Essential papers you’ve probably never read

14 09 2015

Hmmm. What to read next?

“What would you consider to be the most important papers to read in your discipline?”.

That was the question a colleague with whom I’m working closely at the moment (you can probably figure out who that is) asked me last year. “Jesus H. Bloody Christ”, I thought, “What a question!”. How long is a piece of string?

In some ways, there is no way to answer that question well. Every research project requires reading a specific set of papers, and very few traverse the divide between projects. I seem to have to read a new set of papers every time I write one myself, although I admit I tend to stray from a single ‘discipline’ far too often than is probably considered healthy. Let’s also not forget those essential methods papers; you know, the ones that actually show you how to do the thing you’re trying to do? You can’t get much more essential than those.

But if I really sit down and think about it (and I have), it sort of comes down to what I’d expect my postgraduate students to know by the time they finish their degrees. In other words, they should read and retain the information in the papers that transcend research projects and all sub-disciplines of conservation ecology.

So I’ve picked a dozen of my ‘favourite’ papers that I think have something really important to tell us. They tend to be a little generic in terms of the broadness of their implications, but they are also, in my view, brilliant demonstrations of fundamental processes that all conservation ecologists should know.

While many of them are in the ‘big’ journals, not all of them are, nor are they necessarily the most cited papers in this field. I’ve also tended to avoid papers that document the things we know pretty well by now (e.g., effects of fragmentation, extinction patterns, etc.), and I haven’t really included any ‘methods’ papers for the simple reason I explained above that there are so many and they are very project-specific. I’ve even been a little cheeky and included one of my own, so take that for what it’s worth.

I present the list below in broad categories, and I include a little blurb about why I chose each one. There are, of course, 100s if not 1000s of others out there that others would choose, and I suppose that an inventory of such papers across many ecologists would be a good idea to put together. If you know this blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve also published my list of conservation ‘classics’, so I’m not going to repeat those here. Neither am I presenting those older papers that we should all have read, yet despite citing them for decades, few of us have (which has all sorts of implications for bullshit perpetuating over time, but that’s a topic for another blog post). For now, this is my tuppence. Read the rest of this entry »

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