Biogeography Letters & re-using decisions and reviews

A new article type — Letters — and a new policy — adopting and permitting re-use of decisions and reviews — aim to simplify publication pathways and reduce author, editor, and reviewer burden.

Three important changes at Journal of Biogeography, in a nutshell:
– New short-form “Letters” for high impact & time-sensitive research
– Option to include prior decisions+reviews to fast-track manuscripts at JBI
– JBI proactively permits re-use of our decisions+reviews for fast-tracking rejected articles at subsequent journals

As authors, we’re all familiar with the pain of revising rejected manuscripts, submitting them to another journal with different formats, and waiting for another round of new reviews. As editors and reviewers, we’re all familiar with the burden of handling manuscripts as if they’re brand new when we know from personal experience that it’s not true a good chunk of the time. The burden on us all to deliver the best in biogeography has soared in recent years. As such, the Journal of Biogeography (JBI) is taking three important steps to simplify and fast-track manuscript submission.

First, we are introducing a new article type: Biogeography Letters. Letters are more compact than our standard Research Article but still will communicate the same high quality, novel, and impactful research that characterize our classic article type. The abstract will be slightly shorter, so the article can incorporate a Significance Statement, reflecting the expected import of the research. The article format will also be more flexible, allowing either separate Results and Discussion sections, or a combined Results & Discussion section. Given this greater flexibility in the format of Letters, we also will welcome format-free submission to minimize the author burden of revisions before resubmission. We will first provide a rapid initial review and decision on Letter manuscripts before requiring reformatting and revision in accordance with JBI style for those manuscripts that are on a positive track.

Second, also to reduce author and reviewer burden, we will fast-track manuscripts submitted with prior decisions and reviews. The review process is imperfect, and sometimes outstanding manuscripts are rejected from high ranking journals by mistake. We now encourage authors whose manuscripts have previously been considered by another journal to include any reviews and decision letters alongside your submissions to JBI. This applies not only to Letters, but to all article types. In accordance with guidance from COPE, permission to share previous reviews and decision letters must be granted by the prior journal and reviewers. Confirming this permission is the author’s responsibility. During submission, you’ll be asked to upload previous reviews, decision letters and any other supporting documentation along with your submission, using the file type “Additional File for Review but Not for Publication.” JBI editors may contact the previous journal or reviewer to validate the documents provided and may also choose to supplement these with new reviews.

Third, because requesting permissions from reviewers and editors to satisfy COPE guidelines may add time and work for all involved, JBI proactively permits re-use of our editorial decisions and reviews if we reject your manuscript. JBI encourages our reviewers to provide permission for their reviews to be re-used by authors whose manuscripts are rejected by the journal, to abet, ease, and speed the process at a subsequent journal. You need not write to us to ask: by default, JBI editors now provide permission to re-use our decisions, and your decision letter will indicate whether reviewers have given permission for re-use during revision and resubmission at an alternate journal.

JBI is not the first to take these important steps; we join an already established group of forward-thinking journals and initiatives that are re-imagining science publishing for the benefit of our author communities. But as a leading journal in the broad integrative discipline of biogeography, we hope our example to pro-actively release our decisions and reviews for re-use, and to accept decisions and reviews from other journals to fast-track decisions on manuscripts submitted to JBI, will accelerate change across all related disciplines for the benefit of all involved.



Description of the new article type from the journal’s Author Guidelines: Letters present novel and impactful findings in a shorter format, typically not more than 8 pages when printed at final journal sizing. The main headers for Letters will be Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion (alternatively a combined “Results and Discussion”), Acknowledgements, and References. Letters should not exceed 8 pages when printed at final journal sizing. Therefore, a typical Letter is likely to be composed of the title page (title, short structured abstract [≤250 words], significance statement, and other frontice material), 4–5 pages of text (~945 words per page),  1-2 pages of illustrative material (up to ~4 tables and figures, including captions), and 1-2 pages of references (~35 references per page) and other required statements (Conflict of Interest, Data Availability, Biosketch, Author Contributions). The proportions of different sections may vary, but in sum they should not exceed the specified length for Letters. Methods need to be described in a manner that allows a competent practitioner in the field to assess the rigor of the study; additional details enabling repeatability may make substantial use of Supplementary Documentation. Authors must allow repeatability by either providing a thorough description of the methods or by providing relevant computer code.

Two examples of biogeography Letters that inspired and prototyped the new process:

Huntley, B., Allen, J. R. M., Forrest, M. et al. (2021). Projected climatic changes lead to biome changes in areas of previously constant biome. Journal of Biogeography.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Using global biome patterns inferred from simulations made using the LPJ-GUESS dynamic global vegetation model, we show that a substantial fraction of areas that are simulated to have supported the same biome throughout the last glacial-interglacial cycle are projected to experience biome change as a consequence of 21st century climatic changes. We further show that, with the exception of some desert areas, areas of the highest past biome constancy correspond to areas of the highest terrestrial vertebrate diversity. As a result, the projected biome changes are likely to have disproportionately large negative impacts upon global biodiversity.

Fernandez, MC, Hu, FS, Gavin, DG, et al. (2021) A tale of two conifers: Migration across a dispersal barrier outpaced regional expansion from refugia. Journal of Biogeography.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Species with disjunct distributions provide natural laboratories for addressing the pressing biological challenge of whether fragmentation hinders species’ ability to track a changing climate. Here we find that the expansion of two Pacific Northwest conifers since the last ice age was characterized by dispersal across a 50-to-200-km inhospitable barrier. This predominance of migration contrasts with many recent studies emphasizing the role of microrefugia in populating modern species distributions. Our work addresses longstanding questions on the development of mesic conifer forests and offers insights into broader spatiotemporal patterns of postglacial vegetation that have remained unresolved despite decades of paleoecological studies.

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