The most highly cited ecologists and environmental scientists provide both a benchmark and unique opportunity to consider the importance of research funding. Here, we use citation data and self-reported funding levels to assess the relative importance of various factors in shaping productivity and potential impact. The elite were senior Americans, well funded, with large labs. In contrast to Canadian NSERC grant holders (not in the top 1%), citations per paper did not increase with higher levels of funding within the ecological elite. We propose that this is good news for several reasons. It suggests that the publications generated by the top ecologists and environmental scientists are subject to limitations, that higher volume of publications is always important, and that increased funding to ecologists in general can shift our discipline to wider research networks. As expected, collaboration was identified as an important factor for the elite, and hopefully, this serves as a positive incentive to funding agencies since it increases the visibility of their research.