Charming complexity


  • Philip

Charming complexity

  • image

With this December 2004 Issue of the Journal of Biogeography, I am at last housing my computer mouse and standing down after some 18 years as Editor-in-Chief. It has been a wonderful experience and a real pleasure to have been able to share our great subject with so many colleagues and so many readers over so long a period. Warm thanks to each and everyone, but especially to our referees and authors.

After a brief period as Book Review Editor, I became overall Editor in 1987, when I replaced the dedicated John Flenley just before he moved on to pastures new in New Zealand. John was a marvellous role model to follow, both for his commitment to the subject and for his concern to promote the journal. When I started, because of the remarkable efforts of John, and of the founding Editor, David Watts, the journal was already highly regarded, although it remained a small-format bi-monthly, publishing 600 pages per annum. By the January Issue of 1989, however, we had been able to convert the journal into large-format, with a striking cover picture (the first was a dramatic photograph of an arctic-breeding wader, the knot). Today, as we know, the journal has evolved into a competitive, large-format monthly publication of over 2000 pages per annum. And since January 2003, submission to the journal has been entirely electronic. This gratifying expansion and development reflects two key factors: primarily, an exponential growth in the importance of, and interest in, biogeography; and secondly, the unstinting support provided for the Journal of Biogeography, first by Blackwell Scientific Publications, later by Blackwell Science Ltd, and, most recently, by Blackwell Publishing.

The journal has always adopted a family approach and the head of that family has unquestionably been Robert (Bob) Campbell. Bob joined Blackwell Science directly from University in 1968, became Editorial Director in 1978, Managing Director in 1987, and President of Blackwell Publishing in 2001. Not only did Bob work closely with David Watts to get the journal established in the early 1970s, throughout my time as Editor, he has been a constant support and innovator, helping the journal to flourish and to adapt to an ever-changing and cut-throat publishing environment. It has been the highlight of my period as Editor to have enjoyed many a successful planning lunch with Bob and his staff, held at times in little cafés near to the old London Office and, at others, in Oxford. All those who love biogeography owe Bob an immense debt.

Of course, as a good Managing Director, Bob was always pressing for more, and, in 1991, he persuaded me to establish and to edit, in addition to Journal of Biogeography, a new sister publication, Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters, and then again, in 1993, yet another, Biodiversity Letters, which was later helpfully taken forward by Rob Hengeveld. These ventures have now gratifyingly morphed into large-format journals with modernized names (Global Ecology and Biogeography and Diversity and Distributions) and both have their own new dynamic editor, David Currie and Dave Richardson respectively. All three journals work together and are another rewarding aspect of the family approach.

Within Blackwell Publishing, I have many ‘family’ members to thank. Over my 18 years, I have been blessed with a series of excellent Production Editors, first the encouragingly dry-humoured John Short, then Mike Bodinham, who had a genuine passion for the subject, and, most recently, the tireless Stephen Jones, who is unique in being the only Production Editor to have appeared in a cover photograph. In the early years, the journal was largely edited and organised from my kitchen table, and, during this period, a family friend, Mrs Jennifer Whittaker, acted as the Secretary and Editorial Assistant. Later, when the journal grew massively in size, the workload became impossible for so ‘amateur’ a system and the Editorial Assistant role was brought in house, first to the elegant Georgian London Office at 25, John Street, and then, more recently, to Oxford. The standard of the staff has been consistently high, and, during 2003–2004, I have been especially indebted to Kevin Wright and Hannah Berry, both of whom still work for Blackwell Publishing. But the journal has further been assisted by the whole Blackwell Publishing family, and the following deserve particular mention: Simon Rallison and Allen Stevens (who both did so much to help to found the two sister journals); Amanda McLean-Inglis and Sue Hewitt; Alison Brown, Emily Davis, Liz Ferguson, Lynne Miller, Katharina Stone, Elizabeth Whelan and Debbie Wright—my deepest gratitude goes to all in Blackwell Publishing who have supported the journal over the years.

Last, yet far from least, I must turn to my academic colleagues. First, there have been a string of important Associate Editors for North America and Australia, including such luminaries as Daniel Simberloff and James H. Brown. Our biggest debt, however, must be to Peter Holland, who started before me and who retires with me. Peter has set standards of care and courtesy that we would do well to emulate in today's maelstrom of hyperactivity. There have, in addition, been a group of indefatiguable Book Review Editors, including Brian Rosen and Pam Berry, who have continued to supply the journal with up-to-date and stimulating reviews of relevant publications. Richard Field maintains this tradition. But, perhaps, most importantly of all, there has been Robert Whittaker. Like me, Rob joined the journal as a Book Review Editor; he then went on to turn Global Ecology and Biogeography into a major journal; and, to my personal delight, he is now taking over as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Biogeography, along with a most distinguished team of supporting Editors. I feel I can retire entirely content knowing that the journal has passed on into such a safe and dedicated pair of hands.

Upon retiring as Editor, I hope for three things for the Journal: first, that the Journal remains focused on sound science and avoids the political machinations of the day; secondly, that it continues to represent every strand of, and approach to, biogeography, and maintains what Professor H. J. Fleure so perfectly encapsulated as ‘‘… that complexity which is the charm and at the same time the difficulty of biogeographical study’’; but, above all, that, in the words of Charles Darwin, through it, we never forget ‘geographical distribution’ represents ‘‘…that grand subject, that almost keystone of the laws of creation.’’

I wish the Journal the very best of good fortune for the years ahead.