Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Tale of Four Stories: Soil Ecology, Theory, Evolution and the Publication System

Abstract

Background

Soil ecology has produced a huge corpus of results on relations between soil organisms, ecosystem processes controlled by these organisms and links between belowground and aboveground processes. However, some soil scientists think that soil ecology is short of modelling and evolutionary approaches and has developed too independently from general ecology. We have tested quantitatively these hypotheses through a bibliographic study (about 23000 articles) comparing soil ecology journals, generalist ecology journals, evolutionary ecology journals and theoretical ecology journals.

Findings

We have shown that soil ecology is not well represented in generalist ecology journals and that soil ecologists poorly use modelling and evolutionary approaches. Moreover, the articles published by a typical soil ecology journal (Soil Biology and Biochemistry) are cited by and cite low percentages of articles published in generalist ecology journals, evolutionary ecology journals and theoretical ecology journals.

Conclusion

This confirms our hypotheses and suggests that soil ecology would benefit from an effort towards modelling and evolutionary approaches. This effort should promote the building of a general conceptual framework for soil ecology and bridges between soil ecology and general ecology. We give some historical reasons for the parsimonious use of modelling and evolutionary approaches by soil ecologists. We finally suggest that a publication system that classifies journals according to their Impact Factors and their level of generality is probably inadequate to integrate “particularity” (empirical observations) and “generality” (general theories), which is the goal of all natural sciences. Such a system might also be particularly detrimental to the development of a science such as ecology that is intrinsically multidisciplinary.

Barot S, Blouin M, Fontaine S, Jouquet P, Lata J, et al. (2007) A Tale of Four Stories: Soil Ecology, Theory, Evolution and the Publication System. PLoS ONE 2(11): e1248. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001248

3 comments:

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