up in Faculty of 1000 recommendations:
1) Can Life History Predict the Effect of Demographic Stochasticity on Extinction Risk? by Tobias Jeppsson and Pär Forslund ( 
"This is a very interesting question of contemporary importance"

2) Evidence for the Adaptive Significance of Secondary Compounds in Vertebrate-Dispersed Fruits by Susan R. Whitehead and M. Deane Bowers (
"Fleshy fruits are designed to be consumed, so why are they often loaded with toxic compounds? Among the hypotheses that have been advanced to answer this question is that secondary compounds in fruits (and nectar) are by-products of plants' production of compounds to defend leaves from leaf-eaters...The alternative hypothesis is that fruit secondary compounds have specific adaptive functions....The elegance of the contrasting predictions and the clarity of the results combine for a very nice study."

 Photo of Lonicera × bella with ripe fruits taken at one of the study sites in Colorado.
(Credit: Susan R. Whitehead)

3) Heritability of Life Span Is Largely Sex Limited in Drosophila by Anne Lehtovaara, Holger Schielzeth, Ilona Flis, and Urban Friberg (
"...Remarkably, the authors find that the majority of all additive genetic differences for life span and aging among individuals are sex-specific, suggesting that the two sexes (a) have a markedly different genetic architecture for these traits and (b) can evolve relatively freely and independently with regard to these traits...."


Advice for the Job Hunt

A great resource showed up this week in Joan Strassmann's series of blog posts on what happens on a search committee and tips for job applicants:

What the goal looks like from the search committee's perspective:

"Hiring a colleague for the coming decades is the most important thing we do. We want to get it right. We want someone who knows how to get research on great ideas done in the foggy jungle of daily tasks that seem to be a full time job themselves. We want someone who understands that the nature of the job is not to forge ahead like a lone sailor, but to coordinate a team so others thrive."

One way a committee sifts through the applications:
and then

Tips for how to get your application to make it through the process:

Write a succinct, one-page cover letter (this is true for any job)

First say you are applying for the job and name it.... Say where you are now and where you have been. Second tell us what you do. You study this, this, and this conceptual area, using this organism, these techniques and approaches.... Third, tell us two or three really cool things you have figured out each in a sentence or two. You could mention the future direction your research will go, in a sentence. Mention teaching and advising enthusiastically, preferably by telling us what you have taught, whom you have mentored, and some things you might teach, though we are likely to have our own ideas on this, so indicate you are flexible. Close with some general enthusiasm about this position. Make sure you get the right university.

and on your CV, explain your role on multi-author papers:

Generally, try to put yourself in our place. Let us know what you’ve figured out that is creative, what ideas are yours and what ideas someone else had and you followed through. We want the story. We have a hard job to do.

And if your application happens to make it to the right pile, how to approach phone interviews:
and some questions to practice with

And just plain good advice to anyone in college: Cultivate three professors. She's absolutely right that you will need those references no matter what path you end up on

October 7, 2013

TW3* 10/7 (Trish)

If meerkats can make better group decisions, so can we

After a depressing week of the U.S. Government in stalemate, National Geographic thought there was some good advice in an article in the November issue, "Swarm Intelligence: When Uncertainty Meets Conflict" by Larissa Conradt, Christian List and Timothy J. Roper


(Credit: The Kalahari Meerkat Project, © Evelyne Zehntner)

In Nature News: 

"Tahitian gender-bending bug avoids stabbing sex: Adaptations keep closely related species from traumatic interbreeding."

On Tatarnic and Chassis in the October Issue:

Advice on how to write a Cover Letter from Nature Methods

When reading this advice, do substitute whatever niche the journal you are submitting to fills for the word "methods." For us, substitute our niche for the word "methods"--conceptual unification, changing the mind of the reader about a topic, and interest to a readership that stretches across ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior.

* That Was the Week that Was

September 27, 2013

That Was the Week that Was...(Trish)

Things flow by fast on Facebook and Twitter, so I thought I might post here on Fridays if there was some Am Nat/ASN news that shouldn't get too lost in the stream.

