Publication in the ecological sciences has seen considerable change over the past decade, particularly in what ecologists are publishing and how they publish. We increasingly see evolutionary perspectives integrated into ecological questions, and molecular techniques employed in mainstream ecological domains such as population and behavioural ecology. We have also seen the rapid emergence of disciplines such as ecosystem ecology and ecological genomics. Reflecting this growth, the number of journals in ecology has increased by around 60% over the past 10 years and many established journals have substantially expanded the number of pages they publish. Ecologists publish more papers of shorter length, and many if not most ecological journals now rely on the Internet for information for authors, manuscript processing and publication.
Publishing in ecology is also changing in terms of the services provided to authors themselves, but only a few journals are adequately geared for this challenge. What all authors want from journals is efficient, professional handling of their manuscripts. The problem is that there is an unavoidable trade-off between the two: handling manuscripts too rapidly means fewer referees' reports, less thorough reports received, and less time for editors to make careful publication decisions. Every journal editor is aware of this constraint and each journal performs based on its resources and management.
When Ecology Letters was launched 5 years ago, we knew that with the right kind of organization and with support from Blackwell Publishing and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique we could greatly speed up the publication process without sacrificing professionalism. We estimated that for an article of 5000 text words, it should never take more than 6 weeks to provide a decision based on two or more reviewers' reports. The prevailing problem with most other journals is not only that the same 5000-word manuscript would typically take several months to review, but that at best it might take 1 month, and at worst it might take more than an entire year. Ecology Letters is the only journal in ecology that actually sets a time limit on decisions. Despite the fact that many journals claim to have quick turn-around times from submission to publication, this often does not convey potentially long decision times on previous, rejected versions.
It is one thing to set a time limit on publication decisions, and quite another to meet it for every manuscript. No two submitted manuscripts are identical and therefore no two manuscripts experience the same trajectories during the evaluation process. The challenge is to make sure that certain norms are met, and that the many obstacles naturally present in satisfying these norms are anticipated. This is a daunting challenge, and it was only at the end of the second year of publication of Ecology Letters that we could boast > 90% on-time decisions. Since our implementation of web-based manuscript submission in May 2001, our on-time decisions are now > 99%. Meeting these time limits puts a considerable burden on our editorial office, editorial board, and consenting reviewers, and this kind of performance would not be possible without dedicated staff and reviewers that approve of what Ecology Letters is about.
Ecology Letters is also about publishing the most exciting research for a wide spectrum of ecologists. Attaining this kind of novelty means, of course, being very selective in what we publish. Perhaps paradoxically, selectivity and journal growth have gone hand in hand at Ecology Letters. Despite declining 70% of submissions over the past 2 years, submissions continue to increase annually by around 30%, indicating that more ecologists are submitting their best work to our journal. With increases in the number and quality of submissions we have also:
- • Expanded our editorial board to over 50 dedicated specialists representing ecological communities worldwide.
- • Increased the page extent every year, with a 60% increase for 2003.
- • Implemented a fast-track review process for exceptionally novel submissions following contact with, and approval by, the Editor-in-Chief.
Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to receiving your finest and most exciting manuscripts.