One year later: Conservation Letters

17 02 2009

Conservation Letters

I have been very proud to be a part of Conservation Letters‘ success since its inaugural issue in April 2008. I thought I’d share our Chief Editors’ retrospective editorial after the first year. Thanks to all who have made CL such a success!

In the editorial that launched Conservation Letters, we promised a journal that would publish novel and innovative papers drawing on a diversity of disciplines, and including perspectives and case studies from across the globe. We anticipated first class research that would help deliver effective policy and management solutions. Furthermore, we pledged rapid publication: a review time of six weeks and submission-to-publication time of 20 weeks. So let’s see how we have done in the first volume.

The five issues of the first volume comprise 37 papers drawn from 146 submissions. Of these submissions, 40% were rejected without review. We did better than our target for processing manuscripts: average review time was five weeks and submission-to-publication time was 17.5 weeks.

Coverage of topics has been diverse. Several papers dealt with mainstream conservation science: habitat and population decline, climate change impacts and assessments for conservation planning. Many dealt with “hot” topics, namely natural capital and ecosystem services, conservation economics, and monitoring and evaluation. Few papers had a strictly biological focus – most also considered social dynamics and focused on production land and waterscapes. Most straddled disciplines. Although all papers articulated implications for policy and practice, two documented research that was engaged with the stakeholders responsible for developing policy or implementing practice.

We are disappointed that the geographic spread of the submissions was strongly biased in favor of developed, English-speaking nations: 36% of first authors hailed from the USA, 19% from UK, 16% from Australia and 6% from Canada. Only 11% of submissions originated from mainland Europe, 5% from Asia, 3% from Africa, 2% from Latin America. More encouraging was that almost half the papers published dealt with topics that transcended biome boundaries; the remainder was equally shared between land and water ecosystems.

At this early stage, it is difficult to assess whether any of the papers have had an impact on conservation policy and practice. However, the editorial team is pursuing ways of monitoring the extent to which papers are influential in catalyzing actions that safeguard nature and its services in a secure, just, and sustainable way. What we can report is that research published in Conservation Letters aroused considerable interest from major television networks (BBC, ABC, National Geographic), magazines (Economist, American Scientist), newspapers (New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Sydney Morning Herald) and conservation organizations (BirdLife International, The Nature Conservancy). Two papers attracted most of the media interest: Wilson and Edwards’ paper on low emission kangaroo meat (issue 3, 119-128) and Reed and Merenlender’s contribution that assessed the impact on carnivore populations of non-consumptive recreation in protected areas (issue 3, 146-154). Along with Kapos et al’s paper on measuring conservation success (issue 4, 155-164) and Koh and Wilcove’s article on the impacts of oil palm agriculture on tropical biodiversity (issue 2, 60-64), as of November these contributions also had the highest impact as measured by downloads. Conservation Letters will apply for ISI listing in early 2009 so it will soon be possible to track impact via citation analysis.

Overall, we are very pleased with the first volume of the journal. The papers are scientifically rigorous, innovative and – importantly – likely to have a real impact on policy and practice. Moreover, we believe that the quality and speed of the review process has been good. However, the journal does face certain challenges in maintaining this high quality of content and process. We need to attract more contributions with social science perspectives, that involve scientists from developing countries, and that are socially engaged in processes leading to implementation of conservation actions. As Conservation Letters grows and becomes even more diverse, we will also need to recruit to our editorial board more rare individuals like the ones we already have: leading scientists who are willing to allocate time to editorial chores that advance conservation science and policy.

Our success is attributed to the conservation science community who has so enthusiastically supported the journal by submitting their top-notch papers to a fledgling journal. Of key importance has been our outstanding editorial board. Its members have ensured a rigorous, fair and speedy review process. We wish to thank in particular those who dealt with four or more submissions for the first volume, namely Bill Adams, James Blignaut, Justin Brashares, Nicholas Dulvy, Richard Krannich, David Lindenmayer, Atte Moilanen, Mathieu Rouget, Javier Simonetti and Kerrie Wilson. At the helm is Corey Bradshaw, our Senior Editor whose dedication and commitment have underpinned our achievement thus far. Corey shouldered the lion’s share of editorial responsibilities for the early issues, personally handling 18 submissions. Thanks too for the sterling work by the team at Wiley-Blackwell: Managing Editor Jen Mahar and Associate Publisher Marjorie Spencer. Finally the entire team is hugely appreciative of the guidance of our Editorial Advisor, Michael Hochberg, whose experience as editor of our sister journal Ecology Letters, provided important direction for the editorial team.

By any measure conservation research is booming – both in terms of its scientific and real world impact. The remarkable early enthusiasm for Conservation Letters is testimony to the excitement that surrounds our discipline. We, the Chief Editors, are very grateful for your support.

Richard M. Cowling
Michael B. Mascia
Hugh Possingham
William J. Sutherland

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