Ruth Patrick Died at the Age of 105

Ruth Patrick was an amazing woman. In addition to all of her other activities, she was the first woman to be president of the ASN (1975) and was an Honorary Lifetime Member. The student poster award inaugurated this year was named in her honor. We'll be running an "in memoriam" article for her in the journal later this year.

More can be found in her obituaries in the Washington Post:

and the New York Times:
The Times had my favorite photo of her! Check it out!

Nature Research Highlights

Brett A. Goodman, Lin Schwarzkopf, and Andrew K. Krockenberger
“Phenotypic integration in response to incubation environment adaptively influences habitat choice in a tropical lizard”

Registration for the ASN Meeting in January at Asilomar Closed 

Well, actually that was last week, but the organizers are taking names for the waiting list if you are still interested in going to #ASN2014. In the meantime, they created an image of most common words in the abstracts submitted:

That Was the Week that Was

I used that title in honor of the passing of David Frost, who was the host of the great satirical show that included writers like Peter Cook and John Cleese. It lives on via YouTube.

September 20, 2013

Who We Are

Editor-in-Chief Judie Bronstein

I've been Editor-in-Chief of the American Naturalist since January 2013, having served as an Associate Editor and then Editor since 2004. My own research focuses on big conceptual issues surrounding mutually beneficial interactions between species (Why cooperate? How does cooperation evolve, and under what conditions can it persist? How fragile are mutualisms in the face of spatial and temporal change, including anthropogenic disruption?). My work lies at the intersection of the three main areas we cover – ecology, evolution, and behavior – and incorporates both empirical and theoretical approaches. For this reason, I consider myself a fairly typical reader of this journal. In fact, it was my discovery of Am Nat as a college student that stimulated me to enter science as a career. I’m currently University Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Arizona.

Editor Troy Day

I am a theoretical evolutionary ecologist interested in the evolution of the genotypic and phenotypic attributes of individual organisms, as well as the evolution of intra- and inter-specific interactions. Although my work is primarily theoretical, I am also involved in testing theory in collaboration with other researchers using a variety of experimental and correlative techniques. Current research areas in our group include the evolution of host-parasite interactions, the evolution of drug resistance, sexual selection and conflict, and the evolutionary diversification of populations in space

Editor Susan Kalisz

While I’m in my first year as an Editor of the American Naturalist., I have long appreciated the synthetic and cross-cutting nature of articles published in the American Naturalist. My work focuses on how evolutionary forces and local ecological factors interact to shape individual traits and population-level fitness.

Currently my lab is exploring two main themes: mating system evolution and species interactions and invasion.  Using the mixed mating genus, Collinsia, as a model, we examine the genomic consequences of shifts to self-fertilization, quantify if selection shapes mating system traits to maintain stable mixed mating, and test ideas related to Baker’s Law, linking selfing, dispersal, and range size. Further, my long-term herbivore exclusion experiment was designed to quantify the role of herbivores, mutualists, and invaders on the physiology, life history, and demographic stability of the native understory community. These projects are run out of my lab at the University of Pittsburgh, where I am a faculty member.and time.

Natural History Editor Mark McPeek

I'm the Natural History Miscellany Editor of the American Naturalist, and on the faculty at Dartmouth. My work considers how ecological and evolutionary processes interact to shape the structure of biological communities.

Managing Editor Trish Morse

I've been the managing editor of The American Naturalist since June 2001--the best job in the world.  

September 12, 2013

The American Naturalist Does Publish Ecology

Since I’ve become Editor-in-Chief, I have frequently been asked, “Why doesn’t Am Nat publish ecology?” The question has stumped me. This isn’t because I don’t know the answer, but because I haven’t been convinced that the underlying assumption is true. I’m an ecologist, and have been reading (and occasionally publishing) ecology in Am Nat for many years. Many of the foundational concepts in ecology – especially evolutionary ecology – were first explored in the pages of this journal. But there’s undoubtedly a widespread perception that Am Nat doesn’t publish ecology, or perhaps doesn’t publish ecology the way it used to.

I see three questions here. First, does Am Nat want to publish ecology? Second, is it in fact publishing ecology these days? Third, do we want to publish more of it? Let me address each of these in turn.

The answer to the first question is certainly yes. Ecology is central to our vision statement as a journal. We are aiming for the conceptual unification of the biological sciences, and ecology plays a central role in achieving this. We “publish papers that are of broad interest to the readership, that pose a new and significant problem or introduce a novel subject to the readership, that develop conceptual unification, and that change the way people think about the topic of the manuscript.” In a practical sense, this means that we extend across ecology, evolution, and behavior, with papers often sitting at the interfaces among these areas.

But there are certainly aspects of ecology that don’t fit very well into Am Nat. (One could say the same of certain aspects of evolution and certain aspects of behavior, but that’s a subject for another blog entry.) Ecological research that is devoted to deepening our understanding of a single system generally doesn’t fit here. Nor do most papers that provide new examples of well-defined concepts and well-tested hypotheses. There are many excellent journals that publish work of this nature. What makes an ecologically oriented paper appropriate for Am Nat is what makes any paper appropriate for Am Nat: its effort to contribute to the development of a conceptual framework that extends well beyond the study’s focal organisms, and that can contribute to the advancement of the biological sciences as a whole. From that perspective, any aspect of ecology has the potential to fit into Am Nat’s scope, from the individual to the biome.

Given those thoughts, does Am Nat indeed publish ecology these days? Yes, and plenty of it. I’ve scanned the contents of the journal from January to September 2013 and tallied up what I saw. It’s hard, and rather unfair, to bin articles, as so many of them focus on interfaces among fields. You would probably have ended up with a different count than I did. But very roughly speaking, here’s what I see, and I have to say that it surprised me:

Evolutionary: 37
Behavioral: 17
Ecological: 70

Of the ecologically oriented papers:

Focus on individuals, e.g., physiological ecology: 11
Focus on populations, e.g., growth models: 17
Focus on pairwise interactions, e.g., host-pathogen dynamics: 14
Focus on communities, e.g., species diversity patterns: 19
Focus on ecosystems: 1

Beyond this, of course, we have our Natural History Miscellany section with its own editor, Mark McPeek, explicitly devoted to publishing conceptually significant ecology and behavior. So far in 2013, we have published 9 NHM papers.

Hopefully I have made my point that there’s abundant ecology in Am Nat, and that we want it that way. In fact, we get so many ecologically oriented papers submitted here that roughly 26 of our 58 Associate Editors have expertise centered in ecology, and another 20 regularly handle certain ecological topics. Among the three editors, Susan Kalisz and I run field research programmes, and consider ourselves ecologists at least to some extent. Interestingly, though, Am Nat, as well as the American Society of Naturalists as a whole, have a much higher profile in the evolution community than in the ecology community. This would have been obvious to anyone who attended both the ESA and the Evolution meetings this past summer, as I did.

The final question is whether we want to publish more ecology than we already do. There, I think the answer is yes and no. I’m a little concerned that a sense that Am Nat doesn’t publish ecology has led to fewer conceptually oriented ecology papers being submitted here than one might expect. In other words, we risk having a self-fulfilling prophesy: if potential authors think we don’t publish ecology, then exciting, ecologically focused articles won’t be submitted here, and – voila – we won’t publish ecology. So, in that sense, yes: I’d love to see the misconception dispelled, and those papers come to us. I also really hope that those of you who stumble across amazing natural history will think about framing your discoveries in the context of what they bring to our conceptual understanding, and submit them as NHM manuscripts.

The reason I also say no is that what I really want to see is more manuscripts that propose new concepts, that synthesize existing concepts, and that conduct unique and powerful tests of existing theory and conventional wisdom. Ecologists are doing plenty of that kind of work – but so are biologists across all the disciplines we cover. We hope to see it all cross our desks.

Many questions remain. For instance, is the ecology that Am Nat publishes of equivalent impact in the field as are its evolution and behavior articles? Is less, or less significant, ecology appearing in Am Nat than there was in the old days? Is there perhaps less conceptual synthesis going on in the field of ecology as a whole than there once was? I’d welcome discussion on these issues.